Saturday, December 05, 2009

Tangential to Biblical Studies proper, but still:

Danish archaologist Jeppe Boel Jepsen claims to be able to see that "a tiny image of a mysterious horned figure" found on a recently recovered ivory copy of a Danish golden horn usually dated to about 5t century CE, "now turns out to resemble pictures of Aleander the Great".

Boel Jepsen suggests that on the basis of this, the horns must be dated a couple of centuries older than assumed until now.

Report in Danish here:

Horns here:

The original horns were stolen and melted down in 1802 and it is uncertain how accurate existing copies, made from drawings, are. The ivory copy recently recovered in Russia was made directly from the original (although, here too, doubts about the accuracy remain) and given to zar Peter the Great in 1716.
You can read a Google translation of the Danish article here. For the recently discovered Alexander gemstone, see here and follow the links back.
BOOK REVIEW/TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Another review of Where Heaven and Earth Meet: Jerusalem's Sacred Esplanade, this one in the Scotsman.
Book aims to end clash over Temple Mount

Published Date:
05 December 2009
By Ben Lynfield in Jerusalem

TRANSCENDING the bitterness of the confrontation between their nations and faiths, Israeli and Palestinian scholars have come together for an unprecedented joint history of the most contested religious site on earth.

A new book, Where Heaven and Earth Meet: Jerusalem's Sacred Esplanade is an antidote to extremism about the holy city's Temple Mount, revered by Jews as site of the biblical temples and sacred to Muslims as the site of the al-Aksa mosque.

Here's an interesting bit:
During peace negotiations with Israel in 2000, Yasser Arafat reportedly questioned whether two Jewish temples existed on the site, stressing there is no archeological evidence for that. Mr Nusseibeh [Palestinian philosopher Sari Nusseibeh, president of al-Quds University], while not affirming the existence of the temples, wrote that it was a site revered by Jews even before what Muslims believe was a journey from al-Aksa to heaven by Mohammed in the seventh century. According to Muslim tradition, the journey started from the rock later covered by the golden dome that has become Jerusalem's foremost symbol.

Amnon Cohen, emeritus professor at the Hebrew University, who contributed a chapter on Turkish rule of the Temple Mount, believes the joint endeavour has political significance. The Palestinian participation, he says, "means they don't disagree with the basic hypothesis that the first and second temples were on the Temple Mount".

But Mustafa Abu Sway, of the Islamic Research Centre at al-Quds and contributor of a chapter, responded: "I have written an Islamic narrative and people can read into it what they want. Ultimately it's a mosque and has been for 1,400 years. When the Muslims arrived the area of the mosque was barren and it has been a mosque through and through."
I've not read the book yet (and won't have time to for some time to come) but if this report is accurate it sounds like equivocation that is being spun differently by each side. I would be more impressed to hear that the Palestinian authors had come straight out and said that there were Jewish temple on the site in antiquity.

Background here.

Friday, December 04, 2009

MORE ON JACOB NEUSNER'S HONORARY DOCTORATE at HUC-JIR: Notice of the honor is now on the HUC-JIR News and Publications website:
Dr. Jacob Neusner Awarded Honorary Doctorate

Dr. Jacob Neusner, the renowned historian and theologian, was awarded the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, by Rabbi David Ellenson, President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), in a ceremony at HUC-JIR’s New York campus on December 1, 2009.

The site has also posted the text of the lecture that Professor Neusner gave on the occasion: "Reform Judaism For Our Day: Why It Is Necessary."
REPAIRS ON THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHRE are again generating controversy. This time they are being done by the IAA and protested by the Jordanian Goverment and the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land according to the AFP.

Another repairs controversy is noted here.
THE PERSEPOLIS CUNEIFORM ARCHIVE and the political controversy surrounding it (i.e., whether Iranian artifacts in American museums should be seized and sold off to pay a terrorism-compensation judgment) is discussed by Touraj Daryaee at the Huffington Post. Excerpt:
This issue has very important implications for the United States. First of all, one can imagine how much dislike, distrust, and suspicion would be incurred by a Western power dragging another culture's ancient heritage to the auction block. America's museums are national institutions that are often trusted to hold and display the cultural materials of other societies around the world. They are not bank accounts or slush funds to be raided whenever money is needed.
Secondly, and more importantly, if Iranian artifacts are successfully seized, it will set a precedent that will open a floodgate of claims to other cultural treasures in the US. American museums hold thousands of objects from countries in the Middle East and other troubled spots in the world. Many of these are on loan from their home countries, brought here for a time so that they may educate and inform American citizens. If it is established that such artifacts can be taken and sold, what country would risk lending its invaluable antiquities to any U.S. museum? None. The hesitation of every foreign country and museum around the world to lend art and artifacts to U.S. museums will cripple exhibits in the United States and contribute to the decline in the cultural awareness of Americans and our understanding of the meaning of cultural diversity.
On the Persepolis archive specifically:
These tablets only make sense if they are studied as a group and not dispersed throughout the world in the hand of dealers and private collectors. It is a rare archive from antiquity, and so it should remain as such to be studied and understood. It would be a shame to have had in the twenty-first century a unique source for understanding the ancient Persians that got arbitrarily partitioned and dispersed, forcing us to remain in the dark for another 2,500 years about the social and cultural history of these people and the region.
I agree. Read it all. For background go here and follow the links back.
THE WIND BENEATH MY WINGS: Language mega-dork Jessica Apple posts some tidbits of medical history.
THE BIBLIOBLOG TOP FIFTY has posted its semi-annual edition for 2009.
A FIXED-TERM OLD TESTAMENT POST (2 years) is being advertised at Glasgow University. Go here and enter the job reference code 00094-2 for details. Applications are due by 18 December!

(Via the SOTS list.)

Thursday, December 03, 2009

EHUD BEN-ZVI e-mails the following:
Dear all,

I am glad to announce the publication of the following article in the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures (

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 9: Article 23 (2009)

Israel Finkelstein, "Persian Period Jerusalem and Yehud: A Rejoinder."


This is a rejoinder to several recently published articles which take issue with my views on Persian period Jerusalem and Yehud. The article deals with methodological issues such as inconsistencies between archaeology and text and the meaning of negative evidence in archaeology. On the factual level, with the available data at hand, I see no reason to change my views: Persian period Jerusalem covered ca. 2-2.5 hectares, and both the description of the construction of the city-wall in Nehemiah 3 and the List of Returnees in Ezra and Nehemiah probably reflect late Hellenistic (Hasmonean) period realities.

Those who wish to access this article directly may go to

In other news, a slightly revamped interface for JHS will be ready soon. My thanks to Melanie Marvin who is working on this project.

The printed version of volume 8 (2008) has been released by Gorgias Press. For information please go to

For information about the other volumes, please go to

For information about the Logos version of the Journal (vols. 1-7), please go to

The Logos version of volume 8 of the journal is being prepared.



Ehud Ben Zvi
History and Classics
University of Alberta
2-28 HM Tory Building
Edmonton AB Canada T6G 2H4
CONGRATULATIONS TO JACOB NEUSNER, who (I have just learned) received an honorary doctorate on 1 December from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in New York.

UPDATE (4 December): More here.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

ARAMAIC WATCH: A Living Languages Institute at Mardin Artuklu University in Turkey includes Aramaic language teaching. The Institute seems to be an attempt at a compromise with those who wanted a Kurdish language and literature (only) department.
A JOB ADVERT from the Agade list:
From Erica Laclair & Joel Gereboff

Assistant or Associate Professor of Hebrew and Near Eastern Cultures

The School of International Letters & Cultures (SILC) at Arizona State University seeks to appoint an experienced assistant professor or a tenured associate professor of Hebrew Studies and Near Eastern Cultures beginning in the fall of 2010. Applications will be accepted from candidates whose scholarship focuses on the Late Bronze Age to Late Antiquity, including the Hebrew Bible, Second Temple, and/or Early Judaism. The individual hired will teach undergraduate and graduate students in the trans-disciplinary environment of the School. Teaching load is two courses per semester.

Applicants must have a Ph.D. in an area of Near Eastern studies or related discipline; demonstrably successful teaching experience; proven excellence in research and publication; and knowledge of one or more classical languages. Ability and desire to teach biblical Hebrew required. Desired qualifications include demonstrated research interest in Hellenistic Jewish literature and ability to read modern academic Hebrew.

Send letter of application, complete CV, three letters of recommendation, sample syllabi and a scholarly writing sample to: Hebrew and Near Eastern Cultures Search Committee, c/o Robert Joe Cutter, Director, School of International Letters & Cultures, PO Box 870202, ASU, Tempe, AZ 85287-0202. All materials except for letters of recommendation must be sent also electronically to:

Application deadline is December 31, 2009 and every week thereafter until position is filled. Review of complete applications will begin immediately and continue until search is closed.

A background check is required for employment. Arizona State University is an affirmative action, equal opportunity employer committed to excellence through diversity. Women and minorities are encouraged to apply.
A LARGE GRANT for Jewish Studies has been turned down by New York University. Larry Schiffman defends the decision.
NYU rejects $50K education grant

by Ashley Mason (
Published December 2, 2009

NYU's Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies recently declined a potential $50,000 grant from the Posen Foundation, an international organization that provides schools with grants to teach courses about Jewish culture through an exclusively secular point of view.

Other schools, including Harvard University, Brown University, Brandeis University and the New School, have accepted the grant.

Under the grant, the university would be required to incorporate courses in Jewish thought and history and other related topics into the Judaic studies curriculum. Myrna Baron, the executive director of the Center for Cultural Judaism, which administers Posen Foundation projects and grants in North America, said some professors think ancient Jewish texts have been emphasized too heavily and that the past 300 years of secular Jewish culture were not being studied at all.

Baron said the grant was not intended to shift the focus of Jewish studies but instead to enable universities to include Jewish contributions from the ancient period up to today.

But according to Lawrence Schiffman, the chair of the department of Hebrew and Judaic studies, the department "doesn't accept the notion that you can categorize Judaism."

Schiffman thinks an exclusively secular curriculum would represent only a single part of Judaism. He said his department allows professors to teach the way they prefer to teach and that separating the religious and the secular would be an interference.

"They were offering a small amount of money for us to teach the way they want," Schiffman said. "We don't want outsiders being a part of that process."

The decision is not entirely without controversy at NYU.
LAWRENCE SCHIFFMAN is giving the Rabbi Dr. Joseph Baumgarten Memorial Lecture in Baltimore on Sunday.
The Dead Sea Scrolls – Decoding Early Judaism: Reflections on the Contributions of Dr. Joseph Baumgarten

Speaker: Dr. Lawrence H. SchiffmanSunday, December 6th, 4:00 p.m., LA 4110

Lawrence H. Schiffman is Chair of New York University’s Skirball
Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies and serves as the Ethel and Irvin A. Edelman Professor in Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University (NYU). He is a specialist in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Judaism in Late Antiquity, the history of Jewish law, and Talmudic literature.
(Via Joseph I. Lauer's list.)

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

NEW ORLEANS SBL: Mark Goodacre has some highlights. He too notes the problem of proliferation of sessions and corresponding tiny attendance at individual sessions.
BIBLICAL STUDIES CARNIVAL XLVIII has been posted by Doug Chaplin at Clayboy.

Monday, November 30, 2009

THE TALMUD: A SELECTION by by Norman Solomon (ed.) (Penguin Classics) is reviewed by Lawrence Grossman in The Forward. Excerpt:
The publication of “The Talmud: A Selection” suggests that we have entered a new era in which the Talmud can be discussed objectively, without Jewish defensiveness or fear of antisemitism. By presenting meaty selections from every one of the 63 Talmudic tractates in English translation, the book conveys something of the real feel of the Talmud as a whole, interspersing complex legal discussions with stories, practical rulings and wide-ranging biblical commentary. Solomon’s introduction, which covers the history and literary character of the Talmud, and his erudite footnotes to the selections themselves, admirably convey the insights of both traditional and modern authorities, ranging from the classic Medieval commentary of Rashi to 20th-century figures like Rabbi Moshe Feinstein and philosopher Emmanuel Levinas.

“The Talmud: A Selection” is so instructive and well crafted — as well as accessible to the educated reader who has never before studied Talmud — that it seems ungrateful to ask for more. But in truth, it could have used a short epilogue that would step back from the texts and examine the Talmud’s formative role in shaping the Jewish people, a long-range influence that takes the work out of the category of ancient literary curiosity and renders it a true “classic.”
First I've heard of it, but it sounds important.
NEW ORLEANS SBL: April DeConick raises some concerns about the Society of Biblical Literature meetings, most of which I experienced as well this time around. I hope things improve next year with the return of the American Academy of Religion meetings at the same time as SBL. (The lead-up to the debacle of the spilt in 2004 is noted here.)
NEW ORLEANS SBL: Rebecca Lesses summarizes a Mysticism session that I had to miss.
NEW ORLEANS SBL: David Larsen, my doctoral student, summarizes an important paper by Frances Flannery at the SBL meetings earlier this month.
JORDAN-VALLEY QUARRY UPDATE: Brian Blondy gives "Impressions from a 1st-century underground quarry" in the Jerusalem Post. Excerpt:
Within the raw, unpolished one acre quarry, were various etched markings on the walls and on some of the 22 brute pillars. Among the markings were crosses that were carved into the stone, whichProf. Zertal explained were an indication of the site's possible former function.

According to his assessment, the site had once served as a monastery or place of refuge between the years 1 - 600 CE. Thereafter, 31 other engravings testified to the presence of those who dwelled in the space following its Christian usage. Some of the symbols,Prof. Zertal explained, were possibly reflective of the Zodiac, while others were likely Roman letters.

Walking among the ancient writing, I was reminded of graffiti which I've seen sprayed on structures in cities throughout the modern world. Had the former inhabitants of thiscave also intended to leave a reminder of their presence for the generations to follow?

Throughout the tour of the cave, I had to navigate my steps around the bones and partial jaws of what I presume were ancient jackals or dogs that also once used thecave as a place of refuge. Prof. Zertal explained that when he originally began working on the cave, several Beduin approached his team and warned that there were evil spirits within.
This is the quarry that is near Jericho. Background here and here. More on recently discovered quarries here.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

"ASTROLOGY AND JUDAISM IN LATE ANTIQUITY" is a doctoral dissertation by Lester Ness, who writes "I believe it was the first dissertation online." I'm surprised I haven't noted it before this, but here it is. Note also his "Research Sources For Astrology."

(Via the Agade list.)