Saturday, April 10, 2010

Another obituary for Hanan Eshel

ANOTHER OBITUARY for Hanan Eshel, this one in the Jerusalem Post:
Dead Sea Scrolls scholar Hanan Eshel dies at 52
08/04/2010 22:19

World famous researcher passes away after a long battle with cancer.

Prof. Hanan Eshel, a world famous researcher of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bar Kochba Revolt, passed away after a long battle with cancer early Thursday morning. He was 52.

A former head and current faculty member of Bar-Ilan University’s Martin Szusz Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology, Eshel wrote several books and over 200 articles. He was an expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls as well as the Qumran settlement, the Second Temple period and the Bar Kochba Revolt of 132-136 CE.

Eshel also served as director of the university’s Jeselsohn Epigraphic Center of Jewish History since the center’s founding more than a decade ago.


Friday, April 09, 2010

Sad News: Ellis Rivkin

SAD NEWS: Dr. Ellis Rivkin has passed away. From the HUC-JIR News Center:
Dr. Ellis Rivkin, z''l, Passed Away on April 7

Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s beloved teacher, Dr. Ellis Rivkin, died at 6:20 p.m. on Wednesday evening, April 7, at Cincinnati Jewish Hospital.

The funeral service will be held this Sunday, April 11, in the Scheuer Chapel at HUC-JIR/Cincinnati campus. The service will begin at noon; the Rivkin family will receive visitors beginning 11:00 a.m.

Immediately following the interment, friends may call on the family at the Evergreen Mansion Room, 230 W. Galbraith Rd., Cincinnati, OH. Shiva will be observed Sunday through Tuesday, at the residence of Zelda Rivkin (5110 Evergreen Ridge Road).

Dr. Rivkin was the Adolph S. Ochs Professor of Jewish History Emeritus at HUC-JIR/Cincinnati. He was born on September 7, 1918 in Baltimore, MD. He received his BA with honors from Johns Hopkins University in 1941 and his PhD from Johns Hopkins University in 1946. He also attended the Baltimore Hebrew College and was awarded the BHL degree in 1943. In 1962, Dr. Rivkin was awarded a Simon Guggenheim Fellowship to do archival research on the role of the Jews in the development of early Capitalism in European archives. He published five books and wrote more than one hundred articles and reviews on Jewish history and early Christianity. Dr. Rivkin lectured widely in the US and abroad and was especially active in Christian-Jewish dialogue.

Dr. Rivkin touched and enriched thousands of lives. His memory will always be a blessing.
Via the Agade list.

Also, on the H-JUDAIC list, Jonathan Sarna has a tribute that mentions some of Dr. Rivkin's publications. He also notes the Rivkin Society website.

More on the new Assyrian Vassal Treaty tablet

MORE ON THE NEW ASSYRIAN VASSAL TREATY TABLET. The University of Toronto has a press release:
U of T researchers shed light on ancient Assyrian tablets

A cache of cuneiform tablets unearthed by a team led by a University of Toronto archaeologist has been found to contain a largely intact Assyrian treaty from the early 7th century BCE.

"The tablet is quite spectacular. It records a treaty — or covenant — between Esarhaddon, King of the Assyrian Empire and a secondary ruler who acknowledged Assyrian power. The treaty was confirmed in 672 BCE at elaborate ceremonies held in the Assyrian royal city of Nimrud (ancient Kalhu). In the text, the ruler vows to recognize the authority of Esarhaddon's successor, his son Ashurbanipal," said Timothy Harrison, professor of near eastern archaeology in the Department of Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations and director of U of T's Tayinat Archaeological Project (TAP).

And this article in the Montreal Gazette has a photo of some of the fragments.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Early Christianity: a new journal

The journal is concerned with early Christianity as a historical phenomenon. Thereby, “Early Christianity” aims to overcome certain limitations which have hindered the development of the discipline, including the concept of the “New Testament” itself. The journal, then, is taken to cover not only the first Christian century but also the second.

This journal will not, however, give any special prominence to reception-history or to the second century. The total phenomenon called "early Christianity" comprises a kaleidoscopic range of individual phenomena, including communal structures, social norms, discursive practices, points of conflict, material remains, and much else – far more than just the production and reception of texts. This journal will strive to reflect this multiplicity of contexts, in the expectation of new light on our subject-matter from a variety of angles.

"Early Christianity" will appear four times a year. Each issue will contain four (or five) articles, at least one of which will be in German, together with sections devoted to new books, new discoveries, and new projects. Every issue will be the primary responsibility of each of the four co-editors in turn, every alternate issue will be devoted to a specific theme.

New vassal treaty of Esarhaddon

AN ASSYRIAN VASSAL TREATY TABLET has been excavated in Turkey:
Canadian archeologists discover Old Testament-era tablet

By Jennifer Green, The Ottawa Citizen
April 8, 2010 2:03 AM

Canadian archeologists in Turkey have unearthed an ancient treaty written in cuneiform that could have served as a model for the biblical description of God's covenant with the Israelites.

The tablet, dating from about 670 BC, is a treaty between the powerful Assyrian king and his weaker vassal states, written in a highly formulaic language very similar in form and style to the story of Abraham's covenant with God in the Hebrew Bible, says University of Toronto archeologist Timothy Harrison.


King Esarhaddon was nearing the end of his reign in Assyria when he drafted this treaty, trying to ensure a peaceful succession to the throne, Harrison said. "It was remarkable the kind of the intrigue went on." One of the reasons they made these treaties is that Esarhaddon's father was assassinated by a brother.

"So he brought together all the rulers in the Assyrian empire and essentially bound them to these treaties (to) avoid political crisis. It's a very complex document to deal with, sophisticated and intricate ... anticipating all the possibilities that might arise."

Harrison's dig at Tell Tayinat revealed tens of thousands of items last summer, including the tablet. It measured 43x28 centimetres, with 650 and 700 tiny lines of script -- and was smashed to pieces. Still, at least the pieces were all in one place. Dozens of similar smashed tablets were scattered.

This one clearly wasn't made of gold.

We already have copies of vassal treaties between Esarhaddon and other states (See ANET 533-34 for one with Baal of Tyre; also see here). It's not clear to me what the relationship of this new copy is to the others. But in any case, more is always better.

UPDATE (13 April): Duane Smith comments.

Sad News: Hanan Eshel

SAD NEWS: Hanan Eshel has passed away. From the Orion Center via Mladen Popovic:
Dear All,

The Orion Center would like to express its great sorrow at the death of Prof. Hanan Eshel. May his memory be for a blessing.

Our condolences to Esther Eshel and to the Eshel family.

The funeral will be today (Thursday, 8/4/10) at 4 pm at the cemetery in Ma'aleh Hahamisha (just outside of Jerusalem).

The shiva will be held at the Eshel's house (Alrozorov 17, Jerusalem). Prayer times will be 7am for shacharit and 6:45 for Mincha/Maariv.

The Orion Center
Hanan was a prominent scholar and did much important work on the Dead Sea Scrolls and Qumran archaeology. I last saw him at the Enoch Seminar in Naples in June of last year, where I learned that he was terminally ill. He expressed hope that he would be at the next Enoch Seminar in 2011 but, alas, it is not to be.

May his memory be for a blessing.

UPDATE: Arutz Sheva has an obituary here.

UPDATE: Gabriele Boccaccini has just sent out a tribute to Hanan to the Enoch Seminar membership. I reproduce it here with his permission.
Dear Friends:

It is with great sorrow, that I am writing you about the death of our dear friend and colleague, and co-Director of the Enoch Seminar, Hanan Eshel.

Our warmest thought are with his wife, Esti, his family and friends.

It is a devastating loss for the entire scholarly community. It seems hard today to imagine any edited volumes, research projects, or international conferences, directly or indirectly related to the Dead Sea Scrolls, without his presence and contribution.

Hanan was the driving force of the Enoch Seminar (an energetic and passionate co-Director of the project). He attended all its biennial sessions, contributing decisively to the success of the project, not only through his scholarly contribution but also fostering a positive atmosphere of collaboration and productive exchange.

His scholarly legacy is a precious gift to all of us, but here I would rather like to remember Hanan the man and the friend. His scholarly reputation was the result of hard work, substantial achievements, but primarily of the immense love and passion he had for what he studied. Hanan’s enthusiasm and energy were irresistible, almost legendary, and highly contagious, an enthusiasm and optimism that he maintained to the last days, even facing his illness.

Hanan was not only interested in work, he was interested in people. I know it well by experience, during all the time we spent together in Italy, Israel, and Ann Arbor. On more than one occasion I received from him not only support as a colleague, but help and encouragement as a friend. Many times, both publicly and privately, we talked about how the study of Second Temple Judaism is essential not only for the self-understanding of Jews and Christians but also for their relationships today. We both shared the same dream of reconciliation and mutual understanding and were aware of the responsibility that as scholars we have to find common ground in the study of this crucial period of Christian and Rabbinic origins.

I was happy he could share once more the Italian experience of the Enoch Seminar in Naples and had time for a trip to Capri with Esti, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. When he left at the end of the conference, he hugged me with his strong arms and whispered: "I'm dying, Gabriele, I don't know if I will make it for another Enoch Seminar but I will try as hard as I can." We silently struggled not to cry, as I am struggling now that I am writing this notes... I miss you, Hanan. I miss you so much.


Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Israeli tourist site rankings

ISRAELI TOURIST SITE RANKINGS (half of the top ten are antiquities related):
Biblical Zoo is Israel's No. 1 tourist destination

Some 740,000 visitors enjoyed Jerusalemite animals over past year, Dan & Bradstreet reveals. Ramat Gan Safari ranked second; last year's winner, Masada, down to third place

Published: 04.07.10, 07:40 / Israel Travel

Israelis' favorite touristy destination is the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, according to Dun's 100 ranking published recently by the Dun & Bradstreet (D&B) company, which provides credit information on businesses and corporations.

Dun's 100 rates the leading and most attractive tourism and recreation destinations for Israelis over the past year, and this is the 30th year it is published.


Ashkelon graves update

PM to Deputy Health Minister: Ashkelon ER won't be relocated

By Barak Ravid and Dan Even, Haaretz Correspondents, and Haaretz Service
Tags: Israel news

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday told Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman that he opposes relocating a planned bomb-proof emergency room for the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, due to ultra-Orthodox objections after burial grounds were discovered under the original site.

Netanyahu told Litzman that his decision about the location of the emergency room would be based on the need to prevent harm or risk to human life.

Netanyahu had appointed a task force to re-evaluate the cabinet decision to relocate the emergency room, and made his decision after the committee submitted its conclusions.

Netanyhau further told the minister that he believes the emergency room should be built as planned on the original site and that the remains discovered there should be re-interred elsewhere.

Background here.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

A cuneiform tablet made of gold

A GOLD TABLET inscribed with Assyrian cuneiform ended up in the estate of a Holocaust survivor and there is now a legal ruling that the the Vorderasiatisches Museum in Germany, from where it came, cannot reclaim it. The 13th-century BCE tablet was excavated at ancient Ashur early in the 20th century. Click on the link to see a photograph of this remarkable object. I've never seen a cuneiform tablet made of gold, although gold tablets from about 500 BCE inscribed with Phoenician and Etruscan have been recovered at Pyrgi (see here [JSTOR] and here).

The legal ruling of the New York court can be downloaded as a pdf file here.

I know this is a stretch for PaleoJudaica, but I thought it was too interesting not to note.

UPDATE (7 April): This UPI article has the additional information that the artifact has been valued at $10 million but that the owners do not intend to sell it. As always, I hope that the owners donate it to a museum (I don't care which one) or at least that they make the object available to scholars who want to study it.

UPDATE: The New York Post has coverage here with another photograph of the tablet.

Latest on Ashkelon tomb controversy

THE ASHKELON TOMB CONTROVERSY is covered in an article by the BBC. I can't see anything new in it, but the coverage seems pretty thorough and accurate.
Religious row holds up Israeli hospital

Beth McLeod
BBC News, Ashkelon

The emergency unit at Barzilai Hospital in the southern Israeli town of Ashkelon is dark and cramped. Patients jostle for space along a narrow hallway.

Construction of the planned new casualty ward has stalled due to the latest flare-up in the bitter conflict between religious and secular Jews.

Religious groups oppose building on the planned site because an ancient burial ground has been discovered there.

Dr Ron Lobel, the hospital's deputy director, cannot hide his anger.

"There are only 20 beds in here - you can imagine how it looks when a mass casualty accident happens and more than 100 patients arrive in ambulances."

Background here.

Monday, April 05, 2010

More on Maaloula

ARAMAIC WATCH: The BBC has a short video on Aramaic in the Syrian town of Maaloula (Ma'aloula, Malula). (May not be available outside the U.K. Sorry.) Predictably, it is not without errors. It refers to Aramaic as "the world's oldest language," which is odd. It's not even the world's oldest spoken language: Greek and Hebrew go back as far. The video also says that the Aramaic speakers in Maaloula speak "the same dialect" that Jesus spoke. Nonsense. They speak what is very broadly the same language, but hardly the first-century Galilean dialect of Jesus. The piece also mentions the Aramaic Institute there without mentioning that it has been shut down by the government on the grounds that the alphabet looked too much like Hebrew.

Still, it's nice to see Aramaic continuing to get some media attention, even after the Mel Gibson hype of some years ago has died down.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

The Pope cites the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha

PSEUDEPIGRAPHA WATCH: The Pope cites a couple of Old Testament Pseudepigrapha in his Easter Vigil homily. First, from the Life of Adam and Eve:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

An ancient Jewish legend from the apocryphal book “The life of Adam and Eve” recounts that, in his final illness, Adam sent his son Seth together with Eve into the region of Paradise to fetch the oil of mercy, so that he could be anointed with it and healed. The two of them went in search of the tree of life, and after much praying and weeping on their part, the Archangel Michael appeared to them, and told them they would not obtain the oil of the tree of mercy and that Adam would have to die. Subsequently, Christian readers added a word of consolation to the Archangel’s message, to the effect that after 5,500 years the loving King, Christ, would come, the Son of God who would anoint all those who believe in him with the oil of his mercy. “The oil of mercy from eternity to eternity will be given to those who are reborn of water and the Holy Spirit. Then the Son of God, Christ, abounding in love, will descend into the depths of the earth and will lead your father into Paradise, to the tree of mercy.” This legend lays bare the whole of humanity’s anguish at the destiny of illness, pain and death that has been imposed upon us.
This story is from L.A.E. 35-42. There's been much scholarly discussion of the Life of Adam and Eve in recent years and the current consensus is that it is a Christian work. I don't know that that affects the Pope's point, though.

Second, a citation from 2 Enoch:
Once again, an ancient Jewish text can help us form an idea of the mysterious process that begins in us at baptism. There it is recounted how the patriarch Enoch was taken up to the throne of God. But he was filled with fear in the presence of the glorious angelic powers, and in his human weakness he could not contemplate the face of God. “Then God said to Michael,” to quote from the book of Enoch, “‘Take Enoch and remove his earthly clothing. Anoint him with sweet oil and vest him in the robes of glory!’ And Michael took off my garments, anointed me with sweet oil, and this oil was more than a radiant light … its splendour was like the rays of the sun. When I looked at myself, I saw that I was like one of the glorious beings” (Ph. Rech, Inbild des Kosmos, II 524).
The quotation is from 2 Enoch 22. Again, it is debatable whether 2 Enoch is a Jewish or a Christian work. It may well have ancient Jewish elements in it but later Christian elements may well also be present. And in this case, that may make some difference, in that the baptismal connection may be even closer than the Pope posits, which perhaps would add support to his comparison. For the latest on 2 Enoch, see here and here.

Happy Easter!

HAPPY EASTER to all those celebrating.