Saturday, February 27, 2010

More on "King Solomon's Wall"

"KING SOLOMON'S WALL" is the subject of an article in National Geographic. It does interview Israel Finkelstein (who, not surprisingly, urges caution), but otherwise it is disappointing. It quotes Eilat Mazar, but it still seems to be relying on an uncritical reading of the IAA press release. Notably there's this:
Figurines typical of tenth-century B.C. Jerusalem—including four-legged animals and large-breasted women likely symbolizing fertility—were also uncovered, as were jar handles bearing impressions reading "to the king" and various Hebrew names, she said.
The "to the king" (LMLK) inscriptions are not typical of the tenth century - none have been found that are that early - and the ones in question seem to be from earlier excavations and to date to the reign of Hezekiah in the late eighth/early seventh century BCE. I'm not sure about the date of the figurines.

Background here.

More on Israel heritage sites controversy

THE ECONOMIST weighs in on the Israel Heritage sites controversy:
Israel's heritage sites
Fanning the flames
A row about holy places threatens to engulf the Holy Land in new violence

Feb 26th 2010 | From The Economist online

The leaders of Israel and Palestine, Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, are trying, separately, to contain a week-long wave of riots in West Bank cities that threatens to turn into a new Palestinian uprising. Yet the two men themselves ignited the religious passions that fuel this latest violence. And, while they now seek to control the flames, they are both still feeding them with disingenuous, incendiary statements, instead of putting them out.

UNESCO is also unhappy.

Background here.

Happy Purim!

HAPPY PURIM to all those celebrating. The festival begins tonight at sundown.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Cairo Geniza Exodus fragment going on display in Israel Museum

THE CAIRO GENIZA EXODUS FRAGMENT (which includes the Song of the Sea in Exodus 15) is going on display (the AP reports) in the Israel Museum. The article refers to two fragments that were joined in 2007, but I can't find any reference to a second fragment in the reports I noted in 2007 (see here and here).

Israel's Heritage Plan is generating some controversy

ISRAEL'S HERITAGE PLAN (background here) is generating some controversy. First, this:
Critics slam heritage plan for omitting non-Jewish sites

By Nir Hasson

The national heritage proposal that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented to the cabinet this week is attracting criticism for including only sites that are part of the Jewish and Zionist narrative.

The NIS 400 million heritage project, which is geared toward supporting the preservation of Jewish artifacts and teaching schoolchildren about Jewish and Zionist history, includes 37 archaeological sites - all of which the program ties in to Jewish tradition.

But the criticisms have become much more specific after this:
Israel adds West Bank shrines to heritage list


Israel's prime minister has announced a controversial plan to add two major religious sites in the West Bank to the country's national heritage list.

Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem would now be included in the $107m restoration plan.

Israeli media said the two sites had been included on the list only after pressure from nationalist ministers.

The Palestinian Authority warned the decision would "wreck" peace efforts.

Responses include a riot:
Riots over Israeli claim to West Bank heritage sites

Israeli soldiers have clashed with protesters in the West Bank town of Hebron after two disputed shrines were listed as Israeli heritage sites.

Palestinian protesters threw bottles and stones at soldiers who responded with tear gas and stun grenades.

The protesters say the move to list the shrines as heritage sites would restrict Muslims access to them, but this has been denied.

The Hebron shrine is an important site for both Jews and Muslims.

This blistering editorial in Al Ahram:
Fabricating history

Israel's attempts to establish historical grounds for its existence include stealing, destroying and substituting Islamic heritage, reports Khaled Amayreh in Hebron

Tension in the occupied Palestinian territories rose significantly this week following a decision by the rightwing Israeli government to add two ancient mosques in the West Bank to a list of alleged Jewish heritage sites.

The two mosques are the Bilal Ibn Rabah Mosque, which Israelis call Rachel's Tomb, near Bethlehem, and the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, named after the patriarch Ibrahim (Abraham), widely considered the common forefather of both the ancient Hebrews and northern Arabs.

The Hebron mosque, site of a massacre of Arab worshipers by a Jewish terrorist in 1994, is widely considered the fourth most important Islamic shrine, coming directly after the Sacred Mosque in Mecca, the Prophet's Mosque in Medina (both in Saudi Arabia), and Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

Israeli officials didn't explain the decision by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to add the two Islamic sites to a list of some 130 so-called Jewish heritage sites. Netanyahu said the sites would be renovated "in order to reconnect Israelis to their history".

And the AP is also reporting criticism from the US Government.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Geza Vermes profiled in Oxford Times

GEZA VERMES is profiled in a long article in the Oxford Times:
'The world's finest Christ scholar'

6:20am Thursday 25th February 2010

By Reg Little »

In a few weeks’ time The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ will offer Philip Pullman’s radical new account of the life of Jesus, challenging the myths and mysteries of the gospels that have shaped the course of the last 2,000 years.

But before we are presented with the retelling of the life of Jesus by the His Dark Materials author, another Oxford author will have published two new books on Jesus, 35 years after first causing a sensation with Jesus the Jew.

Pullman’s take on Jesus, which will argue that the version in the New Testament was shaped by the apostle Paul, is said to be novel, part history and part fairytale.

For all the massive publicity surrounding the publication of The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, it is unlikely to match the long-term impact of Prof Geza Vermes, who, at the age of 85, is still pursuing Jesus the man.


Phoenicia still circumnavigating South Africa

THE GOOD SHIP PHOENICIA is still circumnavigating South Africa:
Replica of ancient ship sails into PE harbour

2010/02/25 (Weekend Post)

A replica 600BC wooden expedition vessel, the Phoenicia, docked at the Port Elizabeth Harbour yesterday after visiting East London.

There's video too.

Background here.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Book review (H-JUDAIC): Rajak, Translation and Survival

Tessa Rajak. Translation and Survival: The Greek Bible and the
Ancient Jewish Diaspora. Oxford Oxford University Press, 2009. xvi
+ 380 pp. $140.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-19-955867-4.

Reviewed by Matthew Kraus (University of Cincinnati)
Published on H-Judaic (February, 2010)
Commissioned by Jason Kalman

The Greek Bible and Jewish Life among the Greeks and Romans

Generalists and specialists alike interested in the history of Greco-Roman Judaism and Septuagintal studies will benefit immensely from Tessa Rajak's most recent contribution to these fields. Despite the technical nature of the subject, the chapters are quite readable, perhaps because the book originated as the Oxford University Grinfield Lectures on "The Septuagint as a Social and Cultural Artifact" (1995-96). As she notes in her preface, lecturing about the Greek Bible can be a daunting task. Even the great classical historian Arnaldo Momigliano pondered "in what sense a lecturer on the Septuagint might lecture without talking about it" (p. v). Rajak, however, does talk about the Greek Bible, combining recent research on the subject with the perennial quest to define "the nature and limits of Jewish Hellenism or Hellenistic Judaism" (p. v). Rajak's core contributions to this issue revolve around the claim that the Greek Bible represents a middle position between assimilation and rejection of Greek culture. The linguistic features of the Greek Bible simultaneously Hellenize Judaism and Judaize Hellenism. A book review cannot possibly do justice to the numerous insights of this detailed and richly argued work. A brief summary of selected aspects will have to suffice.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Reminder: DSS coming to St. Paul, Minnesota

Dead Sea Scrolls coming to St. Paul

by Sunny Thao, Minnesota Public Radio
February 22, 2010

St. Paul, Minn. — The Science Museum of Minnesota will open a new exhibit in March featuring the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of 2,000-year-old documents that contain original texts from the Hebrew Bible.

Background here.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Unrest at the Jericho synagogue

Police release 33 activists detained for entering Jericho

By Haaretz Service
Tags: Israel news, Jericho

Two still in custody over Sunday night's attempt by rightists to pray at West Bank synagogue.

Police on Monday released 33 rightwing activists who entered Jericho on Sunday night in defiance of a military edict banning Israelis from Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank.

Two others, an adult and a minor, remained in police custody in Ma'ale Adumim after activists broke through checkpoints and marched on the area in the hope of praying at an ancient synagogue and "renewing Jewish settlement in Jericho".

Presumably this is the ancient synagogue mentioned here, here, here, and here. This is not the first time it has witnessed such conflicts.

UPDATE (11 August): No, it seems that this episode was at the Na'aran synagogue, also in Jericho, not the Shalom Al Yisrael synagogue. See here for clarification.

King Solomon's wall?

King Solomon's Wall Revealed in Jerusalem

by Maayana Miskin

( Hebrew University archaeologists have revealed an ancient path in Jerusalem believed to date back to the time of King Solomon, along with structures including a gateway and the foundation of a building. Dr. Eilat Mazar, the leader of the archaeological dig, said the findings match finds from the time of the First Temple.

The latest find includes a 70-meter long and six-meter-high stone wall, a small house adjacent to a gateway leading to what was once the royal courtyard, a building that served city officials, and a tower that overlooked the Kidron river.

According to Mazar, the wall is likely to be the wall built by King Solomon. “This is the first time a building has been found that matches descriptions of the building carried out by King Solomon in Jerusalem,” she said.

It's quite a leap to get from 10th century BCE (which is what I take the quote below actually to mean), and "built by King Solomon." Let's see if the date is verified before we start speculating on builders.

It seems there is epigraphic material as well:
The remnants of a public building discovered along the wall contained shards of pottery that allowed researchers to estimate the date at which the building in use – approximately 10 B.C.E. One of the shards was engraved with Hebrew writing saying “For the chief...” Mazar believes the shard, part of a jug, belonged to the royal baker.

Other jugs bore a seal saying “For the king” in Hebrew. Dozens of seals were discovered using a water sifting technique. The building was ravaged by fire, researchers said, but the jugs that were found at the site were the largest discovered in Jerusalem to date.
A LMLK seal from the tenth century would in itself be very exciting. Indeed, any epigraphic material from that century would be. But let's wait for the inscriptions to be published before we draw conclusions. The photos in the article (which I assume are of the mentioned inscriptions) are not readable, at least by me.

Since they're coming up with written material, something actually mentioning Solomon would be welcome. Just saying.

UPDATE: Here's the full IAA press release at the IMFA website. Also, Todd Bolen has some observations. Notably, he thinks some of the artifacts mentioned are from much earlier excavations. I don't know. (Both via Joseph I. Lauer's list.)

UPDATE (23 February): G. M. Grena (of e-mails:
Hi Jim! They're definitely readable by me, & are representative of the well-known specimens dating to Hezekiah's reign.

Per the typology I've assigned to the 21 known types, these are S4L, H2D w/CC (concentric-circle incisions), & Z2U. These span the entire reign of Hezekiah, before and after Sennacherib's attack, so it would be no big surprise to learn that they were found in the same locus in Jerusalem if such is the case.
LMLK seals in the reign of Hezekiah sound a lot more plausible to me than in the reign of Solomon. If this is correct, it is not at all clear from the IAA press release that the inscriptions are much later than the 10th-century wall, which is irritating.

UPDATE: John Hobbins has a roundup of blog responses at Ancient Hebrew Poetry.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Gno to the Gnostics

GNO TO THE GNOSTICS: Third Sector columnist Rosamund McCarthy thinks the Charity Commission made a bad call when they refused charitable status to the Leeds Gnostic Centre. Excerpt:
But if religious organisations are going to be registered as charities, can the law please be consistent? The Charity Commission has recently refused to register the Gnostic Centre as a charity. Why? Although the commission accepted that gnostics believe in a supreme being, it found no evidence of an accompanying moral or ethical code.

The decision highlights the absurdity of the law. Because the courts have no means of judging the merits of different faith claims - is there one god or many? - they have concluded that a religion must promote an ethical code capable of benefiting society. A spiritually improving effect on its own is insufficient, they say.

And what about the competing truth claims of different ethical codes? On the Charity Commission register there are religions that are pro and anti-gay, for and against medical treatment, against abortion and in favour of women's right to choose, supportive of just war and pacifist. How can these conflicting moral codes all be for the public benefit and equally worthy of tax breaks?
Background here.