Saturday, June 26, 2010

Vindolanda is a family business

All roads lead to Vindolanda Roman Fort
The Birley family have toiled for 60 years to unearth Roman artefacts at Vindolanda Roman Fort in Northumbria, says Juliet Rix.

By Juliet Rix (The Telegraph)
Published: 12:34PM BST 25 Jun 2010

In a picturesque Northumbrian valley a mile south of Hadrian's Wall, Andrew Birley stands surrounded by a checkerboard of Roman remains. He is supervising a small crowd of volunteer excavators unearthing a 1,600-year-old flagstone road. They have just dug up a small stone altar with a potentially interesting inscription. Andrew is the third generation of his family to run the excavations here at Vindolanda Roman Fort. It's an unusual family business.

For more on Vindolanda go here, here, and especially here.

(Via Dorothy Lobel King on Facebook.)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Conference at KCL on Gender and Identity

CONFERENCE AT KCL: This just in from Deborah Rooke (via Viv Rowett) on the SOTS list.


ONLY A FEW DAYS LEFT to register for the gender conference at King's College London!!


9-11 August 2010

SPEAKERS include:
Dr Susanne Scholz, Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas
Dr Deborah Rooke, Lecturer in Old Testament Studies, King's College London
Professor Ida Froehlich, Professor of Hebrew Studies and Ancient Near Eastern History, Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Budapest

Details and registration form available from

Closing date for registrations 1 JULY 2010
Note also the 12 July workshop on What Is a Sacred Language? Perspectives from the Diaspora at the same link.

Treasures in the University of Santo Tomas Library

THE LIBRARY of the University of Santo Tomas in the Philippines is displaying some historical treasures to celebrate the University's four-hundredth anniversary:
The other National Library

(By FELIPE F. SALVOSA II, Associate Editor, Business World)

Is it possible for the Filipino nation to trace its emergence to one library?

If, as a scientist once said, "A great library contains the diary of the human race," then the library of Asia’s oldest existing university, Santo Tomas, starts the firsthand account of how the Philippines came to being and who the Filipino really is.

It is but natural for the Dominican-run University of Santo Tomas (UST) to bring out the most valuable among its collection of 12,000 or so rare books in time for its 400th founding anniversary next year, but rather than exhibit them as curiosities like the Crown Jewels or even the Shroud of Turin, the "Pontifical" institution has decided to place the library, and itself in the process, in the context of the global forces that shaped history.

The result is Lumina Pandit: An Exhibit of Historical Treasures, the UST library’s multimillion-peso quadricentennial exhibition that speaks of "spreading the light."



The oldest in the collection is an incunabulum, the term for books published before 1501 during the infancy of printing. La Guerra Judaica, printed in Seville in 1492, came by way of Amoy, China in 1937. Josephus Flavius, the ancient Jewish historian who lived in the first century A.D., chronicled the failed Jewish rebellion against Rome as a way of dissuading his countrymen from starting a revolt against a mighty empire. The original Aramaic and Greek was translated into Spanish by the scholar Alfonso de Palencia, who dedicated it to Isabel la Catolica, queen of Castille and Leon, on the year Columbus "discovered" America.

The most valuable item in the UST collection is the Polyglot Bible -- the bible in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, and Syriac -- printed by Christopher Plantin in Antwerp between 1569 and 1572. Five of the eight volumes, covering the Old and the New Testaments, are in the university library.

It came to UST by a sheer accident of history. In 1768, the influential and politically savvy Jesuits were banished from all Spanish territories, suppressed by the Pope due to the geopolitical conflicts of the time. Assets of the Society of Jesus were confiscated by the colonial government, and UST had the first crack at the Jesuits' books. The Polyglot Bible and many others carry the mark Del Colegio de la Compania de Jesus de Manila. The remaining Jesuit books went to the seminaries of Manila and Cebu.

One correction: Josephus probably wrote his Jewish War in Aramaic, but only his Greek translation of it survives from antiquity, so the Greek would have been the basis for the Spanish translation in 1492.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The man who mistook English for Phoenician

THAT CAN HAPPEN: The man who mistook English for Phoenician.

Although I didn't know Dr. Sacks knew Phoenician.

Museum of Tolerance Watch

Arab lawyer files claim against Museum of Tolerance over improper grave removal

Complaint filed on behalf of a new organization, the Association for Muslim Affairs, that represents the heads of various Muslim communities in Israel.

By Nir Hasson (Haaretz)

A complaint has been submitted to State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss against the planned Museum of Tolerance, following a Haaretz investigation into the handling of Muslim graves unearthed at the museum's Jerusalem construction site.

Background here and follow the links.

Misleading headline of the week

Jesus did not die on cross, says scholar
This refers, not to some Neo-Docetist or daft Schonfieldian interpretation of the crucifixion, but rather to the new doctoral dissertation by Gunnar Samuelsson which argues that the ancient sources actually tell us very little about the mechanics of crucifixion and that the reality (while doubtless as unpleasant as we imagine) may have been quite different from our mental picture and the traditional artistic representations.

El Shaddai and 1 Enoch

THE BOOK OF 1 ENOCH is getting some uncharacteristic attention due to the new computer game El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron:
El Shaddai: Ascension Of The Megatron Breathtaking Debut Trailers
By William Usher: 2010-06-23 14:27:15

The book of Enoch was one of the coolest books of the Bible no one ever got to read in the original KJV. Nevertheless, Ignition Entertainment is taking the missing book of Enoch and turning it into one kick-butt game called El Shaddai.

The book of Enoch is originally what spawned great works like The Divine Comedy, and subsequently, Dante’s Inferno. The new game based on the book follows Enoch’s journey to bring back the soul’s of the original Fallen Angels whose actions ultimately resulted in the great flood.

Er, it's Metatron, not Megatron. That first sentence is a little garbled too, but I think it means to say (correctly) that the Book of Enoch was not part of the biblical canon found in the King James Version, but it is very cool nonetheless. The book is part of the canon of the Ethiopic Church, but nowhere else.

The second paragraph could use a little clarification as well. Dante's Divine Comedy is not directly inspired by the Book of Enoch, which was lost in the West in his time, apart from a few Byzantine Greek quotations. But Dante was influenced by the apocalyptic traditions ultimately inspired by Enochian and related apocalypses, most directly by the Apocalypse of Paul. The Inferno was the first work in Dante's trilogy, but I take it the author here is referring to the movie Dante's Inferno (which I haven't seen) or to some game I don't know about (maybe this one?).

It seems that El Shaddai involves Enoch trying to help the souls of the imprisoned Watchers, which does at least have some recognizable echoes of the Book of the Watchers in 1 Enoch.

Other accounts of the game are even more confused about the ancient sources and seem to think that the Book of Enoch is part of the Old Testament. Alas, no.

UPDATE: James McGrath points out on Facebook that Megatron is a Transformer.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The SBL responds to Hendel

THE SOCIETY OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE responds to Ron Hendel's criticisms:
Discussing Faith and Reason in Biblical Studies

Professor Ronald S. Hendel recently published an opinion piece in Biblical Archaeology Review (see “Farewell to SBL: Faith and Reason in Biblical Studies,” available online here) in which he argues that “[in] recent years [SBL] has changed its position on the relationship between faith and reason in the study of the Bible.” We encourage all SBL members and other interested individuals to read the article in its entirety, then to join a conversation about the SBL and its standards for membership and organizational affiliations (see further below).

The questions that Professor Hendel raises are interesting and important, and we look forward to the discussion that follows. However, we first must clarify a few points of fact with regard to the article in question. In what follows, each “claim” is a summary of one of Professor Hendel’s main points, not a verbatim quotation.

Follow the link to read the whole thing.

I note that the phrase "critical investigation" is used on the SBL's About page, but not specifically in it's mission statement on that page. This is a small point, but the phrase really should be in the mission statement. (Relevant Facebook page here.)

The correction about the split with the American Academy of Religion looks correct to me. Note the post on the AAR/SBL split here.

I myself don't recall seeing any proselytizing at the SBL sessions. If it is happening, it needs to be stomped on.

The questions for discussion at the end of the post are very constructive and I look forward to the conversation.

James McGrath collects blogospheric responses to Hendel's article here. Robert Cargill responds to the SBL response here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Thesis from Sweden on rabbinic dreams

A THESIS from Sweden on rabbinic dreams:
Rabbinic dreams during Late Antiquity

News: Jun 03, 2010

Dreams have always held significance for human beings through the ages, and dreaming has been associated with a multitude of different notions. The idea of dreams functioning as a link between humans and the divine has been particularly common. According to a thesis in religious studies from the University of Gothenburg, this notion is also found within Judaism from the period of Late Antiquity.

“The rabbis interpreted dreams using the same methods that they used to interpret the Bible. Texts and dreams were interwoven, for example stories in the religious documents tell of rabbis dreaming that they are reading verses from the Bible. Jewish prayers and dream rituals also recommend recitation of Scriptural verses as a way of dealing with bad dreams; the good text functioning as a kind of weapon against the evil dream,” explains author of the thesis, Erik Alvstad.

The belief that gods and other divine forces convey knowledge and insights to humans through dreams is highlighted in many of the accounts of dreams that readers come across in ancient literary works, such as the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, the Bible, the works of Homer and the Icelandic sagas. Dream interpretation, prayers and rituals to ward off evil dreams, as well as methods that could be employed in order to encourage good dreams through the power of suggestion, also occurred in ancient cultures.

And in the central text of rabbinic Judaism, the Talmud, we find a wealth of literary material linked to the phenomenon of dreaming. One aspect of particular interest in the Jewish dream culture is that the rabbis, the scholarly elite within the Jewish culture, appear to have made systematic attempts to subordinate dreams to the authority of the Bible, or Torah.

“In the capacity of God’s revelation to the Jewish people, the Torah was regarded as the royal road to knowledge about how to live your life, as well as a source of insights about hidden secrets. But while the Torah was regarded as the most important link between man and God, dreams continued to attract attention: People had dreams and they speculated about where the dreams came from, what they might mean and whether they might be ‘true’,” says Erik Alvstad.

According to Erik Alvstad, the central role of text and textual practices within the culture had major consequences for the way in which dreams were regarded. By examining literary material of various genres in the rabbinic documents, he shows that the late ancient rabbis systematically associated the dream with the text.

“There’s a kind of competition between the Torah, the central revelation given to the Jewish people on one unique occasion, and the dream as an alternative and more peripheral, yet at the same time continuing form of revelation. This is a circumstance that the rabbis express through the maxim: “Dreams are a sixtieth part of prophecy.” The rivalry is also reflected in the polemical stories about conflicts between rabbis and professional dream interpreters about authority and social influence,” says Erik Alvstad.

Title of thesis: Reading the Dream Text: A Nexus between Dreams and Texts in the Rabbinic Literature of Late Antiquity
Author of thesis: Erik Alvstad, tel.: +46 31 7862091 (work), +46 31 7750802 (home)
Time and venue for public defence of thesis: Saturday 5 June 2010, 10.15 a.m., Lilla hörsalen, Humanisten, Renströmsgatan 6, Gothenburg
Opponent: Professor Philip Alexander, University of Manchester
Copies of the thesis can be ordered from the Department for Literature, History of Ideas and Religion, e-mail:
Link to thesis:

BY: Thomas Melin
More on rabbinic dreams here and here.

Samuel Iwry's son

SAMUEL IWRY'S SON is a financial official in Washington:
The Scholar Of Savings

(Dow Jones) Interpreting the Bible and retirement policy typically don't mix.

Unless you are J. Mark Iwry. The son of a Dead Sea Scroll scholar and a descendant of mystical 17th-century rabbi Baal Shem Tov, he also is a uniquely powerful Washington wonk, almost single-handedly guiding the nation's approach to retirement accounts and policy.

Iwry's job, as the Treasury Department's senior benefits official, is to figure out what the government can and can't do to boost retirement savings. He is currently promoting "auto-IRAs," the top retirement item in the Obama administration's budget, which will be introduced to Congress within a few weeks.

Overhauling retirement-plan policies involves interpreting arcane and often ambiguous provisions in the U.S. tax code, then getting employers and lawmakers to go along with proposed changes.

"He's sort of like a biblical scholar," says Norman Stein, professor of law at Drexel University. "He's interested in trying to deal with the technical and policy together, to get the technical to serve the policy."


Iwry—who lives near Washington with his wife, Daryl Lander, a lawyer in solo practice, and his college-bound son—may have a tolerance for complexity in his DNA.

His father, Samuel Iwry, was a Bible scholar in Poland who joined the resistance during World War II, and made his way to Shanghai, where he negotiated with the British to allow Jewish families to emigrate from Asia to Palestine. He married the woman who nursed him back to health after he was imprisoned by the Japanese, and the couple moved to the U.S., where the senior Iwry became a professor at Johns Hopkins University and worked to decode the Dead Sea Scrolls.

For someone who chooses his words as if he is giving a deposition, the younger Iwry has the unlikely distinction, along with humorist Dave Barry, of being among the most quoted in the recently published "As Certain as Death: Quotations About Taxes," by Jeffery L. Yablon, a tax partner in the Washington office of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman.

In one, Iwry compares the tax code to the Bible: "Of only one other book can it be said . . . that great minds have devoted countless hours to the scrutiny and learned exegesis of every passage; that differing interpretations of the text have given rise to some of humanity's most epic struggles; and that, while millions mine it for valuable insights and inspiration, those who claim to live by the book and follow its precepts probably far outnumber those who actually do so."

Silwan archaeological park

THAT ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK slated to be built in Jerusalem's Silwan neighborhood is back in the news:
East Jerusalem Building Plan Advances

Published: June 21, 2010

JERUSALEM — Jerusalem’s city hall advanced rezoning and development plans on Monday for a hotly contested area of East Jerusalem, another example of an awkwardly timed, seemingly bureaucratic Israeli maneuver that could upset fragile peace efforts.

The preliminary approval for the plans — including the demolition of more than 20 Palestinian homes to create an archaeological park, along with a new residential and commercial tourist center — came a day after Israel won unusual praise from Washington for easing the blockade of Hamas-run Gaza, and amid other signs of progress. A mayoral spokesman said the planning decisions were independent of other considerations.

New US-Israel Crisis Looms over Jerusalem Park

by Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu (Arutz Sheva)

Another crisis between the Netanyahu and Obama administrations looms over housing in Jerusalem, this time because of Jerusalem’s plan to wreck 22 illegally built Arab homes to make way for an archaeological park. The Jerusalem municipality proposal also calls for making legal 66 other Arab buildings built without permits.

The U.S. State Department said Monday afternoon it is “concerned” over the plan that “we think undermines the trust that is fundamental in making progress to the proximity talks and ultimately in direct negotiations.”

Background here and follow the links back.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Happy Summer Solstice

HAPPY SUMMER SOLSTICE to all celebrating. Sunny, clear, and warm here this evening, none of which is to be taken for granted.

SOTS Booklist 2010

Deborah W. Rook (ed.) with C. A. Strine, Society for Old Testament Study Book List 2010 (London: Sage, 2010)

Crucifixion revisionism?

What do we really know about the crucifixion of Jesus?
June 14, 2010 (

The many different accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus find little support in historical sources. The reason is that antique sources generally lack descriptions of crucifixions, says Gunnar Samuelsson, University of Gothenburg, Sweden, who recently finished his doctoral thesis on the topic.
For earlier PaleoJudaica discussions of the physiology of crucifixion, see this post and follow the surviving links. But Samuelsson seems to be taking a much more skeptical line about our whole understanding of crucifixion in antiquity.

UPDATE (22 June): The Gothenburg University website has more information on the thesis here.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Back in St. Andrews

I'M BACK in St. Andrews. Don't know if I'll get to more blogging today.