Saturday, October 09, 2010

JSNT Booklist 2010

JSNT Booklist 2010
This came a while ago and I've been meaning to mention it. It can also be accessed online, but you need a personal or institutional subscription.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Queen Helena of Adiabene

QUEEN HELENA OF ADIABENE, whose sarcophagus has just returned from France to go on loan in Jerusalem, is profiled by Judith Weingarten in her Zenobia: Empress of the East blog.

Another Torah Scroll from Iraq?

Iraq loses sleep after Torah finds its way into Israel

Officials say ancient scroll was never a part of museum

* By Jumana Al Tamimi, Associate Editor
* Published: 00:00 October 8, 2010
* Gulf News

Dubai: An ancient handwritten Torah scroll has mysteriously been sent to Israel from Iraq. The Israeli media reported how the scroll arrived in the country, but do not seem to know where it came from.

The Iraqi authorities say it was never part of their state museum and that there is no record of it in the archive for artefacts.

At the same time, however, they've approached the foreign ministry and the Interpol office in Baghdad requesting that the ancient scroll be retrieved, on the basis that because it was sent from Iraq, it is the property of Iraq — irrespective of whether it was owned by the government or by the private sector.

News of the ancient scroll surfaced a few weeks ago when Israeli TV Channel 7 announced its arrival in the country, claiming "an amount" of money had been paid for it.

"The Iraqi cultural ministry, then, wrote to the foreign ministry and Interpol to initiate a follow-up and verification, and to confirm that at a later stage the scroll would be returned to Iraq," said Abdul Zahra Al Talqani, a spokesman for the Iraqi Tourism ministry.

"Because it's illegal to have any Iraqi scroll or artefacts in any other country except Iraq — according to international conventions and treaties — including Unesco's 1970 treaty which prohibits trading of historic artefacts (anywhere in the world)," Al Talqani told Gulf News.

A few years ago there was another story about a Torah Scroll taken from Iraq, but to the United States, not Israel (noted here; Dorothy Lobel King has recent commentary here). This seems to be a different scroll. I would take the "ancient" with a grain of salt. Technically, something is ancient if it is older than Charlemagne, the rise of Islam, or the fall of Rome (take your pick, I usually use the middle one). But colloquially people use it to mean "way old," often dating anywhere from the first MTV video to several centuries ago. I suspect this Torah comes from the earlier end of the latter range, but I would like to have some clearer information on its age.

The Iraqi Jewish archive is also mentioned. I have posted endlessly on it, most recently here.

UPDATE: Bad link now fixed!

Review of Tobias and the Angel

APOCRYPHA WATCH Tobias and the Angel is reviewed at NPR:
Classical Lost And Found: Jonathan Dove's Heavenly 'Angel'

Categories: Classical Lost And Found

11:27 am

October 6, 2010

by Bob McQuiston

Short, single-act operas on religious themes — church operas, as they are often called — are something of a British specialty. Continuing in the tradition of works like Benjamin Britten's Noye's Fludde, English composer Jonathan Dove gives us Tobias and the Angel. It's based on a story from the Book of Tobit contained in the Apocrypha.

With mystical as well as Jewish folk elements in the scenario, Dove proves he’s one of today's most inventive opera composers. It's apparent in the scoring alone, which calls for eight soloists, a male quartet, three substantial choruses, and an iridescent chamber ensemble with accordion and organ.

There's also an audio file of one of the tracks.

The Three Faiths Exhibition at the NY Public Library

THE THREE FAITHS EXHIBITION at the New York Public Library includes some interesting ancient texts:
The rare Library works on view include a Veiled Prophet manuscript from Istanbul (1594); the Scroll of Esther from Amsterdam (1686); the Harkness Gospels in Latin, from Landévennec, Britanny (circa year 900); and Two Gold Amulets and Case from Irbid, Jordan (5th-6th century). The Veiled Prophet manuscript on display is the third of six volumes that contain a Turkish translation of the Prophet’s biography; it was completed in Cairo in 1386 and presented to a local ruler. The 100 inches of the treasured 17th-century Scroll of Esther, a megillah, is displayed, described, and explained. The small amulets on display, written in Aramaic on gold foil, were discovered in Jewish tombs and likely worn as jewelry by the deceased. The Harkness Gospels is the earliest Western manuscript in The New York Public Library. The volume in the exhibition is of considerable textual and artistic importance; it comes from an abbey located in the far reaches of Brittany, near present-day Brest, which was abandoned in the midst of Viking raids in the year 919.

Mandaean news

MANDAEAN (MANDEAN) WATCH: The Boston Globe reports on the Mandaean diaspora in Massachusetts. Excerpt:
Massachusetts is home to the country’s largest and fastest-growing number of Mandaeans, members of a non-Arab, pre-Christian race whose 60,000 people have been scattered worldwide since Iraq erupted in sectarian violence in 2006.

Mandaeans are a monotheistic people who revere John the Baptist; regard running water, such as rivers, as sacred; do not intermarry; do not accept conversions; and speak an ancient Aramaic language.

They also are pacifists who, in Iraq, have suffered murder, rape, and kidnappings by Islamic extremists, and by criminals who target the Mandaeans’s traditional success as jewelers, said Wisam Breegi, a Mandaean refugee who lives in Woburn.

A total of 380 Mandaeans have emigrated directly to Massachusetts since 2008, according to State Department figures. Mandaean leaders estimate that at least 50 more refugees have migrated to Massachusetts from other states. “This is a place where they can not only start, but flourish,’’ said Breegi, whose jewelry store in Boston’s Downtown Crossing serves as a resettlement assistance center.

In the last two years, Breegi has helped and advised most of the Mandaeans who have flocked to Massachusetts. The work, Breegi says, is a matter of cultural survival. “If we keep being scattered, if we don’t bring people in, it probably will be an actual death sentence to our culture, our faith, and our people,’’ said Breegi, 50, who arrived in Massachusetts in 1992.


Breegi said he wants to “build a society with all the bells and whistles.’’ His efforts began two years ago by approaching charitable groups, politicians, and government officials with slide shows, PowerPoint presentations, and pleas to investigate the plight of Mandaean refugees.

His drumbeat struck a chord with Lutheran Social Services, which encouraged Mandaeans to relocate to Worcester, a relatively affordable city where many of them live near downtown. In Worcester, resettlement officials said, Mandaeans have been steered to housing, jobs, schooling, and myriad other necessities of American life.
And while we're on the topic, James McGrath is seeking advice on translating a technical term in the Mandaean Book of John.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Sixth-century mosaics at Tel Shikmona

SIXTH-CENTURY MOSAICS have been excavated at Tel Shikmona by a University of Haifa team:
Revealing 6th-century mosaics

Published by Editor at 2:56 pm under Home Page, Press Releases

Researchers at the Institute of Archaeology from the University of Haifa excavating at Tel Shikmona have exposed magnificent mosaics dating back to the Byzantine Period (sixth century C.E.), which were part of an ecclesiastic structure. The excavations are taking place as part of a project funded by the Hecht Foundation, to expand the Hecht Park in Haifa, Israel, annex it to Tel Shikmona, and transform Shikmona into a public archaeological park.

The press release has photos, including of a mosaic bearing a Greek inscription. I can make out the words "... the devout ... the light in ... of [the] law."

A plan to redesign the Western Wall plaza

Plans approved for redesign of Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem

06 October 2010 (World Jewish Congress)

A municipal committee has approved a plan to fundamentally change the layout of the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem's Old City. An underground plaza and tunnel would replace the existing main entrance at the Dung Gate. The ancient Roman highway that begins at the entrance near the Old City’s Silwan neighborhood, which leads to current archaeological excavations, will be renovated and reopened, enabling visitors to view the results of the ongoing digs. A visitors' center and extra bathrooms, classrooms and an auditorium, as well as exhibition space for archeological artifacts found in the area are also envisaged.

The Palestinian Authority is not very happy with the plan.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010


Treasure Hunters Flock to Sleepy French Town
But Rennes-le-Chateau locals think they're 'pitiable'

By Kevin Spak, Newser Staff

Posted Oct 5, 2010 12:37 PM CDT

(Newser) – No treasure has ever been found in Rennes-le-Chateau. But Remy Martinez is convinced it’s there. He believes, he tells the LA Times, that Visigoths hid vast wealth under the tiny French town, in an underground labyrinth that also contains an ancient Jewish temple and the body of Jesus Christ (hidden there by the Knights Templar, naturally). And he’s not alone. Treasure hunters routinely flock to the village, whose 100 residents receive some 150,000 visitors a year—it even has a sign out front reading “Digging is forbidden.”

The locals may think the treasure-hunting tourists are pitiable, but I bet they're making plenty of money off them. And that's the closest thing to "vast wealth" that's going to come of this.

Hess, Some Views on Literacy

SOME VIEWS ON LITERACY by Richard S. Hess at Bible and Interpretation.

Israel forgery trial update

The indictment leveled 44 charges of forgery, fraud and deception against Golan and 13 lesser counts against a co-defendant, antiquities dealer Robert Deutsch. The trial of Golan, Deutsch and three other defendants opened at the Jerusalem District Court in September 2005.

On Sunday, the defense ended its summing up with just two men left in the dock, bringing to an end five years of court proceedings that spanned 116 sessions, 133 witnesses, 200 exhibits and nearly 12,000 pages of witness testimony. The prosecution summation alone ran to 653 pages.

Yet despite the flood of strong scientific testimony, the feeling in the tiny courtroom, where fewer than a dozen people (including only one reporter) have followed the proceedings, was that the prosecution had failed to prove that the items were forgeries or that Golan and Deutsch had faked them.

Judge Aharon Farkash, the wheelchair-bound polymath who has overseen the marathon trial, wondered aloud on several occasions how he could be expected to deliver a legal ruling on what was essentially a scientific question that the experts themselves could not resolve.

In October 2008, just three years into the proceedings, Farkash pointedly asked whether the trial should continue after the prosecution and Golan had presented their evidence.
Read it all. It may take several months for the judge to reach a verdict.

Background here and follow the links.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Golem Rock Album

THE GOLEM ROCK ALBUM, by Black Francis, is coming out next month. Really.

More golem posts here.

A new Coptic grammar

A NEW COPTIC GRAMMAR by Johanna Brankaer is noted by April DeConick.

Review: Debié (ed.), L'historiographie syriaque

Muriel Debié (ed.), L'historiographie syriaque. Études syriaques. Paris: Geuthner, 2009. Pp. 219. ISBN 9782705338213. €35.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Daniel King, Cardiff University (

[Table of Contents is listed at the end of the review.]

The Société des Études syriaques (Paris) are producing, year-on-year, a wonderful set of volumes on key themes in Syriac studies, each including articles on the latest state of research based on ‘tables rondes’ held in Paris each year. This latest instalment, on Syriac historiography, succeeds in bringing together some of the foremost scholars in the field, often writing on the very texts they themselves have edited or translated. Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.

The extent to which literature written in Syriac partook of the Hellenic cultural baggage of late antiquity is still only faintly understood, and even less appreciated, by historians of the Eastern Mediterranean. It is the principal achievement of this excellent and useful volume not only to have provided students and specialists alike with an overview of the subject at the current state of research, but also to have highlighted the lines of transmission that carried Greek historiography into Syriac (and thence Arabic). The point is both to indicate how well integrated was the latter within the cultures of the late antique Empire, and moreover to describe the transformation these forms underwent in their ‘Oriental’ afterlives.


Monday, October 04, 2010

"The Golem" - the musical

Owen/Cox’s 'The Golem' blends traditional themes, contemporary music and dance

The Kansas City Star

The Owen/Cox Dance Group’s interpretation of ancient Jewish folklore is a thoroughly charming mix of elegant dancing, an exciting original score and a dash of bold theatricality.

“The Golem,” produced by the dance company in collaboration with the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy and Paul Mesner Puppets, evokes a distant past but feels utterly contemporary.


The rabbi is danced by the charismatic Christopher Barksdale, who probably moves with stunning grace even as he stumbles to the coffeemaker in the morning. He performers opposite Andrew Taft as Thaddeus, the trouble-making villain of the piece, who performs the most difficult choreography in the show and uses an actor’s instincts to create a distinct and memorable character.

The show is at its whimsical best when the rabbi teaches the 12-foot-tall golem (a marvelous piece of puppetry from the Mesner studio) how to dance. The puppet is manipulated by two dancers — Jered Solace and Christopher Dunn, according to the program — and is uncannily human in his responses despite immobile facial features. The blinking eyes help.

For lots more golem stuff, go here and keep following the links back.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Queen Helena's sarcophagus back in Jerusalem

QUEEN HELENA'S SARCOPHAGUS is on loan at the Israel Museum:
A royal return
Two-thousand years after Helena of Adiabene converted to Judaism and visited Jerusalem, and nearly 150 years after her burial box was spirited away to France, the queen's sarcophagus is on display

By Ran Shapira (Haaretz)

Nearly 2,000 years passed between the time the coffin of Queen Helena of Adiabene first came to Jerusalem and its recent return there. In an impressive ceremony on September 21, the coffin was put on display in the reopened archaeology wing of the Israel Museum, after having been flown in from France.
Queen Helena's sarchophagus, Michal Patael

In keeping with the customs of the time, the body of the first-century C.E. queen, who was a convert to Judaism, was interred in a stone coffin, a sarcophagus, weighing around 1,200 kilograms. The coffin looks massive, says the French ambassador to Israel, Christophe Bigot, who attended the ceremony, but any careless movement could damage it.

Queen Helena's sarcophagus wound up in France after it was discovered almost by accident in Jerusalem in 1863, when Louis Felicien de Saulcy was excavating the site called the Tombs of the Kings, in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, not far from the U.S. consulate. ...
UPDATE (8 October): More here.

Michael Coogan interviewed on God and Sex

MICHAEL COOGAN is interviewed by the Boston Globe about his new book:
Coogan’s new book, “God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says,” is his attempt to bridge these gaps. In it he argues that today’s readers are often unaware of how the Bible was written — it was not, as he writes in the introduction, “delivered by humanity as a complete book, written by God and shrink-wrapped in a shipment from Amazon or available for download on a Kindle.”

In fact, he writes, the current scholarly consensus is that it was written by many authors, mostly men, over the course of 1,000 years or so — a span of time and geography that inevitably leads to questions, inconsistencies, and cultural misunderstanding. Those who take its meaning literally, isolating single passages to guide modern behavior, he argues, do so at their peril.

In “God and Sex,” Coogan attempts to distill what the Bible says about an array of topics related to human sexuality often in the news — abortion, homosexuality, divorce, and the role of women in the church — and to help contemporary readers sort through its meanings.

Coogan spoke to Ideas from his home in Concord.