Friday, December 31, 2010

BAR Jan-Feb 2011

BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY REVIEW has a new issue out (Jan-Feb '11). Some articles can be read only with a paid personal or institutional subscription, but several are available in full for free:

The late Ehud Netzer, In Search of Herod’s Tomb

2011 Digs Seeking Volunteers

Andrew McGowan, How December 25 Became Christmas

Who Wrote the Bible? (I haven't watched this episode, but my past experience with Simcha Jacobovici's The Naked Archaeologist has not been encouraging.)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Septuagint in the Cairo Geniza

Bible discovery reveals links with Jewish scholars

Experts at Cambridge University have made a major discovery about the history of the Bible.

Researchers have been studying ancient biblical manuscripts in the University Library, and have found that a version of the Bible written in Greek was used by Jewish people for centuries longer than originally thought.

The documents, known as the Cairo Genizah manuscripts, were discovered in an old synagogue in Egypt and were brought to Cambridge at the end of the 19th century.

They have now been brought together digitally and posted online, enabling scholars worldwide to analyse them for the first time.

Prof Nicholas de Lange, professor of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at Cambridge University, has been leading a three-year study into the ancient fragments.

He said: “The translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek is said to be one of the most lasting achievements of the Jewish civilization – without it, Christianity might not have spread as quickly and as successfully as it did.

“It was thought that the Jews, for some reason, gave up using Greek translations and chose to use the original Hebrew for public reading in synagogue and for private study, until modern times when pressure to use the vernacular led to its introduction in many synagogues.”

Prof de Lange’s research has discovered that some of the manuscripts contain passages from the Bible in Greek, written in Hebrew letters. The fragments date from 1,000 years after the original translation into Greek - showing that use of the Greek text was still alive in Greek-speaking synagogues in the Byzantine Empire, the Greek-speaking eastern part of the Roman Empire.

Prof de Lange said the research offered a rare glimpse of Byzantine Jewish life and culture, and also illustrated the cross-fertilisation between Jewish and Christian biblical scholars in the Middle Ages.

He said: “This is a very exciting discovery for me because it confirms a hunch I had when studying Genizah fragments 30 years ago.”
UPDATE (3 January): More here.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New book: Hendel (ed.), Reading Genesis: Ten Methods

NEW BOOK: Reading Genesis: Ten Methods (CUP), edited by Ronald Hendel. From the back of the book:
Reading Genesis: Ten Methods is a marvelous introduction to recent approaches to the study of biblical texts, accessible yet profound. Distinguished contributors survey methods both old and new, all focused on the book of Genesis. These are classic discussions and offer not only a report on the present state of biblical studies but also fine examples of the biblical scholar's art.
John Barton, University of Oxford
Facebook page here. Previewed at Google Books here.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tony Burke: Why I Study the Christian Apocrypha

TONY BURKE: Why I Study the Christian Apocrypha.

I have posted a comment in the comments section.

Note also Tony's More Christian Apocrypha website.

The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Calendar-in-a-Year

PSEUDEPIGRAPHA WATCH: Joseph Kelly has published an Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Calendar-in-a-Year at the כל–האדם blog. If you follow it you will read all of the two Charlesworth Old Testament Pseudepigrapha volumes in 2011. This is ambitious, but now's the time to get it done. You'll be wanting it out of the way when the first More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project volume comes out, I hope not too long after that.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Vendyl Jones has passed away

VENDYL JONES has died today:
Noahide Archaeologist Vendyl Jones Passes Away

by Hillel Fendel (Arutz Sheva)

Vendyl Jones – Noahide archaeologist who discovered an immense stock of incense used in the Second Temple as well as the aromatic anointing oil – has passed away at the age of 80. He was most famous for his search for the Ark of the Covenant.

Diagnosed with cancer of the throat seven months ago, in pain and unable to swallow, Jones was tended by his wife Anita during this period. Money for medical bills was scarce, as most of the money he made during his career went towards furthering his archaeological and religious pursuits in Israel.


His life goals began to take root when he learned, in 1964, that the Copper Scroll had been found in a cave at Qumran, Israel, and that it listed – in coded form – the hiding places of sacred articles such as the Ark of the Covenant. In April 1967, he moved his family to Israel, continuing his studies in the Department of Judaica at Hebrew University and becoming involved in archaeology. He aided the Israeli army during the Six Day War, when his color-blindness helped him detect camouflaged enemy tanks.

He worked on many digs at Qumran and other Judean Desert sites, though he did not receive government support or funding. His most famous find was that of the Ketoret – 900 pounds of reddish powder with a uniquely strong fragrance that he said was the Ketoret, the 11-ingredient incense used in the Holy Temple. Though critics disputed his findings, they were supported by tests conducted at Weizmann Institute and Bar-Ilan University.

Dr. Jones was often said to be the inspiration behind the "Indiana Jones" films starring Harrison Ford, though he himself has denied it, as have the film-makers. Among his children are converts to Judaism living in Samaria and elsewhere in Israel. His funeral will take place in Grandview, Texas.
You can also read the Wikipedia entry on him here. According to it, another view is that the "incense" was actually dirt.

Mr. Jones was mentioned in PaleoJudaica here, here, and here, all three posts referring to his dotty plans to find the Ark of the Covenant. (Incidentally, the Copper Scroll does not give a location for the Ark of the Covenant, more's the pity.)

It may be that Mr. Jones was involved in some legitimate archaeology along the way, but most of what he did seems to have revolved around finding the Ark and other goofy ideas. Well, if nothing else, he provided some amusement. May he rest in peace.

(HT Gerald Rosenberg.)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Geza Vermes on Herod the Great

GEZA VERMES has a long biographical article on Herod the Great in Standpoint Magazine:
Herod the Terrible or Herod the Great?

January/February 2011

The Christian world has inherited a wholly negative image of king Herod (74/72-4 BCE), during whose reign Jesus was born (Matthew 2:1, Luke, 1:5). Matthew's legendary account, Nativity plays and Christian imagination have turned Herod into the Ivan the Terrible of antiquity. When the three wise kings, or rather oriental magicians (magoi in the Greek Gospel), arrived at the royal palace in Jerusalem and asked about the recently born king of the Jews, Herod pretended to be helpful and directed them to Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of the Messiah, on condition that they promised to let him know the whereabouts of the babe. He, too, wished to greet him, he lied, when in fact he planned to murder the potential rival. So when the magi failed to return, he let loose his soldiers on the infants of Bethlehem.

The extensive secular chronicles provide a more nuanced biography, one that is almost as detailed as those of Roman emperors. Our chief informant is the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (37-c.100CE), who devoted most of Book I of his Jewish War and Books XIV to XVII of Jewish Antiquities to the life and times of Herod. Josephus uses as his main source the universal history of Nicolaus of Damascus, the well-informed teacher, adviser and ambassador of Herod. The fact that Josephus often criticises the king suggests that beside the court historian's pro-Herod chronicle, he had also at his disposal another account sympathetic to the Hasmoneans, the Jewish priest-kings, who from 152 BCE ruled the Holy Land, first independently and after 63 BCE under the aegis of Rome, until Herod took their throne in 37 BCE.

It concludes:
In short, both Jewish and Christian traditions treat him as Herod the Terrible. The historian, however, is fully aware, despite Herod's grave shortcomings, of his unparalleled political and cultural accomplishments. In particular, his long friendship with Augustus was highly beneficial to the inhabitants of Judea and the Jewish religion. Moreover, while Herod enjoyed the enviable status of a "client king, friend of the Roman people", none of his descendants, if the short reign of Agrippa I (41-44 CE) is discarded, was sufficiently esteemed by Augustus and his successors to receive the title "king of the Jews". All in all, in view of these unquestionable achievements Herod deserves to be known as the one and only Herod the Great.
Read it all.

Herod the Great has come up fairly often at PaleoJudaica. Some interesting past posts are here, here, and here.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Maurice Casey on the historical Jesus

MAURICE CASEY'S new book on the historical Jesus is given lengthy coverage in Maclean's:
Jesus historians get an earful from Maurice Casey
An academic who is ‘not serving the interests of any faith’ derides self-serving portrayals of Christ

by Brian Bethune on Thursday, December 23, 2010 2:00pm - 10 Comments

Maurice Casey is fed up. The emeritus professor of New Testament language and literature at Britain’s University of Nottingham—a scholar, that is, of the only sources we have for the life and times of Jesus Christ—knows that history is not done in his field like it is in any other. The stakes, and the passions, are simply too high, when those who study the central figure in Western history place him along a spectrum that ranges from God incarnate to mythic creation. What truly disturbs Casey, however, is the way the once vast middle ground in historical Jesus studies is being squeezed, just as it is in many aspects of the increasingly intense faceoff between religion and secularism in modern society.

A resurgence of conservative scholarship on one side, including historians (like Paul Johnson) who accept what Casey considers unbelievable miracles detailed in untrustworthy sources, and revisionism that stretches to outright denial of Jesus’s existence on the other, have led him to pen his own take, Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian’s Account of His Life and Teaching. It’s less a full-blown biography than a vigorous defence of historical methodology—of the moral necessity of applying the same historical standards to the study of Jesus as we apply to, say, Julius Caesar. Casey’s magnum opus offers, for those who accept his reasoning, an impressive array of facts about Jesus Christ, and a slashing attack on almost everyone to the left or right of him.


When he’s through eviscerating everyone and everything wrong with his field, Casey turns to the second, and more positive, pillar of his approach. He does respect “the text,” his Scriptural sources, and one mark of that respect is that he applies to them linguistic skills he thinks shamefully lacking in his colleagues. Jesus, his family, his disciples—his entire world—spoke Aramaic, while the New Testament was written in Greek. And therein lies a huge problem. Separating later and less trustworthy material from older, more plausible writing is greatly helped by teasing out the Aramaic originals behind Greek Gospel accounts. For centuries this was almost impossible, because there wasn’t enough Aramaic writing, especially idiomatic writing, available. “Before the Dead Sea Scrolls were found after the war, you just couldn’t do it,” Casey says. “And though most are in Hebrew, the Aramaic scrolls—the Book of Enoch for one—are written in a more popular style, full of stories and idioms.”

Now it’s possible to see how close to the surface Aramaic originals are in the oldest Gospel, Mark, the work of an unknown, educated but not particularly polished, and manifestly bilingual evangelist. In one telling example, Casey points out how the oldest manuscript versions have a puzzling opening to the story of a paralytic (Mark 1:41): “And being angry,” Jesus stretched out his hand and healed the man with a touch. Matthew (8:3) and Luke (5:13) offer the same story, in mostly the same words—that is, they took it from Mark—except they drop the opening because it made no sense. Jesus had no reason to be angry, or if he were, no reason to proceed with the healing. For Casey, though, Mark was simply translating from an Aramaic source and was in the grip of what the scholar calls interference, which affects all bilinguals when they translate. The original Aramaic word used was surely regaz, which can indeed mean “tremble with anger,” as does the Greek word Mark put in its place, orgistheis. But the latter only means angry, and does not carry the wider meaning of regaz, which stretches to include “moved [to sympathy].” In Mark’s mind, Casey argues, because the two words shared one meaning, they shared them all.
I've read some of Casey's work that attempts to retrovert the Aramaic being the Greek Gospels and commented on it in my 2005 JSP article, "(How) Can We Tell if a Greek Apocryphon or Pseudepigraphon Has Been Translated from Hebrew or Aramaic?" If I may quote myself:
All this being the case, I confess myself skeptical of attempts at largescale retroversion such as, for example, Maurice Casey’s reconstruction of long Aramaic passages behind the Gospel of Mark. In his chapter on methodology Casey ignores the important methodological treatments of Beyer, Maloney, and Martin, interacts very little with Fitzmyer’s work, and also ignores the vast literature on the translation technique of the LXX, which lays him open to the charge of trying to reinvent the wheel. It is unclear how his discussions of translation theory and bilingualism theory feed into his method. He is right to look for passages that show signs of being translated literally (although a certain amount of circular reasoning is involved in finding them), but he underestimates the difficulty of retroverting vocabulary and idiom. The two must frequently be treated together, and he does not explain what principles he uses to find Semitisms in the Greek text and then reconstruct the mostly likely Aramaic behind them. He approaches the task as though each problem of retroversion had only one solution, which, as I have shown at length in this study, is by no means true. I do not deny that Mark probably drew on Aramaic sources or that Casey’s attempt to reconstruct them has some heuristic value. He has created some possible solutions to the problem of what lies behind Mark’s Greek, but it is unlikely that his solutions consistently represent something close to Mark’s sources.
Full details of my supporting arguments can be found in this long article, which is online here, but requires a paid personal or institutional subscription to download. You can read a shorter conference-paper version here, although it does not discuss Casey's work.

Back to the Maclean's article:
With numerous examples of the same sort of thing, Casey makes a compelling case that Mark’s Aramaic underlay makes it both old and genuine in its storytelling: “one short step away from eyewitness testimony.” And since Casey, true to his standards of historical methodology, asserts that there has to be good reason for rejecting authentic material, he pays close attention—neither accepting in faith as the divinely inspired word of Scripture nor rejecting as physically impossible—to Mark’s almost eyewitness accounts of miracles (which in his Gospel are far more muted than in John’s, mostly healings and exorcisms) and the Scriptural accounts of visions of the risen Christ after Jesus’s death. “I’ve done quite a lot of reading in the anthropology of medicine and in the history of psychosomatic illnesses,” Casey says. “There are very well-attested accounts after the First World War of doctors curing, by words, cases of hysterical blindness prompted by mustard gas attacks. A charismatic prophet could do it.” Similarly, Casey has investigated the widespread phenomenon of bereavement visions, when grief-stricken survivors have seen their dead loved ones appear to them.

In the end, a lifetime of weighing historical issues leads Casey to accept as fact much that the Gospels proclaim—a remarkable amount, in fact, for a non-Christian. Jesus was born about 4 BCE, and grew up in Nazareth; he was baptized by John the Baptist and called disciples of his own, appointing 12 of them as special apostles; he preached repentance, forgiveness and the coming of the kingdom of God in rural and small-town Galilee; his charismatic authority brought healing to many victims of psychosomatic illnesses, including the paralyzed, the blind and people with skin diseases; about 30 CE he went to Jerusalem, where the disturbance he caused chasing moneylenders out of the Temple led to his arrest and crucifixion by Pontius Pilate. After his death, Jesus was seen, in non-physical form, by some followers, including his brother James, in authentic bereavement experiences, while stories of the empty tomb and of his physical resurrection grew up afterwards to explain the visions inspired by raw grief.

I haven't read this book, but Casey's conclusions as summarized here sound temperate and sensible to me. For more on his book in the biblioblogosphere, see here.

For my part, a reconstruction of Jesus as a wild-eyed apocalyptic prophet who thought himself to be a divine being seems to me well within the range of possibilities suggested by both the texts and Jesus' first-century Jewish context. I wish historical Jesus scholars would take it more seriously.

Merry Christmas

MERRY CHRISTMAS to all those celebrating.

Historical and related notes from Christmases past are collected here. And let's not forget the newly-translated Revelation of the Magi. Go here for Brent Landau's doctoral dissertation, which has the translation and critical text.

Friday, December 24, 2010

More on suppressed Comtroller's report on Temple Mount

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: That suppressed Comptroller's report on the Waqf and the Temple Mount continues to cause controversy:
Censoring of Temple Mount Report Sparks Anger

by Hillel Fendel (Arutz Sheva)

The State Comptroller has prepared a report on the wanton destruction caused by the Waqf on the Temple Mount, and on Israel’s response. The Committee to Prevent Destruction of Temple Mount Antiquities is up in arms that the lion’s share of the report will not be publicized.

Attorney Yisrael Caspi of the above Committee responded on Arutz-7’s Hebrew news magazine to remarks by MK Otniel Shneller, who chairs the Knesset subcommittee that determined which parts of the Comptroller’s report may be publicized. Shneller told Arutz 7 on Monday that the Waqf – the Muslim religious body that administers the Temple Mount site, Judaism’s holiest location and Islam’s third-holiest – caused much destruction to Temple Mount artifacts in the course of digging and building a mosque there.

However, he said, “the situation has now changed totally… Many improvements have been made over the past few months, and everything is now done there in full coordination with the police, the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Attorney General’s office, the relevant ministerial committee, and the Jerusalem municipality.”

Caspi says this is not enough: “The report must be publicized in order to disclose the mistakes of the Olmert government that allowed the Waqf to operate on the Temple Mount freely… To censor the report because of ‘security’ considerations is a violation of previous promises made by the committee members.

Shneller had said that other countries are very interested in the Temple Mount, indicating that if Israel releases the full report, it might result in other countries gaining a stronghold there.

I have no idea what that last quoted paragraph means. I have seen no good reason for the report to remain suppressed. If it causes embarrassment or discomfort or offense to some, that's probably all to the good.

Background here.

Aramaic-speaking Russians

ARAMAIC WATCH: Aramaic-speaking Russians.
The Assyrians -- Russian сitizens who even now ‘speak the language of Christ’

Yesterday at 19:52 | Paul Goble (Kyiv Post)

The Assyrians, one of Russia’s smallest and least known nationalities, not only have kept their religious and national identity in tact despite the vicissitudes of the past century but also to speak the language of Christ, according to the leaders of that community.

The current issue of “Vera-Eskom,” a newspaper directed at the Christians in the Russian North, provides a remarkable glimpse of this ancient people whose ancestors fled from the persecutions of the Ottomans and helped keep Christianity and its principles alive in Russia during the depradations of the Soviet period.

In the early years of the 20th century, more than 100,000 Assyrians fled from the Ottoman Empire and Persia to Russia. Because of Soviet persecutions and intermarriage, that community has shrunk to only 13,000, Mikhail Sizov of “Vera-Eskom” points out. But its members are among the most socially active Christians in the country.

The occasion for this unusual article was a visit to the editorial offices of the journal by Tamara Gurmizova, an ethnic Assyrian pensioner who came to get a copy of the obituary “Vera-Eskom” published earlier this year when Mikhail Sado, probably the most famous Russian Assyrian passed away.

Sado who died on August 30th at the age of 76 played a remarkable role in Assyrian and Russian Christian life. The son of Assyrians who fled from the Ottoman Empire in 1916 only to be repressed by Stalin in the 1930s and 1940s, Sado left Leningrad at the time of the blockade and settled in Krasnodar kray.

He was arrested by the KGB and taught Aramaic in the prison camps. Wow.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Relaunch of TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism

TC: A JOURNAL OF TEXTUAL CRITICISM is relaunching with a 2010 volume containing four articles. AWOL has more details. Actually, I didn't know TC was on hiatus, and it hasn't missed any years lately, but I'm glad it's on track again.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Iranian goverment wants extension on Cyrus Cylinder loan

THE IRANIAN GOVERMENT wants to keep the Cyrus Cylinder longer than was agreed:
Islamic Republic asked Britain to keep Cyrus the Great Cylinder for a longer period; Iranian cultural figures called it a bad idea

Tuesday, 21 December 2010 13:18

LONDON, (CAIS) -- CAIS was informed that the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has requested an extension of loan of the Cyrus the Great Cylinder. The Cyrus Cylinder was loaned to the National Museum of Iran in early September for a period of four months.

The extension of the loaning this priceless artefact is a matter of great concern, particularly when the Islamic Republic’s National Security and Foreign Policy Council voted in favour of completely cutting ties with the United Kingdom on Saturday.

I would say that's putting it temperately.

The same article notes that the British Museum has affirmed that the original cylinder and not a replica was loaned out.

I hope they get it back.

Background here with links going back to 2004.

The curse of Ezra?

IS THE CURSE OF EZRA having a corrosive effect on Jewish-Arab relations in modern Israel? Gershom Schocken:
This is not meant to be an advocacy piece on behalf of mixed marriages. Even if these unions were possible, they would presumably remain a marginal phenomenon. But to ensure the formation of an Israeli nation composed of all the ethnic groups in this country, the barriers between them must be knocked down. That includes restrictions on marriages between members of different groups. Had we not granted the rabbinate a monopoly on matrimonial law, and if there were a civil marriage law in Israel, a substantial obstacle would have been eliminated. Ezra the Scribe's prohibition may have been justified for an ethno-religious group. But for a sovereign nation that needs to coexist with another nation from a different background and establish normal relations with neighbors beyond its borders, this prohibition, which symbolizes Jewish alienation, has become a curse. If it persists, it will perpetuate ethnic tensions within the country and guarantee the permanent isolation of Israel in the region. We must liberate ourselves from the curse of Ezra.

Book of Genesis profiled by Jane Williams

THE BOOK OF GENESIS is thoughfully profiled here and here in the Guardian by Jane Williams, tutor and lecturer in theology and wife of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Aramaic course at Oxford

Christ's endangered language gets new lease of life in Oxford
An Aramaic course offered by Oxford University is drawing scores of scholars from as far afield as Liverpool and London

* Maev Kennedy
*, Tuesday 21 December 2010 16.34 GMT

It is the language that Christ spoke, but is regarded as "endangered" with ever fewer scattered groups of native speakers.

But in Oxford, Aramaic has been flourishing again, with a course in the ancient language drawing people from as far afield as Liverpool and London. There are now 56 people learning Aramaic at the university, including three classics professors, solemnly completing their weekly homework tasks and regularly attending the free lunchtime lessons, more than the numbers studying Greek.

Their first lesson might have surprised the writers of the books of David and Ezra in the Bible, and of the Talmud, both originally written in Aramaic: the scholars pored over a translation of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

David Taylor has previously taught the language to groups of two or three people in his study, and was astounded by the turnout for his first public lesson. Though a few fell by the wayside, more than 40 stayed the course until the classes ended in time for Christmas.

Well done! As it happens, I'm teaching biblical Aramaic next semester. I can't compete with those numbers, but I have six registered for credit and two or three have told me they want to audit. I am content.

Incidentally, there is no "book of David" in the Bible. I think the writer must have mis-heard "book of Daniel." Daniel and Ezra are partly written in Aramaic.

Oh, and this looks exciting:
The lessons were organised by Oxford University's classics faculty and faculty of oriental studies as part of Project Arshama, a collaboration between the universities of Oxford and Liverpool, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The project is focused on one of the treasures of the vast Bodleian library, the 13 Arshama letters, written on leather in the Persian empire in the 5th century BC – priceless to scholars because so many documents on parchment or clay have not survived. There will be a seminar and an exhibition on the letters next summer.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Independent obit for Ehud Netzer

ANOTHER EHUD NETZER OBITUARY, this one in the Independent:
Ehud Netzer: Israeli archaeologist best known for excavating King Herod's winter palace

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Ehud Netzer, who died on 28 October aged 76, was an influential Israeli archaeologist best known for excavating King Herod's winter palace near Bethelhem and discovering the monarch's tomb there. He died in hospital following a fall at the site when a safety rail broke.

Via Mark Goodacre's NT Blog.

More Netzer obituaries here.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Exciting Ethiopic manuscript news

Researcher identifies second-oldest Ethiopian manuscript in existence in HMML’s archives

Thursday, 16 December 2010 (Walta Information Center)

Addis Ababa, December 16 (WIC) - Ted Erho, a doctoral student at Durham University in England, recently spent six weeks at HMML studying Ge'ez (classical Ethiopic) manuscripts, according to Hill Museum & Manuscript Library.Com.

HMML’s microfilm and digital collections are the richest resource for the study of Ethiopian manuscripts in the world. Supported by one of HMML’s Heckman scholarships, Erho made stunning discoveries for both Ethiopian and biblical studies during his time at HMML.

Working with previously-uncataloged manuscripts from HMML’s Ethiopian Manuscript Microfilm Library, Erho has identified the second oldest Ethiopic manuscript in existence (the oldest is the famous Abba Garima Gospels), which also contains the oldest known copies of books from the Old Testament.

This manuscript, EMML 6977, dates prior to the Solomonic Era in Ethiopia, which began in 1270 CE and contains the books of Job and Daniel, as well as two homilies.

He also identified the oldest known major Ge'ez codex of the Old Testament (EMML 9001), which contains the entire Book of Jubilees, considered to be a canonical book by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Its presence in this manuscript is now the oldest known copy of the Book of Jubilees.

Finally, Erho is cataloging the biblical manuscripts from Gunda Gunde in northern Ethiopia, numbering more than fifty of the 220 manuscripts in the Gunda Gunde collection photographed in 2006 by Michael Gervers and Ewa Balicka-Witakowska in an expedition sponsored by HMML.

All but one of the Old Testament manuscripts at Gunda Gunde are from the sixteenth century or before, exceptionally early for Ethiopian manuscripts.
All of this is very good news for Ethiopic studies, and pseudepigrapha studies benefit as well. Earlier this year I published a post on the Garima Gospels manuscript (here) in which I pointed out that it must be one of the earliest surviving Ethiopic manuscripts. This new report confirms that it is the oldest. In the same post I expressed the hope that earlier copies of Ethiopic pseudepigrapha such as Jubilees might surface in the future. This new one doesn't seem to be as early as I had hoped for (the Garima Gospels are from late antiquity), but it's the oldest found one yet and I'll take it. More please.

Cross-file under "Pseudepigrapha Watch."

Matthew's magi in the news


First, were there women among them?
Was a wise woman among the magi who followed Bethlehem's star?

By Patricia Rice, Special to the [St. Louis] Beacon
Posted 1:24 pm, Thu., 12.16.10

As St. Louis Christians set up their Nativity scenes and give church Christmas pageants, they may want to add a new character: a woman among the magi.

The figure of a woman would put their creche scenes on the cutting edge of a fascinating and fresh idea in serious biblical scholarship that is likely to get much more attention next year.

The professor, Dominican friar and priest used his command of Old Testament references and his ease with gender in ancient Hebrew words to suggest that one or more women may have been among the magi who visited the infant Jesus in the brief story told in Matthew's Gospel, Chapter 2.

Viviano's full theory about the possibility of women among the magi will be published next year in "Studies in Matthew" by Leuven University Press, edited by another august biblical scholar Joseph Verheyden.

Viviano talked with the Beacon about his theory during his annual visit St. Louis.

Professor Viviano has some interesting ideas, which are worth reading. My thoughts in brief: (1) It is grammatically possible that one or more of Matthew's magi was a woman. The word is masculine plural, which in Greek allows for an all-male group or a group of mixed gender. (2) It's just a story. (3) If Matthew thought the magi included females, he didn't think it was important enough to mention directly. This issue has come up before and I have commented on it at greater length here and here.

Second, a quirky, but overall well-informed review of Brent Landau's The Revelation of the Magi in the Los Angeles Times by Nick Owchar. Excerpt:
A teacher at the University of Oklahoma, Landau discovered the "Revelation" not in a cave by the Red Sea but in the Vatican Library.

How did it get there?

He writes that it was among manuscripts collected in Egypt by G.S. Assemani (an 18th century orientalist working for the Vatican Library) who "brought it to Rome, where it resides today." Few have approached it, however, because most scholars say it has little historical value, he explains, and because the text is "preserved in Syriac, a language used by ancient Christians ... but one in which only a relatively small number of early Christian scholars are fluent." Landau says his translation of the "Revelation" (with the help of Cambridge scholar J.F. Coakley) is the first in English.

No matter what scholars might say of its historical value, Landau shows, with skill and authority, how the "Revelation" contains a valuable message of tolerance that is needed as much today as in the years of its composition.
And this is amusing and true:
Postscript: Landau's opportunity to translate such an interesting document makes me feel a little like Robert Langdon in "Angels & Demons," longing to get a look inside the Vatican Archives. How many more intriguing documents like the "Revelation" are out there somewhere? How many documents that might shape and expand our views are just sitting on a shelf?
More on Landau's book here.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

New translation of Slavonic 2 Enoch

A NEW TRANSLATION OF THE SLAVONIC VERSION OF 2 ENOCH into English by Florentina Badalanova Geller is now available as a pdf preprint from the Max Plank Institute in Berlin.

Via the Agade list.

For much more on 2 Enoch, go here and follow the links. For more on ancient Slavonica in general, see today's immediately preceding post and follow the links. The author of this new translation is pictured here (fourth from left) in my collection of Slavonic pseudepigraphers.

UPDATE: Just to note, as I think I have before, that my colleague here at St. Andrews, Dr. Grant Macaskill (fourth from right in the pic), is working on a critical edition of the Slavonic text of 2 Enoch, which is near completion.

Ancient Russian History anthology

THIS REPORT from the Russia-InfoCentre of a new anthology of foreign sources on ancient and medieval Russian history (Ancient Rus as seen by foreign sources) looks interesting, although it's hard to tell much about it from the brief notice.

For much more on Slavonica of interest to this blog, go here and here and follow the many links.

An ancient Nestorian monastery in the UAE

AN ANCIENT NESTORIAN MONASTERY that lasted into the Islamic era is now open to the public in the UAE:
Ancient Christian monastery site in Persian Gulf opened to public

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Dec 16, 2010 / 01:47 am (CNA).- The remains of an ancient Nestorian Christian monastery and church on Sri Bani Yas Island in the United Arab Emirates have been opened for public viewing, providing an important glimpse into the pre-Islamic history of the region.

The site was unearthed in the early 1990s and is believed to be the only permanent settlement ever established on the island, which is 160 miles southwest of Abu Dhabi.

A multi-building compound on the eastern side of the island, the site is the only known pre-Islamic Christian site in the United Arab Emirates. According to Archaeology Daily, the complex includes monks’ cells, kitchens and animal pens surrounding a courtyard dominated by a church. At least eight houses have been unearthed.

The monastery is believed to have been an important destination for pilgrims traveling along a trade route to India.


Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoun Al Nahyan, the chairman of the UAE’s Tourism Development and Investment Company, said they were “delighted” to open the ancient site to the public.

"We are proud of our heritage and are therefore focused on creating a multi-experience tourism destination where guests are able to enjoy a variety of activities, while protecting and preserving the history and culture of our country, as well as the natural environment of the island."

Good for them. I hope that attitude spreads in Islamic countries in the Middle East.

Storm damage to Caesarea is serious

Ruins of Caesarea in danger of falling into the sea
The ruins of Caesarea, the ancient Roman port that once numbered Pontius Pilate and St Paul among its residents, are in danger of being washed into the sea after sustaining heavy damage in a storm.

By Adrian Blomfield, Jerusalem 5:29PM GMT 15 Dec 2010 (The Telegraph)

Israeli archaeologists declared a "national disaster" after gale-force winds that battered the coast over the weekend destroyed breakwaters protecting the remains of the city, which was built by Herod the Great shortly before the birth of Christ.

"The damage is tremendous and dramatic," said Shuka Dorfman, the head of the Israel Antiquities Authority after touring the site. "With the collapse of the breakwater, the antique treasures in the Caesarea National Park are exposed to harm from the Ocean."

While Roman and crusader fortifications were damaged in the gale, it is the loss of the modern breakwater that has archaeologists most worried.

The barrier affords Caesarea, fragile because of erosion and a lack of natural sand, crucial protection from the waves. Officials warned that further heavy rain could easily cause the excavations to slide into the Mediterranean.

"It is a matter of time until it all collapses," said Zeev Margalit, the head of preservation at the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. "If Israel does not react immediately then a major international heritage site will be lost."

Background here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

SAD NEWS: Shemaryahu Talmon

SAD NEWS: Shemaryahu Talmon. This just in from the Agade list:
From Rafael Zer ( came this saddest of news:

Prof. Shemaryahu Talmon (1920-2010) passed away this morning.
Prof. Talmon (90) was the chief editor of the Hebrew University Bible
Project for many years.
The Wikipedia entry for Professor Talmon is here.

May his memory be for a blessing.

Persepolis Fortification Archive Project Annual Report 2009-2010

THE PERSEPOLIS FORTIFICATION ARCHIVE PROJECT ANNUAL REPORT 2009-2010 has been posted at the Persepolis Fortification Archive Project Blog.

It's good to see that the important work on these Aramaic and Elamite texts continues apace.

Last year's report is noted here. Further background to the project and the attendant political controversy is here and follow the links.

Resurrecting the lost art of the mosaic

LILIAN BROCA is resurrecting the lost art of the mosaic:
A series of 10 mosaics she created to retell the Biblical story of Queen Esther took seven years to finish. One of the panels won a prestigious Lorenzo il Magnifico gold medal at the Florence Biennale International Exhibition in 2003.

Four years ago, the series was shown as a solo show at a Toronto art gallery. Most of the series was bought by a private collector of Canadian art who now owns eight of the panels.

The art historian and archaeologist Sheila Campbell, curator of the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies in Toronto, hails Ms. Broca as a rare contemporary artist to find success in the medium. “For my part,” she wrote for the show’s catalogue, “I enjoy watching the glory of the Roman and Byzantine worlds being reborn in the 21st century.”

The artist turned to mosaics after a lengthy period working in monochromatic graphite. “I was starved for colours,” she said. Her pieces from that time include a notable series on Lilith, a figure from Jewish mythology whom she found to be a “solid, powerfully down-to-earth woman with a great sense of justice and integrity.” Her pieces accompany a poem by Joy Kogawa called A Song of Lilith, published by Polestar a decade ago.

Storm reveals Roman-era statue at Ashkelon

STORMY WEATHER IN ISRAEL has unearthed a Roman-era statue:
Roman statue discovered in Ashkelon after storm damage
A 1.2 meter high statue of a woman was found after part of a cliff crumbled, revealing archaeological treasures.

By Asaf Shtull-Trauring (Haaretz)

Tags: Ashkelon Israel news

The massive storm that swept through Israel over the weekend caused a great deal of damage to archaeological sites all along the Mediterranean coast, but also uncovered a an impressive statue of a woman between 1650 and 1800 years old in Ashkelon.

The statue, a 1.2-meter high figure of a woman with her head missing, has been dated to Roman times and is thought to have stood erect in a bath house.

The statue was discovered when a cliff crumbled into the water at a sea-side archaeological dig in Ashkelon. Among the chunks of earth that broke off from the cliff were parts of a large building that apparently were once a part of a Roman bath house.

Sections of a colorful mosaic floor were also ruined. Many shards were washed away by the water.

The damage to the statue is ancient. The article also has a nice slide show of the statue and its recovery with a crane by archaeologists and the Ashkelon City Council.

Polyglot Meme

POLYGLOT MEME: How could I resist this? James McGrath writes:
And so I've decided to start a meme, asking those tagged [basically, anyone who wants to] to list every language that they have made some sort of concerted effort to learn, even if they didn't get beyond the first lesson or so, or even if they are still learning it. No need to specify the degree of fluency in the blog post - if readers are curious how much Swahili you know, they can ask.
I'm limiting the list to languages I learned to the point where I could use them with reasonable facility, although I'm pretty rusty on some of them now. I've made some effort with some other out-of-the-way ones (e.g., Elvish, Enochian, and Esperanto), but not to that point. And I'm not done! Judeo-Arabic is on the agenda next.

Arabic (Classical)
Aramaic (numerous ancient dialects including Syriac)
Greek (ancient)
Hebrew (biblical, epigraphic, modern)
Northwest Semitic (epigraphic Moabite, Ammonite, etc.)

I don't really think of HTML as a language, but others are including it in their lists, so I note it as an aside.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Archaeometry article on sealed Qumran jar

A SEALED JAR excavated at Qumran in 2004 is the subject of a forthcoming article in Archaeometry, which is prepublished here. Abstract:

5. A. D. BOND1,
7. M. BALLA6,
8. M. STRLIC7,

An intact and sealed storage jar known as Jar-35 was found in 2004, south of the Qumran settlement. A previous study identified tartrate in the deposit of the jar, indicating the possible past presence of wine (Buti et al. 2006). However, we cannot confirm this finding. Using liquid and gas chromatography with mass spectrometric detection, no trace of tartaric acid or salts thereof could be detected in our samples. We show that the major component of the deposit is gypsum. No other organic compounds were identified with the methods that we have applied. Both radiocarbon dating of charcoal in the deposit and thermoluminescence dating of the ceramic jar show that it dates to the main period of habitation at Qumran (c. 100 bc to ad 70).
A personal or institutional subscription is required to access the full article, but this piece in Unreported Heritage News summarizes it.

I haven't specifically noted this jar at PaleoJudaica, but it is mentioned in an online report on the 2004 excavation season by Randall Price, which I linked to here.

Rebuttal to letter by Israeli rabbis

A REBUTTAL to that letter from some Israeli rabbis arguing that Jews should not sell or rent property to non-Jews in Israel:
Falsifying Jewish law

Op-ed: Rabbis who ban home sales to Arabs distort Halacha, should go back to school

Michael Abraham (
Published: 12.13.10, 22:04 / Israel Opinion

The rabbis’ declaration banning the leasing of apartments to Arabs provoked many responses in favor and against. Many of these reactions – on both sides – were tendentious, selective and misleading. It is therefore important to make it clear that we are dealing with a document replete with distortions and demagoguery that has nothing to do with Jewish law.


According to such simplistic interpretation, we should also be beating wives who misbehave, placing non-believing Jews in a pit, banning women from Torah studies, and possibly even adhering to the “eye for an eye” rule. Yet the art of interpreting Jewish law is the combination of original sources and application under changing circumstances. Those who fail to understand it have no idea what Jewish law means.

Background here.

The Tea Party and the Talmud


PEF photostream of Jerusalem etc.

THE PALESTINE EXPLORATION FUND has posted a photostream on Flickr which has nineteenth and early twentieth-century pictures of Jerusalem and other Middle Eastern historical sites, etc.

(HT Dorothy Lobel King.)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Jerusalem artifacts found in storage in Old City

A "TREASURE TROVE" of ancient artifacts from Jerusalem has been found in storage in the Old City:
Study of amazing artifacts from ancient Jerusalem

Project by Shimon Gibson

Incredibly important ancient treasures from first-century Jerusalem – from the time of the ancient Jewish Temple and from the time Jesus was crucified – were dug out of the ground of Mount Zion in the 1970s and put into temporary storage. Usually this is where the scientific study of archaeological finds starts, with archaeologists writing up reports and with special objects being shown in museums. Unfortunately, owing to unpredictable circumstances, these unique finds were shifted from one location to another. Eventually their exact whereabouts came to be forgotten. Three decades went by. Everyone thought the finds were lost forever. Indeed I began searching for these artifacts in the 1990s but without luck, and I, too, gave up on the search. And then, suddenly, a miracle occurred: hundreds of crates, boxes and bags of archaeological artifacts were found locked away in padlocked cellars in the Old City. It turned out that these were the artifacts I had been hunting for over so many years…

This sounds like the lead-up of a movie but it is a true story, and the quantity and quality of artifacts is amazing. When we began unpacking some of the crates I was astonished to find a veritable treasure trove of unique and important objects, including a large bronze Christian crucifix, small potsherds with Hebrew and Greek inscriptions, some dating to Old Testament times, and well-preserved, large wall paintings from two thousand years ago (similar to those known from Pompeii) depicting columned-buildings, birds, and floral designs. Such museum-quality artifacts could help rewrite the history of Mount Zion and ancient Jerusalem, and you would think institutions would be falling over each other to help finance a project to preserve them, but they aren't. This is why I need your help.

Via Arne Berge.

Weather threat to Caesarea

THE SITE OF CAESAREA is threatened by the weather:
Storms prompt fears Caesarea's ancient port may collapse

Published: 12.12.10, 17:52 / Israel News (

Following the collapse of the Caesarea breakwater, the waves pounding Israel's shores are reaching the ancient port of Caesarea, prompting fears it may collapse too in one of the worst storms in this region for years.


Iranian Islamists holding tomb of Esther hostage

IRANIAN ISLAMISTS are holding the (traditional) tomb of Esther hostage: Iran hardliners threaten to ruin Jewish shrine.

A BBC Nativity program

The Jesus story with a hint of EastEnders

Tony Jordan's latest BBC drama proves you don't have to be a believer to make a good Nativity film, says Gerard Gilbert

Monday, 13 December 2010 (The Independent)

I'm not sure I'd describe Tony Jordan – elder statesman of EastEnders and co-creator of Life on Mars – as a non-believer, but to judge from his comments to a BBC press website to promote his new BBC1 series The Nativity, he sounds like what you might call an open-minded agnostic.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Verdi's Nabucco playing in Florida

VERDI'S NABUCCO has been playing in Palm Beach, Florida:
Mostly excellent cast lifts Palm Beach Opera’s static “Nabucco”

By David Fleshler

Mark Rucker in the title role of Verdi's "Nabucco," which runs through Monday at Palm Beach Opera.

Absent for 25 years, Verdi’s Nabucco returned to Palm Beach Opera Friday with a mostly excellent cast, stark but dramatic sets and another fine performance by the company’s orchestra.

An opera isn’t mounted for a generation without a reason, and Verdi’s third opera has a creaking, preachy plot that ends with the Hebrew high priest telling the Babylonian ruler Nabucco, “In serving Jehovah, you shall be the king of kings.” But Verdi poured some great music into this musty libretto, and it was well served by this musically energetic production, which runs through Monday.

Rather than treating the opera as an opportunity for massive, intimidating sets filled with Old Testament props, the company used an effective, almost abstract Opéra de Montréal production with clean lines and a few iconic symbols. In the opening temple of Jerusalem scene, the setting consisted of steps, a few pillars and a menorah. As the scene moves to the Babylonian capital, there were more pillars, steps and the image of a mythical half-lion, half-eagle griffin. Dramatic lighting, which by the last scene illuminated the stage in eerie shades of orange and blue, helped make these austere sets work.

Nabucco also recently played at Masada.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Landau responds to McKnight

BRENT LANDAU responds to Scot McKnight's review of Landau's new book, The Revelation of the Magi. He concludes:
In conclusion, McKnight has rightly pressed me on exactly the points of my interpretation that I expected to be most controversial. I hope the above remarks have served to clarify my analysis of the RevMagi’s date of composition and theological outlook, and I would welcome further exchanges with him in the future.
Follow the second link for additional reviews of the book.

Irish Times obit for Ehud Netzer

Archaeologist and expert on life of King Herod

Ehud Netzer: EHUD NETZER, emeritus professor of archaeology at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, who has died aged 76, was one of the world’s foremost authorities on the life and times of King Herod, who ruled Judea under the Romans in the 1st century BC.

More Netzer obituaries here.

Friday, December 10, 2010

New papyri on the Arab Conquest in 7th century CE

A PAPYRI "DISCOVERY" at the Austrian National Library:
New Information about the Sasanian Dynasty, among the discovered historical letters dating from the Arab conquest of Egypt

PostDateIcon Friday, 10 December 2010 08:06 | PDF Print E-mail

LONDON, (CAIS) -- Among the Papyri Collection at the Austrian National Library (Die Österreichische Nationalbibliothek), a previously unknown archive has recently discovered a series of letters which could shed light on the history of the Arab conquest of the Middle-East in the 7th Century CE.


The Austrian National Library states that the Papyrus Letter Collection Archive is the source that could shed light on one of the most important events in the history of mankind, although it has not yet been scientifically confirmed.

So far over 250 letters written in Greek and Coptic on Papyrus have been identified. The letters were written in Egypt around 643/4 CE, immediately after the Arab conquest of Egypt which is documented in a unique way that tells the history of the transition of power to the Arabs.

A special feature of the letters is that how the Arabs were able to invade such a massive territory as Egypt with such a small army of 4,000 soldiers. According to the letters Amr, the commander of Arab forces was ordered to avoid killing the civilians in Egypt, contrary to the invasion of Iran two years earlier which was taken place in a most brutal fashion.

Among the discovered Papyri there are also a number of documents written in Sasanian-Pahlavi, date to the period that Egypt was under the Sasanian rule (619-629). These documents are about the imperial Sasanian forces stationed in Egypt and their life-style during their stay, which are yet to be studied.

In addition to the historical importance of the archive, the Pahlavi documents are likely to be linguistically important, since most of the surviving Sassanian Pahlavi literature is extant only in later manuscripts. See the "Middle Persian Literature i. Pahlavi Literature" article in the online Encyclopaedia Iranica.

New book on Hannibal

PUNIC WATCH – New book on Hannibal:
Office Hours: Robert Garland
Professor Tackles Hannibal and his Legacy in New Book

By Nate Lynch (Colgate Maroon-News)

Published: Thursday, December 2, 2010

Updated: Thursday, December 2, 2010 13:12

Roy D. and Margaret B. Wooster Professor of the Classics Robert Garland recently published Hannibal, part of the "Ancients in Action" series, in April of this year. The book tries to explain the somewhat enigmatic historical character of Hannibal, the Carthaginian general who famously led a massive expedition of infantry, cavalry and elephants over the Alps in an attack on Rome during the Second Punic War. The book was published by the Bristol Classical Press and is available at the Colgate University Bookstore.

The goal of the "Ancients in Action" series is to provide short incisive books introducing major figures of the ancient world to the modern general reader, including the essentials of each subject's life, works and significance for later western civilization.

Garland began work on Hannibal about three years ago with this goal in mind, but also to examine the events surrounding Hannibal from the general's own perspective and convey his personal admiration for his achievements and perseverance.


Thursday, December 09, 2010

New book: Aramaica Qumranica

Aramaica Qumranica
Proceedings of the Conference on the Aramaic Texts from Qumran in Aix-en-Provence 30 June - 2July 2008

Edited by Katell Berthelot and Daniel Stökl Ben Ezra (STDJ 94; Leiden: Brill, 2010)

The Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls represent roughly 13% of the Qumran library and correspond to a wide range of genres and topics. This book consists of the proceedings of a conference on the Aramaic scrolls from Qumran which took place in Aix-en-Provence in 2008. It includes both the papers themselves and a transcription of the discussions. The 22 papers tackle linguistic, exegetical and historical questions, focusing in particular on: the relation of the Aramaic texts to what we know as the Hebrew Bible; their literary genres; the question of their sectarian or non-sectarian provenance; the character of the corpus, and specifically its relevance to the development of apocalypticism and messianism in the Jewish tradition.

More reviews of Landau, Revelation of the Magi

MORE REVIEWS of Brent Landau, The Revelation of the Magi: by Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed and by Therese J. Borchard at Catholic San Francisco. McKnight is skeptical of the comparatively early date that Landau assigns to the work.

Given the season, I expect that this book will get a lot more attention in the coming weeks.

For earlier reviews, go here.

UPDATE (11 December): Landau responds to McKnight.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Israeli rabbis tell Jews not to sell homes to Arabs

Israeli rabbis tell Jews not to sell homes to Arabs

Tue Dec 7, 2010 9:37am EST

By Maayan Lubell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Dozens of Israeli rabbis, some of them civil servants, issued an appeal on Tuesday telling locals not to sell or rent property to non-Jews, drawing condemnation from lawmakers and human rights activists.

The open letter underscored Jewish-Arab tensions that have deepened along with Israel's deadlocked Palestinian conflict, as well as more recent demographic fears triggered by an influx of illegal African migrants.

"The Land of Israel is intended for the people of Israel," Yosef Shainin, chief rabbi of the southern port city of Ashdod and one of the 41 signatories, told Israel's Army Radio when asked about the letter.

Obtained by Reuters ahead of its planned publication in synagogues and religious journals, the letter quotes warnings by ancient sages that living with non-Jews can lead to "sacrilege." Other concerns for property values are also raised.

I can't find the full text of this letter anywhere online. Presumably it will become available when it is actually published. (If the writers don't have sense enough now to cancel publication.) In a CNN article another line from the letter is quoted as: "In answer to many questions, we reply that it is prohibited by the Torah to sell a house or field in Israel to a gentile."

Since no specific passages from ancient texts are cited, it is difficult to comment in any specific way about their use. In general, it is true that some biblical passages and passages in the early rabbinic texts warn Israelites/Jews not to associate with their pagan polytheist neighbors because of the danger of adopting their idolatrous ways. Polytheistic and idolatrous rites permeated pagan societies, since there was no distinction between religion and other elements of society in those times. Nevertheless, polytheists who adopted Israelite ways, including monotheistic devotion to the Israelite God, were welcome. Conversion wasn't particularly encouraged at any period (and is a massively complicated topic that I won't go into here), but it was accepted if outsiders wanted to join up (see, e.g., the Book of Ruth).

The point here is that such biblical and rabbinic passages were aimed at very specific social circumstances a long time ago. It is disingenuous and unhelpful to try to apply them today to, apparently, Muslims – that is, fellow monotheists – in a pluralistic society where societal structures allow and indeed assume that people will practice different religious faiths peaceably in the same society.

The writers of this letter have the right to express their views, but I wish they would keep the ancient texts out it.

UPDATE: Reader Michael Pitkowsky points me to the full Hebrew text of the letter here. He also comments at the Menachem Mendel blog.

Pretend To Be A Time Traveler Day 2010

PRETEND TO BE A TIME TRAVELER DAY is today. Try to stay out of trouble.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Book review: Colleen Shantz, Paul in Ecstasy

BOOK REVIEW, in the Journal of Theological Studies:
Paul in Ecstasy: The Neurobiology of the Apostles’s Life and Thought. By Colleen Shantz.

Paul in Ecstasy: The Neurobiology of the Apostles’s Life and Thought. By Colleen Shantz. Pp. viii + 267. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. isbn 978 0 521 86610 1. £45/$80.

1. Quinton Deeley

+ Author Affiliations

Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London

1. Christopher Rowland

+ Author Affiliations

University of Oxford

The first thing that needs to be said about this remarkable book is that it is an exciting and brave book. The second of those epithets might be a prelude to a polite rejection of its findings because they are tendentious, or stray beyond the bounds of what is currently acceptable in the discipline. That is not the case. There is no doubt that this is an unusual thesis, but its peculiarity is the reason for its bravery. It is explicitly interdisciplinary, and, what is more, retraces a course which has been eschewed by much modern historical scholarship—the application of neuroscience to the religious experience of the leading New Testament writer, Paul of Tarsus. There is a double jeopardy here: interdisciplinarity, of course, but also the exploration of the experience which is referred to in (and behind) the text as a significant factor in the writer’s experience and one that has major ramifications for understanding his thought. The interdisciplinary nature of this book has prompted the need for a comprehensive review in which the different facets of this book can be adequately assessed. We have been engaged in an ongoing conversation on the nature of visionary experience over the last three years, together with Professor Stephen Pattison of the University of Birmingham and this joint review has arisen out of that collaboration.

Colleen Shantz’s study explores a neglected field, and suspicion of mysticism and religious experience, rooted in theological fear of the dynamic unpredictability of the mystical and the experiential in Christianity, has coloured the way these issues have been treated within biblical studies. The book, which started life as a doctoral dissertation under the supervision of Leif Vaage, represents something of a milestone in the spasmodic, but necessary, exploration of the nature of early Christian experience and in ...
Full text available only with personal or institution subscription.

It's exciting to see this sort of work being done, which takes mystical experience seriously as an input to foundational religious traditions.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Happy 6th blogiversary to Ralph the Sacred River


New book: Halakha in Light of Epigraphy

NEW BOOK: Halakha in Light of Epigraphy.

Robert Eisenman in Malaysia – plus defense of original DSS team

PROFESSOR ROBERT EISENMAN has been lecturing in Malaysia and is profiled in the Malaysia Star. I learned something: I didn't know that he had been an anti-Beat beatnik. Be that as it may, I'm going to stick with "controversial" to describe his views. And I do have to comment on this, which hits a sore spot:
“We said (the [Dead Sea] scrolls) should be open to anybody,” said Prof Eisenman. “It should be free for anyone – religious, non-religious, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, whoever – to look at the scrolls for themselves. And the Israelis didn’t want that. They wanted their scholars to see the documents and write the principal work so that their version would be the official interpretation.”
I make no assumption that Professor Eisenman is being quoted correctly, but I'll respond to the charge as stated. The above quote is flirting with conspiracy theorizing and the last two sentences are simply wrong. The original team were Christians (Protestants and Catholics), plus one agnostic (Allegro), which hardly seems like the ideal makeup for Israeli mouthpieces. Indeed the Jordanian government had the ultimate remit for assembling the team and they made it a condition that no Jewish scholar be included.

Regarding the later expansion of the team when the Israelis were in charge, I was one of the doctoral students to whom original team members reassigned Scrolls material to publish in the 1980s. I knew the other students and we had a wide range of political, religious, and theological views (and no one ever showed the slightest interest in asking us about any of these views). The expansion of the team to 40 or more included Protestants, Catholics, and Jews.

The original team of eight was simply too small for the size of the job, which was an understandable mistake given that no one had ever tried to coordinate a manuscript publication project of that size and complexity before. That said, a team that had been much larger would have strained the space and resources available in the Rockefeller Museum, where the team spent ten years sorting the tens of thousands of fragments into manuscripts. It is also understandable, and very human, that they were reluctant to give up the material after they had spent so many years of their lives on this basic task of reconstruction, for which they still get little credit. Nevertheless, this project was far better coordinated, executed, and completed than the publication of, say, the Oxyrhynchus papyri or the Cairo Geniza archive, neither of which are anywhere near being fully published after more than a century.

Our resources for this sort of project are almost inconceivably better than those available to the original team of Scrolls researchers and they should be judged in the context of the time in which they were working. I'm sure they could have done better, had they been granted our perspective and hindsight with a flashforward, but could we have done better than they did if we didn't know what we know now?

I have offered these and other points in defense of the original team here, here, here, and here.

Regarding the rest of the quote above, of course the material should be available to anyone to study. Happily, it now is. I'm not aware of any Muslim or Buddhist specialists in the Scrolls, but we would all be glad to hear their insights if they turn up.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

USA Today on The Revelation of the Magi

THE REVELATION OF THE MAGI in its new translation by Brent Landau is profiled by USA Today:
Were the Three Wise Men from China?

By Michelle Healy, USA TODAY

The story of the Three Wise Men is one of the most familiar and beloved parts of the Christmas story. But for all of their popularity, the mysterious travelers from the East — known as the Magi — appear in only one short passage in the New Testament, following a star to the site of Jesus' birth and bringing gifts of gold, francincense and myrrh. Many religious scholars aren't even sure they really existed.

Now, a first-ever English translation and detailed analysis of a little-known eighth-century text uncovers a far more substantial version of the wise men story.


Landau's book, Revelation of the Magi: The Lost Tale of the Wise Men's Journey to Bethlehem (HarperOne) describes the Magi as an ancient mystical sect descended from Seth, the pious and virtuous third son of Adam and Eve. From Seth they inherited a prophecy of "a star of indescribable brightness" someday appearing and "heralding the birth of God in human form." This same star had initially hovered over the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden.

It's a pretty good article, but I would be happier with it if it had said more explicitly that The Revelation of the Magi is a manuscript of a second- or third-century CE text that gives a legendary account of Matthew's (probably already legendary) magi. It tells us nothing about any actual magi in the first century, although potentially it could tell us quite a lot about an interesting Christian author (and community?) in the second or third century.

Background here. More on Matthew's magi and the historical magi here.

Incidentally, the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project is publishing a quotation fragment from a text called The Apocryphon of Seth which deals with some related Seth legends.

'Study' denying Jews' right to Kotel resurfaces

'Study' denying Jews' right to Kotel resurfaces

By KHALED ABU TOAMEH (Jerusalem Post)
12/04/2010 17:57

Document which sparked strong condemnations from Israel and the US returns on official website of the PA’s news agency Wafa.
Talkbacks (26)

Only days after it was removed from the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Information website, a “study” denying Jews’ rights to the Western Wall has resurfaced, this time on the official website of the PA’s news agency, Wafa.

By publishing the document on Wafa’s website, the official mouthpiece of the PLO and the PA, the authority has sent a message that its has officially endorsed its findings.

It's back and it's still bogus. I hope the Obama Administration and others renew their protests. Background here.

Symposium on Syria's Ugaritic Alphabet

IN PARIS: Symposium on Syria's Ugaritic Alphabet. This to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the decipherment of Ugaritic.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Congratulations to Seth Sanders

CONGRATULATION to Seth Sanders, recipient of the Frank Moore Cross Award.

Trinity News press release:
The Frank Moore Cross Award is Bestowed on Trinity’s Seth Sanders

Honor is for Most Substantial Book on Near Eastern Epigraphy, Tradition

HARTFORD, Conn. – Back in the late 1980s, Seth L. Sanders studied at Harvard College under one of the most eminent Biblical scholars of the 20th century, Frank Moore Cross Jr. Thus, it’s only fitting that Sanders, assistant professor of religion at Trinity, was recently awarded the 2010 Frank Moore Cross Award for Sanders’s 2009 volume, The Invention of Hebrew, which argues that Hebrew was the first successful vernacular literature.

In comparing Biblical documents with ancient texts in Hebrew, Ugaritic and Babylonian, Sanders’s book demonstrates the ways in which Hebrew was a “powerfully self-conscious political language [and] how Hebrew assumed and promoted a source of power previously unknown in written literature: the people as the protagonist of religion and politics.”

The award, named in honor of Cross, now professor emeritus at the Harvard Divinity School, is presented annually by the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), based at Boston University.

Founded in 1900, ASOR’s mission is to initiate, encourage and support research and public understanding of the peoples and cultures of the Near East from the earliest times. The organization has more than 1,300 individual and 95 institutional members. The Frank Moore Cross Award is given to the author of “the most substantial volume related to ancient Near Eastern and eastern Mediterranean epigraphy, text and/or tradition.”

In issuing its citation for the award, ASOR praised Sanders’s book for being “the first to approach the Bible in light of recent findings in the history of writing.” Noting that researchers and historians have engaged in “bitter, old debates over whether the Bible is history or ideology,” debates that rightfully should give way to productive new ones over the relationship between the Bible’s written form and its political power, ASOR credits The Invention of Hebrew with documenting “distinct ways in which Hebrew was a powerfully self-conscious political language.”

The Invention of Hebrew, published by the University of Illinois Press, was also a finalist in the scholarship category of the 2009 National Jewish Book Awards. Sanders, a member of Trinity’s faculty since 2007, received his B.A. from Harvard and his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University. He is also the editor of the Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions. On sabbatical this year, Sanders is working on a second book, Divine Personae and Journeys to Heaven: Ancient Near Eastern Elements of Early Jewish Mysticism and Apocalypticism.

In reviewing The Invention of Hebrew, Alex Golub, professor of anthropology at the University of Hawaii, said, ”Seth Sanders combines anthropology and biblical studies to describe how Hebrew came to be used so widely, and to explain the unique status of the Bible as a written document.”

Golub described the book as “extremely clearly written,” and one that “even has a certain flair to it.” Continuing, he said, “In my opinion, this book is great. It combines so many fields that have been kept separate, compares ancient Israel with so many other cultures and societies. Reading Sanders’s book, you feel as if your eyes have been opened and the fog has lifted on a lot of ancient history.”

On entering Harvard, Sanders thought he was going to be an artist. But he found that religion and mythology fascinated him. In particular, he became interested in connecting social theory with ancient myth and inscriptions. Eventually, that led to his research and subsequent book.

“I thought there might be something about the form in which the Bible is written that might explain the power of its content,” he said.

“Some people want to see events in the Bible as entirely true and accurate,” he added. “Other people see it as all propaganda or nostalgia. There’s enough solid evidence to decide either way. My book doesn’t end the debate but it may provide more solid ground historically.”

Although The Invention of Hebrew is primarily intended for academic use, Sanders said that he wrote the book in a way that lay people could understand and appreciate, as well as those interested in Jewish studies, anthropology and political thought.

ASOR’s U.S.-based coordination center, its publications program and its three affiliated overseas centers in the Middle East have been in the forefront of America research efforts for more than a century. Among ASOR’s distinguished alumni are many of the world’s major Near Eastern and Biblical scholars.

According to ASOR’s web site, its main purpose is to “enable properly qualified persons to pursue Biblical, linguistic, archaeological, historical, and other kindred studies…under more favorable conditions than can be secured at a distance from the Holy Land.”

ASOR disseminates news of the latest research findings in its publications and through lectures at its annual meeting, which brings together scholars from around the world. The Frank Moore Cross Award is one of seven honors that ASOR bestows each year.
Seth also has a blog called Serving the Word.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Praise of the Steinsaltz Talmud

THE STEINSALTZ TALMUD is praised by Mordechai Beck at the Guardian blog.

Background here.

More on Magdala synagogue

MORE ON THE FIRST-CENTURY CE SYNAGOGUE found in Magdala last year: Patricia Corrigan reports at Excerpt:
The discovery of the Magdala synagogue occurred after the center, a Christian guesthouse in Jerusalem operated by the Legionaries of Christ, decided to build a hotel and visitor center near the Sea of Galilee. They chose to build in Magdala, said to be the home of Mary Magdalene, about 100 miles north of Jerusalem.

Before the complex could be built, however, the government required that there be an archaeological investigation on the site. The dig, directed by Dina Avshalom-Gorni and Arfan Najar of the Israel Antiquities Authority, began in July 2009. One month later, workers uncovered the first remains of the synagogue.

Archaeologists have since unearthed pottery, coins and frescoes that have retained their vivid colors through the centuries. Magdala was one of several Galilean towns where Christians often shared the synagogues with Jews. The synagogue may have been destroyed during a Jewish revolt against Roman rule between 66 A.D. and 70 A.D.

In October 2009, [excavator] Avshalom-Gorni told CNN: “We are dealing with an exciting and unique find. This is the first time that a menorah decoration has been discovered from the days when the Second Temple was still standing.”

Since the discovery, the Israel Antiquities Authority has given the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center permission to build the hotel and visitor center, with a projected opening date of July 2012. New construction plans add an ecumenical chapel on the spot where the ancient synagogue was found.

In addition to the synagogue’s historical significance to Jews, [Father Eamon] Kelly, [vice chargé of the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center] sees it as a possible moment of interfaith harmony, telling an Irish newspaper that “there is a high probability that the people from this synagogue were followers of Jesus and may have witnessed his miracles firsthand.”
That last comment is wild speculation, but it's nice to have the background to the discovery anyway.

A stone engraved with a seven-branched menorah was also found in the building.

Background here.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Full-Scale Replica Of Noah's Ark Planned for outside Cincinnati

CAN'T MAKE IT UP: Full-Scale Replica Of Noah's Ark Planned for outside Cincinnati.

Hmmm ... do they know something we don't?

Somewhat related Noah's Ark stories are noted here, here, here, and here, but none as ambitious as this one.

PA removes controversial Kotel report from website

PA removes controversial Kotel report from website

12/01/2010 21:37 (Jerusalem Post)

Move comes after Israel, US condemn 'study' claiming Kotel is not holy to Jews; PA ministry claims post taken down by hackers.

A Palestinian Authority “study” that rejects Jews’ claim to the Western Wall disappeared on Wednesday from the official website of the Palestinian Ministry of Information.

The ministry said in a statement in Arabic that its website had been “penetrated by unknown persons.”

However, a senior PA official in Ramallah revealed that the controversial report was cut at the request of the United States.

The ministry said that despite the alleged attack by hackers, it was “determined to show the truth and relay all what’s happening in Palestine to the world.”

Despite the claim about a hacker attack, the ministry’s website did not seem to be affected at all and was continuing to publish new material all day.

The paper about the Western Wall, which was first reported by The Jerusalem Post on November 22, had appeared on the site until Tuesday night.

It was removed the first time almost immediately after the US criticized the Palestinians for issuing it.

The Prime Minister’s Office responded to the PA’s decision to take down its “study” denying any Jewish connection to the Western Wall off the website, by saying it was notenough for the PA to pretend this never happened, but was important that the leadership denounce it publicly.

Background here.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Livius: Let’s Abandon Achaemenid Studies

Let’s Abandon Achaemenid Studies

Three books on the Achaemenid Empire, all aiming at the general audience. One of them is just bad, the second one is unnecessary, the third explains what everybody already knows. This is the wrong way to introduce people to one of the most fertile branches of ancient history.

Kaveh Farrokh,Shadows in the Desert (2007)
Tom Holland, Persian Fire (2005)
Bruce Lincoln, Religion, Empire, and Torture (2007)

The reviews also contain a wealth of internal links to pages relevant to ancient Iran at the Livius site.

UPDATE: I just noticed that these reviews are two-and-a-half years old. But I only noticed them today and they are of undiminished interest.

Hebrew MSS exhibition at the Israel Museum

Braginsky Collection of Rare Illuminated Hebrew Manuscripts Premieres at Israel Museum


JERUSALEM.- The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, will present one of the most important private collections of illuminated Hebrew manuscripts and printed books in the exhibition A Journey through Jewish Worlds: Highlights from the Braginsky Collection of Hebrew Manuscripts and Printed Books, on view from December 1, 2010, through April 30, 2011. The exhibition marks the first opportunity for Israeli audiences to experience examples from the notable library of Swiss collector René Braginsky, which includes objects ranging from a 6th-7th century Shema Yisrael (Hear O Israel) amulet to a rare early 20th century Samaritan Ketubbah (marriage contract) from Schechem. The collection comes to Israel following an international tour, which included Amsterdam and New York. Its presentation at the Israel Museum will be complemented by related objects from the Museum’s own Jewish Art and Life holdings, providing insight into a vibrant and artistic Jewish culture around the world.


Among the highlights on view are:

• A Shema Yisrael traveler's amulet, dating from the 6th – 7th century CE, inscribed with an early and unusual combination of biblical verses. It is presented alongside two singularly important items from the Israel Museum collection: a passage from the book of Isaiah from the Dead Sea Scrolls, which dates to the first century BCE and is among the oldest known Biblical texts; and a page from the Aleppo Codex, the earliest known Biblical Hebrew manuscript, from the Middle Ages. The amulet offers important rare testimony to the existence of Hebrew Biblical text during the “silent” period between the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the oldest surviving Medieval manuscripts.


Obama Administration condemns PA Jewish-Temple denial

GOOD FOR THEM: The Obama Administration has condemned the latest bout of PA Jewish-Temple denial.
US condemns PA denial of Jewish ties to Western Wall

11/30/2010 23:47 (Jerusalem Post)

PJ Crowley says paper "factually incorrect, insensitive and highly provocative"; tells PA leadership to combat de-legitimation of Israel.
Talkbacks (9)

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration condemned on Tuesday a Palestinian Authority-backed paper that denies any Jewish connection to the Western Wall.

“Regarding a claim by a senior Palestinian Authority official that the Western Wall is an Islamic Waqf, we strongly condemn these comments and fully reject them as factually incorrect, insensitive and highly provocative," State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said Tuesday. "We have repeatedly raised with the Palestinian Authority leadership the need to consistently combat all forms of de-legitimization of Israel, including denying historic Jewish connections to the land."

Multiple Jewish groups and members of Congress have slammed the Palestinian Authority for the paper, which appeared on its website last week signed by a senior Ministry of Information official.

Background here and keep following the many links back in many posts for extensive discussion of the problem of PA and Palestinian (etc.) denial of basic historical facts related to the Jewish historical association with Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, etc.

UPDATE (2 December): The report has now been removed from the PA website.

Happy Hanukkah!

HAPPY HANUKKAH to all those celebrating! The festival begins this evening at sundown.

Biblical Studies Carnival 57

BIBLICAL STUDIES CARNIVAL 57 has been published by Deane Galbraith at the Religion Bulletin blog. This carnival sets a new standard. Mark Goodacre asks Possibly the best Biblical Studies Carnival Ever? and the answer is surely yes. It includes detailed coverage of the recent SBL meeting in Atlanta, with special attention to the Biblioblogging session, and very, very full coverage of all the usual categories and more. There's even a humor and gossip section that notes, for example, Helen Ingram's recent ascension to rock-stardom. And there's a new, quality-based ranking of the top 30 biblioblogs, in which PaleoJudaica does very well.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Greek word for "blog"

SO NOW I KNOW the Greek word for "blog." Cool.

UPDATE (1 December): James McGrath is really getting into this.

Recent developments in Raphael Golb case

RECENT DEVELOPMENTS in the Raphael Golb Dead-Sea-Scrolls identity-theft and sock-puppetry case receive attention at Robert Cargill's blog: trying to dig oneself out of a hole: raphael golb posts his appeal online.

Dura Europos murals inspire new art

THE DURA EUROPOS MURALS are inspiring new art:

(Teaneck Patch, About Town, Jennifer Pinto)

Deborah Ugoretz, Miriam Stern and Debbie Schore of Teaneck will have their artwork featured in the Dura Europos Project at the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art from Dec. 5 to March 27.

The women's artwork reflect murals found in the 3rd century synagogue of Dura Europas in Syria. These ancient murals, which were created by artists within a diverse religious environment, are displayed in the National Museum in Damascus, Syria.

The Jewish Art Salon of New York City is organizing the exhibit, with the opening planned from 4 to 6 p.m. Dec. 5.
Follow the Jewish Art Salon link for a flier on the project. There's more on Dura Europos and its murals here and follow the links, and note especially here. Teaneck (New Jersey) also has an interesting association with the Dead Sea Scrolls.