Saturday, December 31, 2011

A new geniza on the Silk Road?

A NEW GENIZA on the Silk Road?
Scholarly world abuzz over Jewish scrolls find
12/31/2011 17:24

Ch. 2: If authenticated, historical find in Afghanistan may be on par with Cairo’s Geniza

The Jewish scholarly world is abuzz over the discovery of ancient Jewish scrolls in a cave in Afghanistan’s Samangan province, Channel 2 reported on Friday.

According to Arab Affairs correspondent Ehud Yeari, if validated the scrolls may be the most significant historical finding in the Jewish world since that of the Cairo Geniza in the 19th century.

“We know today about a couple of findings,” Haggai Ben-Shammai, Professor Emeritus of Arabic Language and Literature at Hebrew University was quoted as saying. “In all, in my opinion, there are about 150 fragments. It may be the tip of the iceberg.”

The scrolls, which were part of a geniza, a burial site for sacred Jewish texts, date from around 1,000 years ago and are in Arabic, Judeo-Arabic and ancient Persian.

So far they have identified a dirge and "an unknown history of the ancient kingdom of Judea, passages from the book of Isaiah and some of the works of Rabbi Saadia Gaon, a medieval sage." Also rings inscribed with names in Hebrew.

It would be nice to find some Judeo-Arabic fragments of Jewish pseudepigrapha or Hekhalot literature. We'll see. But let's get past the "if authenticated" part before we get too excited. It sounds as though we may be dealing so far with fragments on the antiquities market rather than anything excavated in situ.

(HT Christopher Rollston on FB.)

Friday, December 30, 2011

Exciting news from the Temple Mount Sifiting Project

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Exciting news from the Temple Mount Sifting Project. Yesterday Dr. Gabriel Barkay presented a paper on a new discovery at a conference at Bar-Ilan University. The information comes from some recent excavations that are to be discussed in two journal articles by Barkay and some of the other project members. These articles are summarized in a post at the project's blog: Finds from the First and Second Temple Period city dumps at the Eastern slopes of the Temple Mount.

Briefly, a salvage operation at the area indicated uncovered important ancient garbage dumps and the material was turned over to the Temple Mount Sifting Project for analysis. They have processed many important artifacts from the dumps. These include a very early assemblage of pottery (10th-9th centuries BCE), which certainly seems to indicate that someone was doing something in this area of Jerusalem in the late Iron Age IIA, and an inscribed "lmlk" "fiscal bulla" from the the 8th/7th century BCE.

(Via Joseph I. Lauer.)

More on the Temple Mount Sifting Project here and many links. It is worth emphasizing that these latest artifacts come from a scientific excavation, not from the informal ravages of the Waqf on the Temple Mount.

News on the tomb of R. Shimon bar Yochai

A bridge too far? 'Priests-only' bridge at Mount Meron to be demolished after just seven months

300-meter long bridge to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai's tomb replaces the traditional Cohanim route after a Hassidic sect claimed it passed by ancient burial caves.

By Eli Ashkenazi

The "purity trail," the bridge built only seven months ago at the Tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai at Mount Meron in the Galilee, will soon be demolished. The bridge, designed for use by Cohanim, or descendents of the ancient Jewish priesthood who are not allowed to come into contact with the impurity of a grave, was constructed without the necessary permits - even though the state encouraged its construction and even committed to paying half the NIS 500,000 cost.


Some background on the site and the rabbi is here and links.

The Jerusalem clay seal as a currency exchange token

GEORGE ATHAS has a new interpretation of the inscribed clay object recently discovered in Jerusalem: A Currency Exchange Token? A New Take on the Recently Discovered Ancient Seal from Jerusalem.

The "Deutsch" referred to is Robert Deutsch. He outlines his theory and gives references on his Facebook Wall here.

(Via the Agade list. Background here.)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Politics, archaeology, and Jerusalem

POLITICS, ARCHAEOLOGY, AND JERUSALEM: Two editorials and an article today.

Bulldozing Jewish history: Op-ed: World should not allow Arab effort to deny Jewish connection to Jerusalem (Giulio Meotti, Excerpt:
Threatened by Arab countries, Israeli authorities just closed the Mughabri Bridge, preventing Jews and Christians from entering Temple Mount. Historically it should be noted that only under Israeli rule was the site open for everyone, Muslims, Christians and Jews. The Waqf is now attempting to deliberately destroy all archaeological evidence of Jewish claims to this site, while using terror and intimidation to impose its exclusive claim to Temple Mount.

The Waqf has removed every sign of ancient Jewish presence at the site. At the entrance, a Waqf sign says “The Al-Aqsa Mosque courtyard and everything in it is Islamic property.” Today Jews are barred from praying on the Mount and are not even allowed to carry any holy articles with them. With Muslim observers supervising visits, Israeli police have frequently arrested Jews for various violations, such as singing or reciting a prayer even in a whisper.

Repeated lies
This week, a Jewish woman was arrested following claims by police and Waqf officials that they noticed she was praying on Temple Mount. Why is it a crime for a Jew to mention God’s name on Temple Mount? And why is the State of Israel complicit in enforcing this anti-Semitic rule?

European autocrats and the global media are also trying to downplay the Jewish connection to the site. Jewish archeologist Gabi Barkai stated that “it’s a lie more terrible than the denial of the Holocaust, yet connected to it.” UN and EU funded textbooks in the Palestinian areas all repeat the canard denying any Jewish legitimacy in the “Noble Sanctuary.”
More on the Waqf's illicit excavations on the Temple Mount here and links.

Hamas Leader’s Tour Theme: Fight “Judaization” of Jerusalem Jonathan S. Tobin, Commentary Magazine). Excerpt:
The point here is not just that Hamas seeks to destroy the State of Israel but that it is also trying to eradicate Jewish history. Many conquerors in the past have attempted to strip Jerusalem of its Jewish identity, but the ancient capital of the Jewish state and Jewish life cannot be “Judaized.” Haniyeh claims he is trying to build support for embattled Muslims in the city but his listeners must know that the last 41 years of Israeli sovereignty over the city is the only time in its history when there has been full religious freedom there. His goal is to end that era and replace it with an Islamist reign of terror. To the extent that any shift in tactics on Hamas’ part causes the West to drop its designation of the organization as a terror group, they will be aiding his campaign against the peace of Jerusalem.
More on Hamas and the "Judaization" of Jerusalem here, here, and links. For the recently discovered clay seal mentioned in the article, see here.

Silwan residents blame right-wing group for collapse of tunnel near mosque (Nir Hassan, Haaretz). Excerpt:
A channel dug for archaeological excavations in Silwan partially collapsed on Monday near the village's mosque. Residents of the East Jerusalem neighborhood place the responsibility for the collapse on the Elad nonprofit organization and accuse Elad of endangering the mosque and nearby homes.

Elad manages the City of David National Park, which is in Silwan, and funds many of the archaeological excavations carried out in the area by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

There have been a number of collapses in the past in the neighborhood, and residents claim the reason is digs that are conducted carelessly. They also point out cracks in their homes they claim are a result of the excavations. "How is it that in the houses above the tunnels there are cracks?" asked Jawad Siam, the head of the information center in Silwan.

Elad says infrastructure problems and illegal construction are the cause of the cracks and some of the collapses.
More on Elad and its archaeological ventures here (immediately preceding post) and links . (Wrong link fixed now. Sorry about that.)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

An index for the Talmud

After 1,500 Years, an Index for the Talmud

Published: December 27, 2011

The Talmud is a considerable body of work: 63 volumes of rabbinical discourse and disputation that form Judaism’s central scripture after the Torah. It has been around for 1,500 years and is studied every day by tens of thousands of Jews. But trying to navigate through its coiling labyrinth can be enormously difficult because the one thing this monumental work lacks is a widely accepted and accessible index.

But now that breach has been filled, or so claims the publisher of HaMafteach, or the Key, a guide to the Talmud, available in English and Hebrew. It was compiled not by a white-bearded sage, but by a courtly, clean-shaven, tennis-playing immigration lawyer from the Bronx.

As the article notes, the Talmud has not gone entirely un-indexed in the twentieth century, but this new index sounds useful and the price is certainly right. I suppose the market for this sort of thing is relatively recent, since traditional Talmud scholars would have had at least much of the corpus memorized anyway.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Hanukkah and Piyyut (Part II)

THE TALMUD BLOG: Hanukkah and Piyyut (Part II) (Ophir Münz-Manor).

Part one is noted here.

Alaa released

Egyptian Blogger Released From Jail


Updated | 6:28 p.m. A prominent Egyptian activist and blogger, Alaa Abd El Fattah, was released from detention in Cairo on Sunday and went directly to Tahrir Square to join a protest against the country’s military rulers.

This is likely a tactical retreat by the Egyptian authorities, who have not dropped any more charges and would presumably be happy to re-arrest Alaa when attention dies down. But the world will continue to be watching.

Background here and here.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Temple-related epigraphic find

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: The IAA has just announced an important scientifically-excavated epigraphic find that likely pertains directly to the ritual life of the Herodian Temple. The fact that it happens to be announced on both Hanukkah and Christmas is, I'm sure, entirely coincidental. Here's the press release (via Joseph Lauer) at a temporary IAA URL:
Exposed- A Find Indicative of the Activity in the Temple

A first of its kind find, indicative of activity in the Temple, was recently discovered:
a tiny item that was probably used as a “voucher” certifying the ritual purity of an object or food in the Temple Mount compound and in the Second Temple

The discovery was presented at a press conference at which the Minister of Culture Limor Livnat and Minister of Education Gideon Sa'ar participated

Layers of soil covering the foundations of the Western Wall, c. 15 meters north of the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount, were excavated beneath Robinson’s Arch in archaeological excavations of the Israel Antiquities Authority in the Jerusalem Archaeological Garden. On top of these layers, dating to the first century CE (the late Second Temple period), was paved the Herodian street which was the main road of Jerusalem at that time. From the very start of the excavations in this area the archaeologists decided that all of the soil removed from there would be meticulously sifted (including wet-sifting and thorough sorting of the material remnants left in the sieve). This scientific measure is being done in cooperation with thousands of pupils in the Tzurim Valley National Park, and is underwritten by the Ir David Association. It was during the sieving process that a tiny object of fired clay, the size of a button (c. 2 centimeter in diameter) was discovered. The item is stamped with an Aramaic inscription consisting of two lines – in the upper line "דכא" and below it "ליה". "דכא" or "דכי" in Aramaic means pure. Following the preposition "ל" in the word "ליה" is the shortened form (two of the four letters) for the name of the G-d of Israel.

According to the excavation directors on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, archaeologists Eli Shukron of the IAA and Professor Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa, “The meaning of the inscription is “Pure for G-d”. It seems that the inscribed object was used to mark products or objects that were brought to the Temple, and it was imperative they be ritually pure. This stamped impression is probably the kind referred to in the Mishnah (Tractate Shekalim 5: 1-5) as a "חותם" (seal). To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that such an object or anything similar to it was discovered in an archaeological excavation and it constitutes direct archaeological evidence of the activity on the Temple Mount and the workings of the Temple during the Second Temple period”.

Tractate Shekalim tells of the administration procedures on the Temple Mount in which our object was used, “Whoever required libations would go to Yohanan who was in charge of the stamps give him [the appropriate amount of] money and would receive a stamp from him in return. He would then go to Ahiyah who was in charge over the libations, give him the stamp and receive the libations from him”. There can be no doubt that this is a very exciting find.

The Mishnah also mentions in Tractate Shekalim, “There were four tokens in the Temple and on them were inscribed; calf, ram, kid and sinner [which were issued as a receipt to those who deposited the appropriate funds]. Ben Azzai says: There were five; and they were inscribed in Aramaic.” Our object does not belong to this group. It shows that not all of the details concerning the administration procedures of the Temple Mount have come to us by way of the rabbinic literature. Here an artifact from an archaeological excavation supplements our knowledge with a previously unknown detail.

It is in this context and the spirit of Hanukkah that the Jerusalem District Archaeologist, Dr. Yuval Baruch, mentioned, “It is written in the Gemara (Talmud Bavli, Tractate Shabbat Chapter 2: Page 21) that the only cruse of oil that was discovered in the Temple after the victory of the Maccabees over the Greeks, “lay with the seal of the High Priest” – that is: the seal indicated that the oil is pure and can be used in the Temple. Remember, this cruse of oil was the basis for the miracle of Hanukkah that managed to keep the menorah lit for eight days”.

In addition to this item, other artifacts dating to the Second Temple period were discovered. Some are even earlier and date to the time of the Hasmoneans, such as oil lamps, ceramic cooking pots and a fusiform juglet that may have contained oils and perfume, as well as coins of the Hasmonean kings, such as Alexander Jannaeus and John Hyrcanus.

Click on the link to download high resolution photographs:
Photographic credit - Vladimir Naykhin

Media coverage so far includes:

Haaretz: Israeli archaeologists uncover first artifact confirming written record of Temple worship

Jerusalem Post: Archaeologists discover Second Temple era seal

Arutz Sheva: Second Temple Era Seal Unveiled

Associated Press: Ancient seal found in Jerusalem linked to ritual

Merry Christmas!

MERRY CHRISTMAS to all those celebrating!

Posts of Christmas past are collected here.

Some recent Christmas posts and links:

Alin Suciu is Putting Together the Puzzle of a Christmas Story: A Coptic Document in Princeton and Its Related Fragments.

Likewise, I have noted recent coverage of the Syriac Revelation of the Magi here and here.

Over at the Bible Places blog, Todd Bolin collects Christmas-Related Posts.

The notion that the Christians pilfered the date of the pagan celebration of the birth of the Sun and assigned it to Jesus has been challenged in a recent dissertation by Steven Hijmans at the University of Groningen. Judith Weingarten summarizes the discussion at the Zenobia blog: Whose Christmas Is It Anyway? (Updated). And Dr. Hijmans summarizes his own case in an reprint of a 2003 article: "Sol Invictus, the Winter Solstice, and the Origins of Christmas", Mouseion, Number 47/3 (2003), 277-298 (via Rogue Classicism).

Finally, a little light relief for fans of Christmas and of Queen:

Via James McGrath and Mark Goodacre.

Oh, and also, this year's Hanukkah post collects a lot of historical links.

UPDATE: And here's a Christmas/Hanukkah present from the Israel Antiquities Authority: Temple-related epigraphic find (next post).

More blither from the Jordan Lead Codices FB page

FAKE METAL CODICES WATCH: It's been quiet on this front for some time, but now Daniel McClellan has a post responding to some of the latest blither from the Jordan Lead Codices Facebook page: In Response to David Elkington. And note also his earlier post, David Elkington Again on the Jordan Codices, based on a radio encounter with Elkington on Coast to Coast. I admire Daniel's patience.

Background, with endless links, here.

New novel: "The Temple Mount Code"

"THE TEMPLE MOUNT CODE," by Charles Brokaw (f): Linguistics expert Thomas Lourds heads to Jerusalem to decode an ancient manuscript that his friend is murdered over, and political leaders want to wage a global war.
I hate it when that happens.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Fragments of Byzantine-era oil jar found in Israel

Remnants of Byzantine-era oil jar discovered along Netanya shore

(Israel HaYom)

Large olive oil jar dating back 1,500 years found along Netanya beach • City resident who found pottery shards in shallow waters passed them on to the Israel Antiquities Authority • Relic pieces attest to bustling ancient trade between Israel and Europe.

Syriac and modern politics

SYRIAC WATCH: Stories on political challenges faced by modern speakers of Syriac.

At Christmas, a Maronite Christian Village in Israel Revives the Language Spoken by Jesus Christ

Turkey’s waning Syriac Christian community to submit report to EU

Alaa votes

EGYPTIAN BLOGGER UPDATE: Jailed Egypt blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah casts vote.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Simon Holloway on Hanukkah

THESE LIGHTS: Over at Davar Akher, Simon Holloway collects and comments on the ancient references to Hanukkah. And for a bonus he links to a humbugging essay on Hanukkah by the late Christopher Hitchens, on whom be peace.

Review of Rizzi (ed.), "Hadrian and the Christians"

Marco Rizzi (ed.), Hadrian and the Christians. Millennium-Studien = Millennium studies Bd. 30. Berlin; New York: De Gruyter, 2010. Pp. vi, 186. ISBN 9783110224702. $98.00.

Reviewed by Benjamin Garstad, MacEwan University (

Table of Contents

The papers in this volume have been collected with the laudably sensible, but regrettably rare, purpose of testing an hypothesis. As the editor puts it in his introduction, the “cultural effervescence” of Hadrian’s reign and the contemporaneous diffusion and institutionalization of Christianity are to be examined “in order to figure out whether any specific factor within this broader context eased or accelerated the affirmation of Christianity in the Second century Roman world.” It is suggested that Hadrian’s reconfiguration of the Roman Empire as a polity which tolerated or even encouraged a plethora of distinct ethnic, local, cultural, religious, and philosophical identities in the interest of fostering “direct loyalty to the emperor” (rather than the institutions of Republican government or the apparatus of imperial control) opened up a space in which the Christians could engage in “self-definition and external self- definition.” This thesis is pursued by directing an often narrow spotlight on various aspects of Hadrian’s reign.

Jews figure prominently in some of the essays as well.

Coolest holiday card of the year

COOLEST HOLIDAY CARD OF THE YEAR, from the Yale University Library.

Aramaic as the mother tongue of Jesus

ARAMAIC WATCH: Aramaic would have been the mother tongue of Jesus (John Arnott, King Township Sentinel). A refreshingly accurate sketch of the Aramaic language in a local newspaper.
Although today, tiny, widely-scattered Jewish and Christian communities in the Middle East (some in Syria and southern Turkey, but mostly in Iraq) speak dialects of Aramaic as their first language. This ancient tongue, like Latin, is now mainly used in church services by some Syrian Christians and Iraqi Chaldo-Assyrian Christians.

Even though the earthly Jesus never attended service in a Christian church, he would feel almost at home in one of these Oriental Christian churches, where the language at least used would be familiar to him.
That would be something like putting Shakespeare in a modern church service in English. He would understand a fair amount of what was said but he would still be pretty confused.

On the trail of the Maccabees

HANUKKAH AND HISTORY: On the trail of the Maccabees (Lisa Alcalay Klug, Jewish Journal). Alas, the traditional trail peters out and the archaeological trail has some bumps in it.
It’s impossible to conclude the accuracy of the enduring folk legend around the location of the graves. But excavations dating from the 19th century suggest the traditional site misses the mark and that Midya, a nearby Arab village, more closely fits the ancient description instead. Meanwhile, the experts qualified to actually determine the veracity of the myth are archaeologists, who remain unwilling to excavate the graves due to the sensitivity of the religious community. With the popular fervor for strong Jewish heroes so attached to the current site, the mystery of the Maccabee graves is likely to endure.
More on the mystery of the site of the Maccabean tombs here.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dura-Europos documents online

AWOL: New at ARTStor: Dura-Europos Documents.
Now available: Images of parchment and papyrus documents from Dura-Europos (Syria) from the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University
Much more on Dura Europos here and links.

Happy Winter Solstice and Yalda

HAPPY WINTER SOLSTICE to those celebrating. And a slightly belated happy Yalda also.

On Hanukkah and Piyyut

THE TALMUD BLOG: Hanukkah and Piyyut (Part I) (Ophir Münz-Manor).

More on the piyyut here.

Jewish themes in an ancient curse tablet

JEWISH THEMES in a recently translated curse tablet:
Deciphered Ancient Tablet Reveals Curse of Greengrocer

Owen Jarus, LiveScience Contributor
Date: 21 December 2011 Time: 11:37 AM ET

A fiery ancient curse inscribed on two sides of a thin lead tablet was meant to afflict, not a king or pharaoh, but a simple greengrocer selling fruits and vegetables some 1,700 years ago in the city of Antioch, researchers find.

Written in Greek, the tablet holding the curse was dropped into a well in Antioch, then one of the Roman Empire's biggest cities in the East, today part of southeast Turkey, near the border with Syria.

The curse calls upon Iao, the Greek name for Yahweh, the god of the Old Testament, to afflict a man named Babylas who is identified as being a greengrocer. The tablet lists his mother's name as Dionysia, "also known as Hesykhia" it reads. The text was translated by Alexander Hollmann of the University of Washington.

I agree with Professor Hoffman that the text is not necessarily Jewish. Ancient magic in the Near East and Mediterranean was extremely eclectic and often drew on Jewish themes alongside Classical, Egyptian, Babylonian, and Christian ones.

On editions and translations

ADAM MCCOLLUM: Editions, or editions and translations? As a general rule I agree: both are good, but editions first.

Metatron is bored

METATRON IS BORED. Graffito found at a construction site in Dubai. Banksy watch out.

London Times on "The Revelation of the Magi"

THE REVELATION OF THE MAGI has also been covered by the London Times:
Ancient text brings the Three Wise Men to life

by: Simon de Bruxelles, London
From: The Times
December 22, 2011 12:00AM

AN ancient document found in the Vatican archives casts new light on the story of the Nativity and the Three Wise Men who came to offer gifts to the infant Jesus, according to researchers.

The Revelation of the Magi, reputedly a first-hand account of their journey to pay tribute to the son of God, only now has been translated from ancient Syriac.

Brent Landau, professor of religious studies at the University of Oklahoma, spent two years deciphering the fragile manuscript.

It is an eighth-century copy of a story first written down nearly half a millennium earlier, less than 100 years after the Gospel of Matthew, the original source of the Bible story.

The newly translated tale differs in major respects from Matthew's very brief account.

The Times is behind a subscription wall, but this article has been reprinted in The Australian.

Background here (immediately preceding post).

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Daily Mail on "The Revelation of the Magi"

'TIS THE SEASON: The Daily Mail takes up Brent Landau's translation of The Revelation of the Magi. And for a holiday miracle, the article (despite the headline) makes some effort toward a critical nuancing of the import of the document: Forget the Three Wise Men… DOZENS flocked to see Jesus, ancient document reveals.

HT Nicola Denzey Lewis on FB.

Background on The Revelation of the Magi is here with links.

More on the burning of the Institute d'Egypt


Jason Boog: Egyptian Activists Hurt Defending Library.

And at Transparency Revolution, Phil Bowermaster reflects on this tragedy in the context of the burning of the Library of Alexandria in antiquity: Backing up Civilization.

Background here. Background on the destruction of the Library of Alexandria here and links

Hanukkah and counterfactual history

Imagining a world without Hanukkah

Detour into science fiction helps illuminate what festival celebrates

By: Lawrence M. Pinsker (Winnipeg Free Press)

Posted: 12/20/2011 1:00 AM

Growing up as an avid science fiction reader, I fell in love with a particular sub-genre of the field called "alternate history," which asks how the world would have changed if some historical event had gone differently.

For example, both Ward Moore's Bring the Jubilee and Winston Churchill's If the South Had Won the Civil War -- yes, that Winston Churchill -- ask readers to imagine life after the South won the American Civil War.

And Sarban's The Sound of His Horn, Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle, and Keith Roberts' Weihnachtabend explore the world after Hitler and the Axis won the Second World War.

Hundreds of science fiction novels and short stories ask "What if the outcome had been different?" about other crucial moments in history as well.

For example, in Robert Silverberg's Roma Eterna, the author asks how the world would have changed if the Hebrew exodus from Egypt had ended not in liberation from bondage but in the deaths of Moses and the other Hebrew leaders.

In Silverberg's alternate history, the Hebrews continue as a sparse slave population in Egypt. They never reach the Promised Land, so there is no ancient Judaea with a capital in Jerusalem whose citizens wage war against Roman authority and whose descendants are scattered throughout the empire as punishment for their rebellion.

The term "Jew" never even arises, because there is never a geopolitical entity called Judaea. Instead, the Hebrews quietly cultivate their particular ethical and theological genius only within their tiny ghetto in Egypt.

Without the dispersal of a captive Jewish people throughout the Roman Empire, Rome's political and cultural philosophies are neither challenged nor changed in an encounter with the fruits of independent Jewish thought concerning human ethics and morals.

I've read some of these, but I don't recall seeing Silverberg's book. He's an excellent writer and I'll have to look it up.
Which brings us to another such pivotal moment in history, one celebrated by the Hanukkah festival observed in Jewish homes beginning this year tonight, Dec. 20, and continuing for eight days. The Hanukkah candles are lit to commemorate the victory of Judah Maccabeus and his siblings over the armies of Antiochus Epiphanes IV.

We may miss the connection between this war and the history of later western religion. What would the world have been like if those small bands of shepherds and townspeople in ancient Judea had not heard the pleas to defend religious freedom spoken by a family of priests from the village of Modin?

What if they had not rebelled against a totalitarian empire, and instead accepted the systematic destruction of their rights to worship as their religion required, to teach about the universe as they understood it, and even to follow dietary commands as instructed by God?

We forget that there once was a time when the ancient kingdom of Judea was a unique spiritual oasis in the midst of the corrupt, warring remnants of Greek culture left by the death of Alexander the Great.

This is an idealized perspective on ancient Hellenism and the Maccabean revolt, but the reflections that follow are interesting nonetheless. For a more harshly critical perspective, along with some of my own reflections, see here. My own work on counterfactual history favors the microhistorical approach rather than one that tackles the broad sweep of history. See here and links.

Visit the tombs of the Maccabees?

This Hanukkah, take a tour to the real graves of the Maccabees There is no dispute today that the 'official' location of the Maccabean graves, near Modi'in, is not the real site; come and see for yourself where these heroes were actually buried. By Moshe Gilad (Haaretz)

Saul Lieberman apocryphon?

SAUL LIEBERMAN APOCRYPHON? The book under review in this article sounds interesting, but what caught my eye was the anecdote about the renowned scholar of ancient Judaism, Saul Lieberman:
100 great Jewish books presented in one volume

By Rabbi Jack Riemer
Florida Jewish Journal
2:33 p.m. EST, December 20, 2011

ONE HUNDRED GREAT JEWISH BOOKS, by Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, Blue Bridge, 352 pages, paperback, $16.95.

There is a story — perhaps apocryphal, perhaps not — that is told about Professor Saul Lieberman that came to my mind as I read this book.

The story is that a reporter came to interview him after he won some academic prize. The reporter noticed a book on his desk and asked him what it was. The professor answered: "That's a copy of the Bible." Then the reporter saw another book and asked what it was. Lieberman said: "That's a Mishnah." The reporter asked what a Mishnah was and Lieberman explained that it was a commentary on the Bible." Then the reporter noticed another book and asked what it was. "That's the Talmud," said Lieberman. "What's a Talmud?" asked the reporter and the professor explained that the Talmud is a commentary on the Mishnah. The reporter then asked what the writing on one side of the Talmud was and Lieberman explained that that was the commentary on the Talmud by Rashi. The reporter then asked what the writing on the other side of the Talmud was and Lieberman said that that was the Tosafot. The reporter asked what the Tosefot was and Lieberman explained that the Tosafot were a commentary on Rashi. This went on for a while longer, until the reporter exclaimed: "Now I get it. Judaism is a conversation between the generations."

Lieberman said afterwards that this was the shortest, simplest definition of Judaism that he had ever heard, and that he learned it from a non-Jew.

I thought of this story because of what this book sets out to do. Rabbi Hoffman has chosen the hundred books that have formed Judaism and then he has responded to each of them with a thoughtful two or three page review. You can quibble if you wish over which books were included or about which ones were left out, but if you read these hundred essays you will have a pretty good idea of what Judaism is all about. I have some reservations. There could have been more of the Bible included. There could have been less of some modern Jewish writers who do not have lasting significance. There are some — particularly in the modern fiction section — that I don't think deserved to make the cut. But all the basic books that have formed us are here and Rabbi Hoffman talks to them and about them with great respect.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Happy Hanukkah!

HAPPY HANUKKAH (Chanukkah/Chanukah) to all those celebrating! The festival begins at sundown.

The key ancient texts relating to Hanukkah are collected here and link. Some past posts on Hanukkah and history are here, here, here, and here.

UPDATE (21 December): More here and here.

UPDATE (24 December): More Hanukkah posts here, here, and here.

UPDATE (1 January 2012): Still more here.

Ancient bathhouse near Moshav Tarum excavated

A BYZANTINE-ERA BATHHOUSE has been discovered in central Israel:
1,600 Year Old Bathhouse Uncovered in Judea

A newly discovered bathhouse may have been used by owners of a wealthy estate or was part of an inn on an ancient road.

By Gil Ronen (Arutz Sheva)
First Publish: 12/20/2011, 11:04 AM

Remains of an ancient bathhouse dating to the Byzantine period were exposed during work being conducted on the modern water infrastructure near Moshav Tarum in the Judean coastal hills. In recent months the Israel Antiquities Authority carried out an archaeological excavation that uncovered impressive finds in the wake of a fifth water supply system to Jerusalem being installed by Mekorot Co.

A number of ancient bathhouses have turned up in Israel in recent years, including one in Tiberias, the well-known one at Masada, the one in the Jerusalem tunnels (also here), one in Zikhron Ya‘aqov, possibly one at Horvat Tarbenet, one near Kibbutz Gevim, another one in Jerusalem, and one of debatable date in Nazareth. I have also posted a photo of the British Roman bathhouse in Vindolanda here.

NYT reviews NYU/ISAW Dura Europos exhibit

A Melting Pot at the Intersection of Empires for Five Centuries

Published: December 19, 2011

In its time and place, the ancient city of Dura-Europos had much in common with today’s most cosmopolitan urban landscapes. Religious, linguistic and cultural diversity characterized much of the city’s life for more than 500 years, starting at the outset of the third century B.C. in what is now Syria.

Greek, Aramaic, Latin, Parthian, Middle Persian and Hebrew — all of these languages were used concurrently throughout the society, according to inscriptions and graffiti uncovered by archaeologists. A temple altar epitomizes the multiculturalism: The inscription is in Greek, and a man with a Latin name and a Greek-titled office in the Roman army is shown presenting an offering to Iarhibol, a god of the migrants from the old Syrian caravan city of Palmyra.

New Yorkers would have felt at home in the grid pattern of streets, where merchants lived, scribes wrote and Jews worshiped in the same block, not far from a Christian house-church as well as shrines to Greek and Palmyrene deities. Scholars said the different religious groups seemed to maintain their distinct identities.

An exhibition of prized and quotidian artifacts from Dura-Europos, “Edge of Empires: Pagans, Jews, and Christians at Roman Dura-Europos,” is on view through Jan. 8 at New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. The objects — notably art from antiquity’s best-preserved synagogue, and evocative photographs of the buried city’s excavations — are on loan from the Yale University Art Gallery.

Background on the exhibition and on Dura Europos is here with links.

Monday, December 19, 2011

New assistant editor of TC

WELCOME TO Ingrid Lilly – New Assistant Editor of TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism (ETC blog).

DSS fragments at SWBTS

THE DEAD SEA SCROLL FRAGMENTS owned by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary are the subject of an article in the Baptist Press:
Scroll fragments could 'shed light' on O.T. text

Posted on Dec 14, 2011 | by Benjamin Hawkins

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) -- The potential contribution to Dead Sea Scroll scholarship of nine scroll fragments owned by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary was underscored when several SWBTS professors discussed their research to date during the Society of Biblical Literature's 2011 meeting in San Francisco.

"Southwestern's scrolls contain readings of Old Testament passages that are nowhere else attested," Ryan Stokes, assistant professor of Old Testament, noted after the SBL's three-day mid-November meeting. "We are just beginning to comprehend their importance for the field, but we expect them to shed light on how we came to have the Old Testament text that we have today."

Southwestern Seminary currently houses the largest collection of fragments owned by an institution of higher education within the United States. The seminary will host an exclusive exhibit of the scrolls from July 2, 2012, to Jan. 11, 2013. To learn more about Southwestern Seminary's exclusive "Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible" exhibit, visit

The article is pretty thin on details about the fragments. And now there appear to be nine of them, although an earlier report said ten. In any case, I look forward to their publication and to any additional information about them which comes out in the meantime.

Background here and links. The earlier reports indicate that some of the fragments come from the biblical books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Daniel.

Egyptian bloggers update

Military re-sentences Maikel Nabil to two years in prison

Maikel Nabil has been re-sentenced to two years in military prison and fined LE200 leaving the renowned blogger and activist with no options to appeal

Sherif Tarek, Wednesday 14 Dec 2011 (Al Ahram)

Coptic blogger Maikel Nabil has been sentenced to two years in military prison on Wednesday and fined LE200 (US$30.3).

The verdict was returned by a C28 military court Wednesday after the case was adjourned five times over the past few months.

In addition to the fine, the military court also ruled that Nabil must pay LE300 (US$50) in fees for the military lawyers who represented him during the appeal.

This was a reduction of a three-year sentence on appeal. That's not good enough.

Meanwhile, some Maspero protesters have been released, but not Alaa:
Maspero detainees released except activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah

By Mai Shams El-Din/Daily News Egypt December 15, 2011, 7:24 pm

CAIRO: A Cairo court released on Thursday 27 detainees involved in the Maspero violence case, pending investigations, barring prominent activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah.

The court had accepted an appeal to revoke last Tuesday’s decision by the prosecution to extend their detention for 15 days.

Lawyers said since Abdel-Fattah had already filed appeals which were all rejected, legally he has no right to file another appeal before 30 days.

That's not good enough either. The world is watching.

Cairo library burned during protests

A CAIRO LIBRARY has been burned down during anti-military protests, and priceless manuscripts have been lost:
Library fire in Egypt clashes destroys 'irreplaceable' 200-year-old documents

From Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, for CNN
December 18, 2011 -- Updated 0459 GMT (1259 HKT)

Cairo (CNN) -- The new wave of bloody clashes between pro-democracy protesters and Egypt's security forces has left at least 10 people dead, including six by live ammunition -- even though the new prime minister denied that live fire was being used by his forces.

Meanwhile, 213-year-old Egyptian maps and historical manuscripts -- described as "irreplaceable" -- were destroyed after a library in Cairo was set ablaze during the clashes, officials said.


Destroyed in the fire were the original manuscript of the "description of Egypt" and "irreplaceable maps and historical manuscripts preserved by many generations since the building of the Scientific Center in August 1798 during the French Campaign," Ganzouri said in a statement.

Egypt lost a piece of "its national treasure" and "its rare history," the prime minister said.

The library was a scene of intense confrontation Saturday.

The Deutsche Press Agentur has more details:
Egypt loses rare text in anti-military violence

Dec 18, 2011, 12:58 GMT

Cairo- A 19th-century book compiled by French scholars was destroyed in a blaze triggered by violent clashes between army forces and anti-military protesters in central Cairo, Egyptian officials said Sunday.

Twenty volumes of Description de l'Egypte (Description of Egypt) were burned out when the fire erupted Saturday in the Egyptian Academy building near Tahrir Square, said the head of the state-run Egyptian National Library, Zein Abdel Hadi.

And Chuck Jones, who has been posting information on Facebook as it comes out, has a roundup post at AWOL: The Fire at the Institut d'Egypte Cairo.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

NYC DSS exhibit: Ten Commandments scroll

DISCOVERY TIMES SQUARE DEAD-SEA-SCROLLS-EXHIBITION UPDATE: Ancient 10 Commandments scroll to be shown in NYC (AP). This version of the article includes a photo of the scroll.

Background here and links.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Review of Sivertsev, "Judaism and Imperial Ideology in Late Antiquity"

Alexei Sivertsev, Judaism and Imperial Ideology in Late Antiquity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Pp. viii, 247. ISBN 9781107009080. $85.00.

Reviewed by Pieter W. van der Horst, Utrecht, The Netherlands (

This fascinating book explores the influence of Roman imperial ideology on the development of messianic themes in Judaism of the fifth through the eighth centuries C.E.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Duane Smith: There must be a word for them

DUANE SMITH: THERE MUST BE A WORD FOR THEM. I'm not sure there is, but I agree there should be. If you have an idea for one, go and leave a comment at Duane's post.

Review of Magness, "Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit"

THE NEW BOOK by Jodi Magness, Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus (Eerdmans, 2011), is reviewed by Shaye Cohen in Biblical Archaeology Review. The BAS staff summarize:
Magness’s book is reviewed in the pages of Biblical Archaeology Review by Professor Shaye J.D. Cohen of Harvard University. Dr. Cohen points out that Magness is an expert in the archaeology of ancient Israel and of Qumran in particular. This leaves her ideally placed to examine the practice of Judaism in ancient Israel as illustrated by the archaeological record.

Cohen asserts, however, that because Magness is not an expert in the interpretation of Jewish classical texts, her arguments predicated on literary interpretation are somewhat weaker than those based on archaeology. Nevertheless, Magness paints a convincing portrait of daily life in ancient Israel and brings to light the practice of Judaism in ancient Israel by not just its rulers, but its general population.
An earlier review is noted here.

Forthcoming book by Geza Vermes

GEZA VERMES'S FORTHCOMING BOOK is now being advertised by Penguin:
Christian Beginnings
From Nazareth to Nicaea, AD 30-325

» Geza Vermes

Allen Lane
Hardback : 05 Jul 2012



The creation of the Christian Church is one of the most important stories in the development of the world's history, but also one of the most poorly understood.

With a forensic, brilliant re-examination of all the key surviving texts, Geza Vermes traces the evolution of the figure of Jesus from the man he was - a prophet fully recognisable as the successor to other Jewish holy men of the Old Testament - to what he came to represent: a mysterious, otherworldly being at the heart of a major new religion. As his teachings spread across the eastern Mediterranean, hammered into place by Paul, John and their successors, they were transformed in the space of three centuries into a centralised, state-backed creed worlds away from its humble origins. This is the captivating story of how a man came to be hailed as the Son consubstantial with God, and of how a revolutionary, anti-conformist Jewish sub-sect became the official state religion of the Roman Empire.

This fascinating book is Vermes's masterpiece, pulling apart the many myths and legends to focus on the true figure of Jesus and the birth of one of the world's major religions.
A related article by Professor Vermes is noted here.

Adam McCollum: Cursing upside down


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Judith and cheese

Frying high: Keeping known, lesser-known culinary traditions

Written by Sybil Kaplan (Jewish Tribune)
Tuesday, 13 December 2011

JERUSALEM – Latkes and sufganiyot, the jelly-filled doughnuts especially popular in Israel, are well-known Chanukah fare made with oil to signify the holiday tale.

Lesser known is the tradition of cheese and the story of Judith.

Like the Chanukah story, which is part of the Apocrypha – books not incorporated in the Bible – the Book of Judith tells of a beautiful widow whose town was under siege by the army of the Assyrians and decided to visit the commander in chief of the army to ask him not to overtake the town. As the story goes, she gives him wine, he gets falling-down drunk and falls into a stupor. Judith beheads the king and saves her people and the town.

Legend has it that Judith fed him cheese to make him thirsty, and since she lived in the same period as the Maccabees, Jews of various communities instituted the custom of eating cheese dishes in honour of her heroism.

Recipes follow.

Cross-file under "Apocrypha Watch" and "Hanukkah." More here on the original story of Hanukkah in the Apocrypha.

A DSS exibition in Utah?

WESTON FIELDS hopes to bring Dead Sea Scrolls to Utah in an exhibition.
PROVO -- Ten years ago, plans to bring an exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls to Utah fell through. With the help of one man who wants to make that happen, talks are underway once again.

Over the years, BYU's museum of art has hosted a number of exciting exhibitions, drawing thousands of visitors. But one involving the Dead Sea Scrolls would be groundbreaking."

"(The Dead Sea Scrolls are) the greatest manuscript discovery of the 20th century," said Dr. Weston Fields, executive director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation.

Inscribed seals from Jerusalem going on display in Oklahoma

TWO INSCRIBED SEALS FROM JERUSALEM as well as other artifacts are going on display at the Herbert W. Armstrong College in Oklahoma:
Armstrong International Cultural Foundation Announces Seals of Jeremiah's Captors Discovered!

Ancient Biblical Artifacts Make World Premiere at Armstrong Auditorium

EDMOND, Okla., Dec. 13, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- The Armstrong International Cultural Foundation announces the world premiere of two of the most significant artifacts ever discovered in Jerusalem. "Seals of Jeremiah's Captors Discovered!" is an archaeological exhibition of nearly three dozen artifacts from Israel's First Temple period in the Armstrong Auditorium beginning January 16, 2012.

Discovered by archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar, the artifacts include two clay seals, called bullae, which were unearthed only a few yards apart. According to their inscriptions, the seals belong to two princes mentioned in Jeremiah 38:1, a chapter that describes the princes' attempt to kill the prophet Jeremiah.

"It's not often that such discoveries happen in which real figures of the past shake off the dust of history and so vividly revive the stories of the Bible," Mazar said.

Edmond's Herbert W. Armstrong College provided support for Mazar's excavations in the City of David and at Solomon's wall.

Dr. Mazar was interviewed recently in The Trumpet, the online publication of Armstrong College. More on the two seals here, here, and here and links. Both seals were excavated by archaeologists rather than appearing unprovenanced on the antiquities market, so they are quite important.

Mughrabi Bridge opened

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Guess what's open again?
Mugrabi Bridge opens after temporary closure

By MELANIE LIDMAN (Jerusalem Post)
12/14/2011 08:30

The Mugrabi Bridge connecting the Western Wall Plaza and the Temple Mount complex was opened Wednesday morning. It was reopened with the stationing of a fire truck next to the bridge due to the fear of the wooden bridge going up in flames.

In order to put pressure on the government to replace the bridge rather than to use the temporary fix, MKs Uri Ariel and Arye Eldad (National Union) went up to the Temple Mount Wednesday morning through the Mugrabi Bridge.

Background on the Mugrabi (Mughrabi, Moghrabi) Gate Bridge is here and links.

Some charges against Alaa dropped

Egypt Drops Some Charges Against Blogger


A civilian court in Cairo dropped two charges against a prominent blogger and activist, Alaa Abd El Fattah, the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm reported on Tuesday.

According to Mr. Fattah’s sister, Mona Seif, the authorities later sentenced the blogger to a further 15 days in custody as their investigation continues into the deaths of 27 people, mainly Coptic Christians, at a demonstration in Cairo on Oct. 9.

Some progress.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Translating ancient Aramaic texts into Modern Aramaic

ARAMAIC WATCH: A project to translate ancient Aramaic texts into modern Aramaic.
From the Old Written to the New Spoken

Posted GMT 12-12-2011 19:41:12 (AINA)

Sacramento -- In a small apartment in Sacramento California, there lives a Seventy-two year old Assyrian Deacon named Elisha Simon who spends many of his hours typing away on his computer; translating hand-written Aramaic texts into Assyrian Neo-Aramaic.

"For over Forty years, I have been doing this," he told me as we drank tea at his kitchen table, "Each day I spend about six hours, on average."

Through the reflection in the window across from me, I could see his wife Ramziya standing in the kitchen, nodding her head in agreement. "Should I pour you another tea broonee? [my son]" She asked as soon as we made eye contact through the reflection.

Before I could answer, my tea cup was already filled, and there she was sitting next to us at the table.

"So what exactly are these documents that you're translating?" I asked Elisha.

"Well, the biggest of my work has been the seven volumes containing the stories of Martyrs and Saints, Sharbe d'Sahde; I have translated various documents written by Assyrian bishops and priests--The Book of the Bee or Ktawa d'Dabasha being the most popular one; I have translated and digitized the hand-written constitution of the Assyrian Church of the East; and one of my recent projects was an Aramaic/Assyrian Neo-Aramaic/Arabic/English dictionary containing around five thousand words--I finished that too. Whatever Aramaic texts we've written, I want to get my hands on to translate into the dialect that we are speaking today, Assyrian."

The ancient Assyrian language is classified as Akkadian, which was written in cuneiform and spoken by ancient Assyrians and Babylonians as early as 2800 B.C. Aramaic, a similar language from the region, became the next official language in 752 B.C. Because Aramaic was similar to Akkadian and more systematic containing only 22 letters compared to the roughly 600 characters of the cuneiform system, it rapidly integrated and became the lingua franca of the region. As a result, modern day Assyrian people speak a language that is mainly comprised of Akkadian and Aramaic, and with a modicum of invading Arabic, Farsi, Greek, and Turkish. Linguists have classified this language as Assyrian Neo-Aramaic.

The last paragraph is a little garbled. Modern "Assyrian" is Aramaic, but with some Akkadian vocabulary absorbed in antiquity (the Aramaic of the biblical books of Daniel and Ezra already has quite a few Akkadian words in it), plus vocabulary from the other, more recent languages mentioned.

The Book of the Bee is one of the books to be translated in Tony Burke's More Christian Apocrypha project.

DSS symposium in Florida

A DEAD SEA SCROLLS SYMPOSIUM in Miami Beach, Florida: Dead Sea scrolls come to life at symposium.
Temple Emanu-El and the Institute for Judaism and Christian Origins will present a two-day symposium on the Dead Sea Scrolls on Sunday and Monday at the temple, 1701 Washington Ave. in Miami Beach.
Among others, James Charlesworth and Lawrence Schiffman will be there.

Economist reviews NYC DSS exhibition

THE NYC DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBITION at Discovery Times Square is reviewed in The Economist. It is a positive, if boilerplate review: The Dead Sea Scrolls: A biblical blockbuster.

More reviews here and here and links.

Ranting about closure of Mughrabi Gate Bridge

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Hamas is ranting predictably about the closure of the Mughrabi (Mugrabi, Moghrabi) Gate Bridge for safety reasons. And the PA and the Waqf get in on the act.
'Mugrabi Bridge closure is religious war'

12/12/2011 14:09

Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhum: Bridge's closure shows the "Zionist scheme of aggression against al-Aksa mosque."
Talkbacks (100)

Hamas warned Monday that the Israeli closure of the Mugrabi Bridge is tantamount to a “declaration of war” on Muslim holy sites.

“This is a serious step that shows the Zionist scheme of aggression against al-Aksa mosque,” said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum in an interview with AFP. “This is a violent act that amounts to a declaration of religious war on the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem.”

The Palestinian Authority also condemned the closure of the Mugrabi Bridge and said that Israel does not have any jurisdiction over Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.

PA spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh said that the decision to close the bridge was designed to scuttle international efforts to revive the peace process. He was referring to renewed attempts by representatives of the Quartet – the US, EU, UN and Russia – to launch direct talks between Israel and the PA.

“The closure of the Mugrabi Bridge is is in the context of [Israel’s] religious war against our holy sites,” Hamas said in a statement.

The decision is also part of Israel's effort to completely Judaize Jerusalem by deporting residents and revoking their ID cards, demolishing their houses and confiscating their lands, Hamas charged.

Sheikh Abdel Azim Salhab, chairman of the Islamic Wakf Department in Jerusalem, rejected the Israeli move and warned against an “explosion” if the bridge is demolished.

“Demolishing the bridge would be seen as an assault on the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” he cautioned. “Israel had already assaulted the rights of the Muslims by confiscating the keys to the Mugrabi Gate, which is one of the main gates to the mosque.”

Background on the Mughrabi Bridge is here.

Egyptian blogger update

Case for Egyptian blogger Alaa Abdel-Fattah transferred

Sarah Sheffer | 13 December 2011 | 0 Comments (

CAIRO: Egyptian authorities transferred the case of Egyptian blogger Alaa Abdel-Fattah from a state security court to a panel of two investigative judges, as investigations into the controversial case continue.

The prosecution has accused Abdel-Fattah of having the “intent of committing crimes, assaulting security personnel and using force against them,” on the night of the October 9 Maspero Coptic Christian march, where 27 demonstrators were killed in clashes with the army. Abdel-Fattah denies the allegations.

The blogger has been detained for three 15-day periods, pending investigations into his case. The two judges will review the case again on Tuesday.

According to his lawyer, the transfer of the case could allow for the blogger to be tried in a civilian court with the right to appeal.

That would seem like a prudent move, given that the world is watching.

Background here.

Evil angels, the Nephilim, and the Book of Enoch

EVIL ANGELS, THE NEPHILIM, AND THE BOOK OF ENOCH are discussed by Tim Townsend in the St. Louis website:
Evil, from the backs of fallen angels

BY TIM TOWNSEND • > 314-340-8221 | Posted: Saturday, December 10, 2011 12:10 am | (9) Comments

Among what scholars have traditionally thought of as the strangest passages in the Hebrew Bible are four verses toward the beginning of Genesis about evil angels.

It's a short story, written 2,500 years ago, with roots that go back even further to Hurrian and Canaanite mythology. In these verses, angels that the author calls 'sons of God" came to earth and mated with human women, producing a race of demi-god giants called the Nephilim who roamed the earth until they were wiped out with the rest of humanity in The Flood.

A pretty good popular discussion, but I do have one comment:
The author of The Book of Enoch, written in the third century B.C., amplified the Nephilim story, and the angels not only mate with human women, but share with them secrets about warfare and other "knowledge they would have been better off not knowing," said Susan Garrett, professor of New Testament at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and author of "No Ordinary Angel." In the Book of Jubilees, written in about 150 B.C., evil spirits rise from the bodies of the dead Nephilim and invade the earth.
I would say that the Nephilim story in Genesis reluctantly summarizes the story of the fall of the Watchers (the angels), a version of which story is also found in the Book of the Watchers in 1 Enoch. Some specialists would disagree with me on this, but I can't see any other way to read the development of the legend. 1 Enoch is not amplifying (or not much); Genesis is summarizing and bowdlerizing.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Haaretz on the piyyut

Orthodox, secular Jews keep ancient poems alive in singing groups across Israel

If the piyyutim are so ancient, and are shared by Jews from many cultures, how come the piyyut is now a species in danger of extinction?

By Noam Ben-Zeev Tags: Jewish World

There is a musical genre that exists in the twilight zone between the sacred and the secular, sung by both religious people and total atheists, by men as well as women. Its words are similar to prayer but are not prayer. It is not sung by professional singers, because it does not belong to the popular and commercial world, nor is it sung by cantors, because it is not limited to the world of the synagogue. Its text is poetic and uses high Hebrew, but this text has no right to exist without the melody. And the opposite is also true - its music, with its complex melodic and scalar structure and, frequently, exalted beauty, is meaningless without the words.

And another wonder: Here, it is permissible to adapt a new text to the lovely melody, and also various melodies are often adapted to the same text. In this genre there are ancient thousand-year-old works, as well as new ones. In order to sing them well you have to study for many years, and at the same time their validity does not come from expert performers but from the works' acceptance by the audience because, in spite of their complexity, they effectively belong to the audience, whose members learn them from one another, without notes and without recordings. And the experts, who are called paytanim, know how to improvise on the audience's melodies, to adorn them, to trill them freely, but the basic notes are set and precise, and if anyone makes a mistake another singer will immediately correct him.

This highly contradictory genre is the piyyut, or liturgical poem. ...
Some piyyutim are a lot older than a thousand years. The piyyut has been an important poetic genre in Judaism since the end of late antiquity. For more information see the Piyyut article in the Jewish Virtual Library. And more PaleoJudaica posts on piyyutim are here and here.

Mughrabi Bridge closed

Mugrabi Bridge closed due to safety concerns

By MELANIE LIDMAN (Jerusalem Post)
12/12/2011 05:00

J'lem city engineer warns that temporary bridge leading from Western Wall plaza to the Temple Mount is unsafe.

Officials closed the Mugrabi Bridge on Sunday, three days before the municipality deadline to close the ramp leading from the Western Wall plaza to the Temple Mount.

The Jerusalem city engineer, Shlomo Eshkol, has warned over the past year in a series of letters to the prime minister and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation – which oversees the area – that the temporary bridge is unsafe.

The municipality originally set November 28 as the deadline to destroy the bridge, but Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu intervened to stop the demolition, worried about triggering riots across the Arab world. In the most recent letter, sent last week, the municipality insisted the entrance must be closed to the public until a new bridge is built.

The closure, which came earlier than expected, touched off a stormy reaction in the Knesset and among right-wing activists.

Background on the Mughrabi (Mugrabi, Moghrabi) Bridge story is here and links.

Jailed Egyptian blogger allowed to vote

Jailed Egypt blogger Abdel Fattah allowed to vote

Manar Ammar | 11 December 2011 | 0 Comments (

CAIRO: A Cairo administrative court ruled on Saturday that leading activist and blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah has the right to cast his vote in the Egypt’s first parliamentary elections after the ousting of former President Hosni Mubarak last February.

Perhaps the Egyptian authorities are beginning to notice that the world is watching?

Background here.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Interview with J. Z. Smith

INTERVIEW WITH J. Z. SMITH (Supriya Sinhababu, Chicago Maroon)
A word of advice for anyone hoping to contact Jonathan Zittell Smith before he returns to campus next fall: Use the mail slot. The religious studies professor— better known as J.Z.—doesn't pick up the phone and has never "seen the Internet." In a two-hour interview, Smith weighed in on chain smoking, dead religions, and the Babylonian Talmud.
The interview is a few years old, but this is the first time I've seen it. I caught a glimpse of Jonathan Z. Smith at the San Francisco SBL/AAR meetings last month, so he's still active in the field.

(Via Nicola Denzey Lewis on FB. And yes, I know, Facebook is on a roll this weekend.)

Graduate profiles in Coptic Studies at Claremont

GRADUATE PROFILES IN COPTIC STUDIES at Claremont Graduate University School of Religion. There are some big names on the list.

(Via Alin Suciu on FB.)

Article on Sefer Yetsirah

ARTICLE ON SEFER YETSIRAH by Marla Segol (Skidmore College) in Societas Magica Newsletter, Issue 21 (2009): Magical Letters, Mystical Planets: Magic, Theosophy, and Astrology in the Sefer Yetsirah and two of its Tenth-century Commentaries.
Introduction: In this essay I discuss the treatment of two important themes in the late antique work, the Sefer Yetsirah, and in two of its tenth-Century commentaries, Sa’adya Gaon’s Commentary on the Sefer Yetsirah, and Shabbetai Donnolo’s Sefer Hakhmoni. These themes are the effective power of symbols, and of the Hebrew letterform specifically, and theosophy, the belief that the created world can be used to learn about the divine. The Sefer Yetsirah expresses an effective view of symbols and a theosophic view of the universe. This theosophic view is intrinsic to the astrological outlook that informs the work. The commentaries on the Sefer Yetsirah take different positions regarding these themes, relying on non-Jewish sources and cosmological models to reinterpret the magical function of the Hebrew letterform, and the theosophic significance of the created world. In so doing, the commentators reinterpret the Sefer Yetsirah in light of contemporary debate.
The editor of the 2005 critical edition, Peter Hayman, thought that the original version of the Sefer Yetsirah could be as early as the first few centuries CE.

(Via Abu 'l-Rayhan Al-Biruni on FB.)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Geza Vermes on Jewish Christianity

GEZA VERMES has an article in Standpoint Magazine on Jews, Christians and Judaeo-Christians. It is based on his forthcoming book, Christian Beginnings: from Nazareth to Nicaea (Allen Lane, The Penguin Press), due to appear next July.

UPDATE (15 December): For more on the book, go here.

Friday, December 09, 2011

More on Mughrabi Bridge closure

City demands closure of Mugrabi Bridge in one week

12/09/2011 03:57

J'lem municipality insists decrepit state of bridge could lead to a “Carmel Fire II.”

The Jerusalem Municipality threatened on Thursday to close the bridge that links the Western Wall plaza to the Temple Mount next week due to safety concerns, a move that could incite violence across the Arab world.

The city insisted the decrepit state of the Mugrabi Bridge could lead to a “Carmel Fire II,” referring to the forest fire on Mount Carmel last year that claimed 44 lives.


In a letter to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation on Thursday, City Engineer Shlomo Eshkol wrote: “By virtue of my authority according to section 6a of the Law of Assistance and according to the opinion and after checks made upon the structure, I hereby determine that there exists immediate danger to the users, to the public, and to the property nearby, due to the flammability and potential for collapse. Therefore I intend to issue an order to close the structure and not allow any use of it.”

The municipality gave the Western Wall Heritage Foundation a week to appeal the Eshkol’s order. Thursday’s order threatened to close the bridge to pedestrians, rather than to demolish it, as previous letters from the engineer have demanded. The bridge will only be used by security personnel in case of emergencies.

Cross-file under Mughrabi, Moghrabi Bridge. Background and many links here.

High school class studies Latin Josephus manuscript

A LATIN JOSEPHUS MANUSCRIPT is being studied by a high school Latin class, thanks to the wonders of online access.
Young scholars research ancient text
Technology allows Country Day students to review 9th-century manuscript

By Caroline McMillan (Charlotte Observer)

At Charlotte Country Day School, the dead language of Latin is coming alive.

A small group of high-achieving junior and senior Latin students are spending their free time huddled around a computer screen with images of a ninth-century manuscript that before only scholars had dealt with.

The text is the oldest known Latin manuscript of Romano-Jewish historian Josephus's "De Bello Judaico," which chronicles the Jewish wars.

More than a thousand years old, the manuscript is so revered it never leaves the rare books library in Switzerland where it is housed.

Facebook is involved as well. More please.


MICHAL SCHWARTZ: Kabbalah: Lilith the Demonic Goddess.

The biblical reference to Lilith is found in Isaiah 34:14. And, according to the Alphabet of R. Akiva, not the Talmud, it was Lilith who objected to the missionary position, not Adam. She wanted to be the one on top. Why can't people ever compromise on these things?

AWOL: Persepolis Fortification Archive Upload to InscriptiFact

AWOL: Persepolis Fortification Archive Upload to InscriptiFact.

Lots of background on the Persepolis texts can be found here and links.

Review of NYC DSS exhibit

ANOTHER REVIEW OF THE NYC DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBITION: Biblical Scrolls Bring Times Square Visitors Back To Ancient Israel (text and video, Shazia Khan, NY1). Larry Schiffman is interviewed.

Egyptian blogger update

Detained blogger seeks right to vote from jail

Shaimaa el-Karanshawi (AlMaysryAlYoum)

An Egyptian human rights center on Thursday filed a lawsuit to demand that detained activist and blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah be permitted to cast his vote in the ongoing parliamentary elections.

Background here and links.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Happy Pretend To Be A Time Traveler Day!

HAPPY PRETEND TO BE A TIME TRAVELER DAY! Almost forgot. Then I would have had to travel back to today to fix that. Then again, maybe I did.

Happy 10th anniversary to PEJ

HAPPY 10TH ANNIVERSARY TO Projeto de Estudos Judaico-Helenísticos - PEJ.

DId Josephus mention Gilgamesh?


For Gilgamesh in the Book of Giants, see here.

The "Gospel Trail" in the Galilee

TOURISM: 'Gospel Trail': Israel Inaugurates Path Following Jesus' Footsteps From Nazareth To Galilee (PHOTOS) (Michele Chabin, Religion News Service). Excerpt:
Mah and his church group were among the first hikers on the newly inaugurated Gospel Trail, 39 miles of integrated paths leading from Mount Precipice on the southern outskirts of Nazareth to the site of ancient Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

Developed by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism and the Jewish National Fund, the project has the enthusiastic support of local Christian leaders, whose flocks depend on the tourist trade.

"It is our hope that this trail will bring many more Christian pilgrims to the Galilee, where Jesus lived and had his ministry," said Bishop Boutros Muallem, the Melkite archbishop emeritus of Galilee, who attended the trail's festive opening aboard a boat on the Sea of Galilee.

Coptica site

SOME RESOURCES FOR COPTIC STUDIES are linked to and posted at the Coptica site, maintained by Dr Pierre Cherix.

(Via the Agade list.)

New book on the Qur'an

A scholar reveals the Qur’an

By Jonathan Kirsch (

No book is regarded with more fear and loathing in the West than the Qur’an, the fundamental religious text of Islam, and yet I am confident that most people who are anxious about what is written in the Qur’an have never actually held a copy in their hands, much less opened it and read it.

That’s exactly why “How to Read the Qur’an: A New Guide, With Select Translations” by Carl W. Ernst (University of North Carolina Press: $30) is such a unique, timely and important book. His self-appointed mission is to break through “the blank slate of sheer unfamiliarity with the Qur’an among Americans and Europeans.” But Ernst, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a leading American expert on Islam, is fully aware of the political and theological minefield that he treads in his scholarship.


“[O]nce this barrier is removed it becomes wonderfully apparent that the Qur’an was aimed at an audience that was quite aware of a wide range of ancient religious literature that was also claimed by the West,” he explains. “Moreover, like other prophetic writings, the Qur’an engages in critical rewriting of those previous texts as a way of establishing its own voice.”


Along the way, he points out some of the striking commonalities between the Qur’an and the Tanakh. Like the Jews, whose liturgy is rooted in biblical Hebrew, “all observant Muslims need to know at least portions of the Qur’an by heart in the original language, to recite in their daily prayers.” Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Joseph are invoked in some of the suras, as the basic literary unit of the Qur’an is called, and Ernst focuses on a passage in which a notably clueless Moses is instructed in the divine mysteries by an emissary known as al-Khidr: “Don’t blame my forgetfulness, or ask something difficult,” implores Moses, and al-Khidr scolds him: “Didn’t I tell you? You won’t have patience to bear with me.”


10 of the Middle East's greatest ancient wonders

CNN: 10 of the Middle East's greatest ancient wonders. Except that there are 11 listed (note Petra at the beginning) and the slide show has only 8.

Aside from that, it's a pretty good list, if we're talking about photogenic ruins. But if we think in terms of field-defining discoveries—especially epigraphic discoveries—Ugarit, Amarna, Oxyrhynchus, and Qumran should be included. It would be worthwhile sometime to put together a list of the top ten epigraphic sites in the Middle East.

Experts stumped by ancient Jerusalem markings

I DON'T KNOW WHAT THEY ARE EITHER: Experts stumped by ancient Jerusalem markings.

Mughrabi Gate Bridge to be closed?

Moghrabi Temple Mount Bridge to Be Closed

(Arutz Sheva)

The Jerusalem City Engineer Shlomo Eshkol has announced that he intends to close the Moghrabi Bridge leading from the Western Wall plaza to the Temple Mount.

Just what we need, another spelling of Mughrabi (Mugrabi).

As for the story, we'll see if they've really decided to do something this time.

Background here and links.

Egyptian blogger update

EGYPTIAN BLOGGER UPDATE: Glimpses of a Detained Blogger in Cairo. The NYT's Lede blog links to recent video of Alaa in court and of Manal and their new baby, Khaled.

Background here.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Latest Jewish-Temple denial

SIGH. I knew this would be coming:
Archaeologist rebuts Jewish claims about their alleged temple

[ 06/12/2011 - 09:38 AM ] (Palestinian Information Center)

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM, (PIC)-- Palestinian archaeologist Jamal Amro declared he made a discovery of 17 ancient coins that vindicated further the false story and belief of Jews about their alleged temple in occupied Jerusalem.

The coins date back to 16 AD, which means they were minted 20 years after the death of Herod the Great whom the Jews allege he built the second temple, Amro added.

He demonstrated his finding on Monday in a news conference held by the Islamic-Christian commission for the support of Jerusalem and the popular national congress of Jerusalem in Ramallah city.

The archaeologist told the attendees that these coins were found under Al-Buraq wall (wailing wall) which is claimed to be the western wall of the alleged Jewish temple.

He added this discovery confirmed that the building of the wall happened after Herod in the era of Roman ruler Valerius Gratus.

He also stated this discovery left the Jewish archaeologists in a state of shock and frustration because it just proved further their false claims and beliefs about the legend of the temple.

All archaeological discoveries that were found before this one in the Arab city of Jerusalem and around the Aqsa Mosque date back to ancient Arab and Islamic eras especially the times of Umayyad and Abbasid reigns up to the Ottoman rule, the Palestinian archaeologist said.
This is more nonsense from the Jewish-Temple denialists. The four (not 17) coins dated to 17/18 C.E. (not 16) were discovered by two Israeli archaeologists, not Jamal Amro, and simply confirm that the platform of the Herodian Temple was completed a couple of decades after Herod the Great's death, something we already knew from the contemporary Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. (Details here).

As for the last paragraph, I have collected some of the archaeological and literary evidence for the Herodian Temple here.

HT Joseph I. Lauer.