Saturday, February 20, 2010

Child sacrifice not common in ancient Carthage after all?

PUNIC WATCH: Child sacrifice wasn't common in ancient Carthage after all? So say these researchers in this press release:
Pitt-led study debunks millennia-old claims of systematic infant sacrifice in ancient Carthage

Researchers examined 348 burial urns to learn that about a fifth of the children were prenatal at death, indicating that young Carthaginian children were cremated and interred in ceremonial urns regardless of cause of death

PITTSBURGH—A study led by University of Pittsburgh researchers could finally lay to rest the millennia-old conjecture that the ancient empire of Carthage regularly sacrificed its youngest citizens. An examination of the remains of Carthaginian children revealed that most infants perished prenatally or very shortly after birth and were unlikely to have lived long enough to be sacrificed, according to a Feb. 17 report in PLoS ONE.

The findings—based on the first published analysis of the skeletal remains found in Carthaginian burial urns—refute claims from as early as the 3rd century BCE of systematic infant sacrifice at Carthage that remain a subject of debate among biblical scholars and archaeologists, said lead researcher Jeffrey H. Schwartz, a professor of anthropology and history and philosophy of science in Pitt's School of Arts and Sciences and president of the World Academy of Art and Science. Schwartz and his colleagues present the more benign interpretation that very young Punic children were cremated and interred in burial urns regardless of how they died.

"Our study emphasizes that historical scientists must consider all evidence when deciphering ancient societal behavior," Schwartz said. "The idea of regular infant sacrifice in Carthage is not based on a study of the cremated remains, but on instances of human sacrifice reported by a few ancient chroniclers, inferred from ambiguous Carthaginian inscriptions, and referenced in the Old Testament. Our results show that some children were sacrificed, but they contradict the conclusion that Carthaginians were a brutal bunch who regularly sacrificed their own children."

(Via the Agade List.) The PLoS ONE publication is here. I've never hear of PLoS ONE before, but it advertises itself as "an international, peer-reviewed, open-access, online publication" (see here). That's well and good, but I have to say that it makes me nervous that it charges all authors a hefty $1350 subvention to publish an article (although it seems that association with most major academic institutions gets you a discount). Be that as it may, the article's arguments are there to be examined by archaeologists of Carthage.

Somewhat similar claims were being advanced and debunked in 2005. (Sorry, the link there seems to be bad and I can't find the article anymore on Google, so you will have to make do with the excerpts. But see also the second link, which is still good.)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Review of Vermes on the DSS (Economist)

A NEW BOOK ON THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS by Geza Vermes is reviewed in The Economist. Excerpt:
The analysis of such ultra-sensitive material requires calm judgment—and Geza Vermes, a retired Oxford professor, is widely credited with having the coolest head among the scholars who have devoted their careers to studying the scrolls and sharing their insights. Some of his writing is controversial. He has, for example, strong personal opinions on the “historical Jesus”, and like anybody who enters that field he has attracted both admirers and detractors. But in this short personal memoir, he sticks mainly to the known facts about the scrolls, and the arguments they have caused. On this matter, he is careful and fair-minded.

It may help that his personal story stands at the tragic interface between Christianity and Judaism in the 20th century. ...
Then there's this, which I find baffling:
Although Mr Vermes does not spell this out in detail, there is also some intriguing news for Christians: certain “Old Testament” passages which they hold dear—but which are mysteriously absent in the Masoretic version—do feature in the scrolls. They don’t seem to have been late Christian inventions.
I know of no such passages and I wonder if the reviewer has misunderstood something in the book.

UPDATE (20 February): Reader Ed Gallagher e-mails:
As for the Christian passages found in the DSS but absent from the MT, I bet the reviewer has in mind Psa. 22:16 and Isa. 53:10—not “passages” at all, but variant readings that are more congenial to messianic interpretation in their form in the Scrolls than in the MT. I haven’t read Vermes’ book, but these two verses popped into my mind when reading the excerpts of the review on your site.
Maybe so. That would be the readings "pierced" in Psalm 22:16[17] and "light" in Isaiah 53:10, both of which appear in Qumran manuscripts.

Zimbabwean "Ark of the Covenant" resurfaces

TUDOR PARFITT'S SUPPOSED ARK OF THE COVENANT has been found in a storeroom and is now on display:
Zimbabwe displays 'Ark of Covenant replica'


A wooden object claimed to be a replica of the Biblical Ark of the Covenant has gone on display at a Zimbabwe museum.

The "ngoma lungundu" belongs to the Lemba people - black Africans who claim Jewish ancestry.

They say the vessel was built almost 700 years ago from the remains of the original Ark, which the Bible says was used to store Moses' 10 Commandments.

For decades the ancient vessel was thought to be lost, until it was found in a storeroom in Harare recently.

Tudor Parfitt, who rediscovered the artefact three years ago, told the BBC he believed it was the oldest wooden object ever found in sub-Saharan Africa.

Background here and here and follow the links.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ancient aqueduct uncovered in Jerusalem

AN ANCIENT AQUEDUCT has been uncovered in Jerusalem in excavations. The IAA press release:
The 1,800 Year Old High-Level Aqueduct of Jerusalem was Exposed Next to Jaffa Gate in the Old City

A beautiful aqueduct, standing 1.50 meters high and built of large stones, has been situated for almost two millennia right under one of the most familiar and traveled places in Jerusalem – beneath the road that leads from Jaffa Gate toward the David Citadel Museum and the shops on David Street.

The High-Level Aqueduct of Jerusalem, which dates from the second-third century CE, was exposed in excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting, with funding provided by the Jerusalem Development Authority for the purpose of replacing the infrastructure in the region.


Abassid caliph mentioned in Jerusalem Arabic inscription

AN ARABIC INSCRIPTION that mentions an Abbasid caliph has been found in Jerusalem.

Shroud of Turin going on display

THE SHROUD OF TURIN is going on display in Turin this spring.

For recent discussion of the Shroud, go here and here and follow the links.

UPDATE: The original post had the wrong venue, due to my misreading of a line in the AP article. Sorry about that.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

JNUL wants the Russian Hebrew manuscripts it paid for

THE JEWISH NATIONAL AND UNIVERSITY LIBRARY wants the Russian Hebrew manuscripts it paid for nearly a century ago:
Netanyahu personally raised [with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev] the subject of the collection , which is thought to be the world's second-largest anthology of ancient Hebrew literature, after the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Aides to the prime minister also presented the Russians with documents proving ownership of the collection, Haaretz has learned.

The Guenzbergs, a Russian-Jewish noble family, acquired their collection over three generations beginning in the 1840s.

The collection includes 14,000 books, 45 incunabula (books published in the 14th century, at the start of the printing era), more than 2,000 Hebrew manuscripts and 1,000 Arabic manuscripts.

Following the death of Baron David Guenzberg in 1910, Zionist activists, among them Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, sought to retrieve the collection and arrange for its relocation to prestate Israel. In May 1917, the Russians agreed to sell the collection to the Jewish National and University Library for a sum of half a million rubles.

The purchase was made possible by contributions from Russian Zionists.

But after the money had already been paid and the collection was packaged and ready for shipment, World War I erupted, delaying the shipment.
Then the Bolsheviks came and the shipment has yet to happen. Maybe soon.

The Chabad-Lubavitch library in New York is likewise trying to recover a library in Russia:
Written in Hebrew and English, Treasures From the Chabad Library takes a sample of the archive’s 250,000 volumes and antiquities – some dating back to the mid-15th century – to complete 154 entries spread across 564 pages. It contains some of the center’s most-prized relics, complete with descriptions, photos and historical essays.

“This book is a compilation of 35 years of work,” says Rabbi Shalom Dovber Levine, the library’s chief librarian and author of the book. “It is a collection of our rarest and most interesting pieces.”

Released by the Kehot Publication Society, the book comes amidst a public exhibition of many of the library’s artifacts.

The collection, housed alongside Lubavitch World Headquarters in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights, has its roots in the personal library of the First Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. Its few hundred volumes passed down to the Second Rebbe, Rabbi Dovber Schneuri, who moved the collection to the town of Lubavitch, where it remained through three successive generations. At the beginning of World War II, having grown to thousands of books, manuscripts and personal letters, the bulk of the library was moved to Moscow for safekeeping by the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory.

That collection was confiscated by Soviet authorities and is currently held in the Russian State Archives, where it is the subject of American diplomatic and legal efforts to have it restored to Chabad-Lubavitch.
The library includes one of the oldest surviving printed copies of the Talmud.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

New issues of Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha

THE JOURNAL FOR THE STUDY OF THE PSEUDEPIGRAPHA has a new issue out: December 2009, Volume 19, No. 2 . TOC with my parenthetical comments:
Veronika Bachmann
Rooted in Paradise? The Meaning of the ‘Tree of Life’ in 1 Enoch 24—25 Reconsidered
Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 2009 19: 83-107.

Liudmila Navtanovich
Second Enoch and The Tale of the Blessed Zerubbabel: Two Different Examples of Old Testament Slavonic Apocrypha
Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 2009 19: 109-126.

(This article argues on philological grounds that the short recension of 2 Enoch displays more archaic vocabulary and grammar than the long recension and that therefore the short recension is earlier. Slavists seem to agree widely on the priority of the short recension. This bears very much on the discussion of 2 Enoch in last year's Enoch Seminar in Naples.)

Janelle Peters
Hellenistic Imagery and Iconography in Daniel 12.5-13
Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 2009 19: 127-145.

Flemming A.J. Nielsen
Moses’ Throne Vision: A Hebrew Fragment of Ezekiel the Tragedian and the Question of its Origin
Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 2009 19: 147-158.

(Don't get too excited by the title. The conclusion is that Jellinek translated an excerpt of the original Greek into Hebrew. Oh well ...)
Requires a paid individual or institutional subscription to access the full articles.

UPDATE: Actually there's another issue I haven't noted yet: September 2009, Volume 19, No. 1. TOC:
Ivor H. Jones
The Finale of the Wisdom of Solomon: Its Context, Translation and Significance
Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 2009 19: 3-43.

Ephraim Nissan
On Nebuchadnezzar in Pseudo-Sirach
Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 2009 19: 45-76.

Mark E. Hanshaw
Book Review: WHEELER, BRANNON M. Moses in the Quran and Islamic Exegesis. Routledge/ Curzon Studies in the Quran. Routledge/Curzon, 2002. 228 pp. ISBN 0-7007-1603-3
Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 2009 19: 77-80.

A historical trail in Israel

Israel forges a new trail through history

By Noah Kosharek (Haaretz)

The government is planning on spending NIS 500 million over five years to restore and preserve heritage sites across the country.

They are hoping the investment will work to strengthen the Israeli and Jewish connection to the historic and Zionist heritage of Israel.

The existence of the plan, whose steering group is headed by Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser, was reported in Haaretz about a month ago.


The really old

Thirty-seven archaeological sites will be upgraded in the framework of the program.

These include some sites that are already considered well kept, like Caesarea National Park or Masada, where relatively little work, such as the introduction of new sound and light equipment, will be needed.

Other important archaeological sites, like Tel Lachish or the synagogue at Hurvat Amudim near the Golani Junction, will require extensive restoration and preservation work.

At Tel Lachish, which Netanyahu referred to in his speech, the plan is to restore the gate into the city and the city walls, to prepare trails, to build an entrance hall and to add signposts, among other things.

Other sites marked for restoration are Neot Kedumim, Susya, Qumran, Jason's Tomb in the Rehavia neighborhood of Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin Garden, the Eshkolot Cave, Umm al-Amad, the Beit Shean antiquities, Tel Megiddo, Tiberias, Tel Arad, Tel Dan, Hurvat Madras, the park around the Old City of Jerusalem and the City of David.

There are many "less old" sites etc. up for restoration as well.

Apocrypha in Swedish art

APOCRYPHA in Swedish art:
In the Scandinavian nation, a large influence of the old writings can be found in Dalecarlia paintings. These are part of a style that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. It was a form of painting that was practiced solely by self-taught peasant farmers for about 100 years, starting from 1770, in the region of Dalarna. “One of my most interesting findings is that about 75 Dalecarlia paintings are based on apocryphal texts. The motifs are beautiful with nice colors, and often illustrate how the archangel Raphael was appointed guardian. Many paintings also bear the inscription 'God be with you on your journey' in Swedish,” University of Gothenburg expert Elizabeth Philpot, who has spent a lot of time studying the influence of the Apocrypha on Swedish Art, says.
A naked Susanna in a hot tub was reportedly also a favorite theme. Understandably: "'It was a good excuse to paint a naked woman in a biblical context,' Philpot says."

Monday, February 15, 2010

Helen Bond and Gerry Adams in the London Times

HELEN BOND'S CONVERSATION WITH GERRY ADAMS is covered in the London Times. It is not without controversy.
I know why Judas betrayed Jesus, says Gerry Adams in Channel 4 documentary

Ever since Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus with a kiss 2,000 years ago theologians have argued about his motives. But one British academic has now given credit to Gerry Adams, the Sinn Féin leader, for a new insight into one of the most controversial passages of the Bible.

The man who spent a lot of his youth “on the run” from the Army in Belfast yet still swears that he has never been a member of the Provisional IRA, believes that Judas was turned informer by the Roman security services of the time in Palestine, just as many of his former comrades in the Republican movement were induced to spy.

Mr Adams’s views will be shown in a Channel 4 documentary The Bible: A History on Sunday. But even before it has aired it is creating a storm of controversy among many victims of IRA violence.

Background here.

UPDATE: Mark Goodacre takes this article apart as lazy journalism. I didn't think I'd heard of Helen having a blog.

UPDATE: Here's the website for Channel 4's The Bible: A History.

Ink and Blood exhibit in Nashville

THE INK AND BLOOD EXHIBIT is coming to a high school in Nashville. Background here and here. I wouldn't get too excited about the "Dead Sea Scrolls" in it (see first background link).

Byzantine-Era wine press found in Israel

A BYZANTINE-ERA WINE PRESS has been excavated in Israel:
1,400 year-old Byzantine wine press uncovered

15 Feb 2010

The press, unearthed during an excavation by the Israel Antiquities Authority, is one of the largest ever discovered in Israel.

(Communicated by the Israel Antiquities Authority Spokesperson)

One of the largest wine presses ever revealed in an archaeological excavation in the country, which was used to produce wine in the Late Byzantine period (sixth-seventh centuries CE), was recently exposed in excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority. The excavation was carried out in a region that will be the farmland of Ganei Tal, a new community slated to be built for the evacuees from Gush Katif.

The impressive wine press is 1,400 years old and measures 6.5 x 16.5 meters. It was discovered southwest of Kibbutz Hafetz-Haim and was partly damaged during the installation of the infrastructure there.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Book review: Bagnall, Early Christian Books in Egypt

Roger S. Bagnall, Early Christian Books in Egypt. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2009. Pp. xvi + 110, incl. 16 halftones and 10 tables. ISBN 978-0-691- 14026-1. US$29.95/UK£20.95. Further Details.

Jonathan More
University of Stellenbosch / George Whitefield College, South Africa

Christian manuscripts discovered in the Egyptian desert have supplied students of early Christianity with previously unknown texts. They have also attracted the attention of those concerned with establishing the original text of the canonical New Testament as accurately as possible. But these manuscripts have increasingly been recognised as artefacts in their own right and scholars have turned to them to understand more about the social and economic life of the communities for which they were produced. It is to this field that Roger Bagnall, doyen of things papyrological and Egyptian (and, since 2007, Director of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University, where he is also Professor of Ancient History), has contributed a series of four provocative studies addressing some disputed issues surrounding early Christian manuscripts. The four chapters of the book are based on lectures delivered by Bagnall at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in May 2006.

For another recent review of this book, see here.

BMCR review of book on Joseph and Aseneth

PSEUDEPIGRAPHA WATCH/BOOK REVIEW (BMCR): a collection of essays on Joseph and Asenenth.
Eckart Reinmuth (ed.), Joseph und Aseneth. Scripta Antiquitatis Posterioris ad Ethicam Religionemque pertinentia 15. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009. Pp. xi, 280. ISBN 9783161501616. €29.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Martina Hirschberger, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf (

Es handelt sich bei dem Buch um eine zweisprachige Ausgabe der unter dem Titel Joseph und Aseneth bekannten jüdisch-hellenistischen Schrift, die erzählt, wie die in der Bibel nur dreimal (Gen. 41, 45; 50. 46, 20) kurz erwähnte ägyptische Priestertochter Aseneth zur Gattin Josephs werden konnte. Wie bei den Bänden der Reihe SAPERE üblich, gehen dem Text selbst zwei einführende Essays voran; sieben weitere zu für Verständnis und Interpretation des Textes relevanten Themen folgen. Ziel dieser Reihe ist es, Texte der späteren Antike -- worunter die Herausgeber das 2.-4. Jhdt. n. Chr. verstehen -- einem weiteren Publikum zugänglich zu machen. Obgleich eine Entstehung von Joseph und Aseneth in hellenistischer Zeit -- und damit strenggenommen ausserhalb des zeitlichen Rahmens von SAPERE -- sehr erwägenswert ist, ist es dennoch erfreulich, dass dieser Text nun in dieser Form vorliegt.