Friday, February 04, 2011

Coins found instead of guns

COINS FOUND instead of guns:
Police Weapons Search Yields Temple Coin Stash

by Gil Ronen (Arutz Sheva)

Detectives from the Nahariya police station searched a suspect's private home Thursday for suspected illegal weapons, but instead of guns, they found a large hoard of ancient coins dating to Second Temple times, as well as other assorted ancient artifacts.

The coins appear to have been collected from numerous sites over a long period of time.

If I understand the story correctly, the headline is misleading. These were coins from the Second Temple era, not coins from the Temple itself.

UPDATE (7 February): Joseph Lauer notes a Jerusalem Post article that has less confusing title: Police find 2nd Temple-era coins, jugs during arms raid. There are also photos of many of the items seized in the raid.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Byzantine church, plus possible tomb of Zechariah

A BYZANTINE CHURCH with a mosaic floor, possibly built over the remains of the traditional tomb of a prophet Zechariah, has been excavated in Israel. Here's the IAA press release from the IMFA website:
Byzantine church and mosaic floor uncovered at Hirbet Madras

2 Feb 2011

A large and beautiful mosaic floor and a church were uncovered in excavations carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority at Hirbet Madras in the Judean coastal plain. Various scholars who visited the site during the excavation proposed identifying the place as the residence and tomb of the prophet Zechariah.

In recent months an archaeological excavation was conducted at Hirbet Madras in the wake of an antiquities theft during which robbers attempted to breach and plunder an ancient underground complex.

Hirbet Madras is known as the site of a large, important Jewish community from the Second Temple period until its destruction during the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 135 CE. Among the remains at the site are those of buildings, caves, agricultural installations and extensive underground hiding tunnels. The site was identified by a number of scholars as the location of a major community.

Research of the site was begun in the late 19th century and continues until the present. In the 1980s, a lintel bearing a unique decoration was discovered at the site. Due to the similarity between it and an identical lintel from the Hirbet Nevoraya synagogue in the north of the country, Professor Amos Kloner and the late Dr. Zvi Ilan put forward the theory that an ancient Jewish synagogue is located nearby.

Recently, in the wake of the illicit excavations by antiquities robbers, the lintel was rediscovered by inspectors of the Israel Antiquities Authority Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Theft. Following the discovery, an excavation was carried out with the aim of revealing the secrets of the monumental building which the lintel belonged to. The excavation, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, was directed by Amir Ganor and Alon Klein of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Theft.

A public building of impressive beauty dating to the Byzantine period, in which there are several construction phases, was exposed in the excavation. In the last two construction phases the building was used as a splendid church. However, based on the results of the excavation and as evidenced by the artifacts, it seems that this church is built inside a large public compound from the Second Temple period and the Bar Kokhba Revolt, which was used in the first construction phases of the compound.

The church, in its last phases, was built as a basilica, at the front of which is a large flagstone courtyard from which worshippers passed into an entry corridor. Through a shaped opening one enters into the nave where there were eight breathtaking marble columns that bore magnificent capitals which were specially imported from Turkey. At the end of the nave is a raised platform and on either side of the nave are two wide aisles.

All of the floors in the building were adorned with spectacular mosaic floors decorated with faunal and floral patterns and geometric designs that are extraordinarily well preserved. Located behind the platform are two rooms, one paved with a marble floor and the other that led to an underground tomb devoid of any finds. Branching out beneath the entire building is a subterranean hiding complex in which there are rooms, water installations, traps and store rooms. This complex belongs to the large building from the Second Temple period which the Byzantine church was built into. Among the artifacts discovered in the hiding complex are coins from the time of the Great Revolt (66-70 CE) and the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-135 CE), stone vessels, lamps and various pottery vessels that are characteristic of the Jewish population from the community at that time.

As previously mentioned, researchers who visited the site are of the opinion that the site is the residence and tomb of the prophet Zechariah. Ancient Christian sources identified the burial place of the prophet Zechariah in the village of Zechariah, and noted that his place of burial was discovered in 415 CE. The researchers believe that in light of an analysis of the Christian sources, including the Madaba Map, the church at Hirbet Madras is a memorial church designed to mark the tomb of the prophet Zechariah. This issue will be examined and studied in the near future.

For the past month the Israel Antiquities Authority has been engaged in uncovering the magnificent structure, unraveling its secrets and preserving the mosaic floors. In the coming days the spectacular mosaics will be covered and the planning process will begin for the conservation of the site and its future presentation to the public, as one of the sites selected to be included within the framework of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's national heritage project.
Follow the link for photos of the site and the mosaic floor.

There were actually two prophets named Zechariah in the Bible. The first lived in the ninth century BCE and his martyrdom is described in 2 Chronicles 24:20-22:
[20] Then the Spirit of God took possession of Zechari'ah the son of Jehoi'ada the priest; and he stood above the people, and said to them, "Thus says God, `Why do you transgress the commandments of the LORD, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the LORD, he has forsaken you.'"
[21] But they conspired against him, and by command of the king they stoned him with stones in the court of the house of the LORD.
[22] Thus Jo'ash the king did not remember the kindness which Jehoi'ada, Zechari'ah's father, had shown him, but killed his son. And when he was dying, he said, "May the LORD see and avenge!"
[23] (RSV)
The second Zechariah, son of Berechiah son of Iddo, lived in the late sixth century BCE, prophesied around 520, and left us the first eight chapters of the Book of Zechariah.

There are traditional tombs of both Zechariahs in the vicinity of the Mount of Olives. The late-antique Old Testament Pseudepigraphon The Lives of the Prophets has legendary accounts of the lives, deaths, and burials of both as well. Unfortunately, no translation seems to be online. But you can find one in volume 2 of the Charlesworth Old Testament Pseudepigrapha volumes.

The IAA press release does not make clear which Zechariah's tomb may be at this site at Hirbet Madras. There has traditionally been some confusion between the two prophets; for example Matthew 23:35 conflates them.

Remember, at most this discovery means that Byzantine Christians built a church on some Jewish ruins that went back to the Second Temple Period, perhaps because they had a tradition that those ruins were of the tomb of a prophet Zechariah. We're a long way from any confidence that the ruins are actually of a tomb of a prophet by that name.

Still—and this is worth emphasizing—the discoveries are intrinsically important for what they can tell us about Byzantine Christianity and early Judaism, whether or not they have any real connection with a biblical character.

UPDATE (11 February): More here.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Latest from Zahi Hawass

ZAHI HAWASS has posted another update on Egyptian antiquities. It's undated, but seems to come from yesterday morning. But other reports, such as this one from Arutz Sheva, indicate that the situation is worse than the optimistic picture he presents. I hope Dr. Hawass has the better information.

Remember, for the most up-to-date information on the state of Egyptian antiquities during this crisis, see Andie Byrnes's Egyptology Blog.

Congratulations to Eugene Ulrich

CONGRATULATIONS TO EUGENE ULRICH, who has received NEH funding for his work on the Dead Sea Scrolls:
Professors receive fellowships

By Tori Roeck (The Observer)

News Writer

Published: Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, February 2, 2011 00:02

Two Notre Dame professors recently received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to pursue their scholarly work next year, increasing the University's record number of NEH fellowships to 44 in the last 12 years.

Notre Dame has earned more NEH fellowships since 1999 than any other university in the country, according to a University press release. The University of Michigan earned 35 NEH fellowships and Harvard earned 26.

Notre Dame theology professor Eugene Ulrich received a fellowship this year in Ancient Languages to pursue his book, "The Bible in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls," a compilation of his previous work on the topic.

"The Dead Sea Scrolls … open up a period that we had lost sight of, a period that had just been lost to history," Ulrich said. "Which is part of the period of the composition of the Scriptures."

Ulrich's career has been focused on exploring this era through the scrolls, and therefore gaining a greater appreciation for and understanding of the Biblical texts.

His work began as a graduate student at Harvard under Frank Cross, one of the two original American editors of the Dead Sea Scrolls. His dissertation became an analysis of one of the major scrolls.

"It was being in the right place at the right time," Ulrich said.

Ulrich's first NEH fellowship in 1977 enabled him to publish one of the scrolls, leading to a lifetime of research pertaining to these documents. When the other editor, Monsignor Patrick Skehan of Catholic University of America, died, he left his life's work to Ulrich because he was so impressed with his research.

"This coming year will be my 39th year of teaching here," Ulrich said, "and 21 of those years, I have had NEH funding. They were very interested in the publication of the scrolls."

Ulrich's upcoming work expands on a book he published last year, "The Biblical Qumran Scrolls: Transcriptions and Textual Variants," which includes all of the text from the Biblical Scrolls, but makes it more accessible.

"After going through scroll after scroll after scroll and seeing different surprises here, different surprises there, what I'm doing now is synthesizing all that and putting it into one monograph so that you can get in one book a clear explanation and description of how the Bible came to be the way it is," Ulrich said.

Congratulations also to the second Notre Dame recipient, Professor Thomas F. X. Noble, who received funding for his work on medieval perceptions of Rome.

David Halperin interviewed about UFOs etc.

DAVID HALPERIN is interviewed in a UFO-related blog in the Sarasota Herald Tribune about his life experiences that led to his scholarly research on Ezekiel's merkavah, merkavah mysticism, and accounts of UFO abduction, as well as his recently published novel, Journal of a UFO Investigator. Excerpt:
Before long, young Halperin was writing letters to USAF officers with Project Blue Book, conducting futile field investigations of local UFO reports, and feeling “like a perpetual outsider, like I was different and apart from everyone else.” The journey led him to explore his Jewish ethnicity, to the ancient Hebrew texts, particularly the Old Testament, where Ezekiel’s fabled wheels were preceded by a “whirlwind … coming out of the north, a great cloud with raging fire engulfing itself.” Remembers Halperin, “It struck me, as a little kid, as something exceedingly spooky.”

Halperin’s quest for clarity would produce a dissertation on the prophet Ezekiel. What followed was an adventure in the scholarship of religion and mythology, numerous trips to Israel — where he lived for more than two years — and ultimately a realization: “What UFOs were there for was to give me a mirror to work out my anxiety of my mother’s slow dying. And when belief lost its function, I gradually lost interest in UFOs. Once you lose faith in something that may be potentially important in these accounts, they nevertheless become extremely dull.”

So last month, all these decades later, Halperin produced his first novel, Journal of a UFO Investigator, a somewhat autobiographical fantasy which is receiving critical acclaim. But the irony of his conversion from “believer” to “skeptic” is not lost upon him.
Background here. His dissertation was actually about merkavah-related passages in the rabbinic texts and was published as his first book. The book on Ezekiel came later (see background link).

As for the supposed Jerusalem UFO footage in the interview, forgive me, but it makes me think of the UFO abduction scene in The Life of Brian.

DSS conference in memory of Alan Crown

DEAD SEA SCROLLS CONFERENCE in Australia in honor of the late Alan Crown (from the Agade list):
From Shani Tzoref (

Department of Hebrew, Biblical, and Jewish Studies
Dead Sea Scrolls Conference in Memory of Emeritus Professor Alan Crown

November 1-2, 2011

In memory of the late Emeritus Professor Alan Crown, the University of Sydney is convening a conference on the Dead Sea Scrolls to be held November 1-2, 2011. The occasion will also mark the purchase of the facsimile edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls by Fisher Library, an acquisition that came about at the initiative of Emeritus Professor Crown. (See

Papers exploring any aspect of the Dead Sea Scrolls are welcome. Priority consideration will be given to papers that address those scrolls that are included in the facsimile edition, that is, the first 7 scrolls from Qumran Cave 1, currently at the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem, and the texts of Testimonia (4Q175), Pesher Isaiahb (4Q162), and Qohelet (4Q109)

Length of presentation: 30 minutes

Deadline for proposals: All abstracts and participation forms must arrive by 15 May via email as a Word document addressed to Associate Professor Ian Young Notification of acceptance of papers will be sent by email no later than 1 July 2011. Submissions must include author’s name, postal and email address, institutional affiliation, abstract of the paper to be presented and short biographical note. The abstract must be 200-300 words and the biographical note no more than 50 words.

This conference is being held in conjunction with the Symposium being held on 1 November 2011:

University of Sydney - Israel Research Partnership Forum:
Shared Challenges, Future Solutions

An exhibition of the facsimile edition and other rare items of Judaica held by the Fisher Library at the University of Sydney will be displayed in conjunction with the conference.

Postgraduate conference at the University of St Andrews

The 1st St Andrews Graduate Conference for Biblical and Early Christian Studies: Authoritative Texts and Reception History.

15-16 June 2011

With an emphasis on textual reception history, the first St Andrews Graduate Conference for Biblical and Early Christian Studies is aimed at graduate students and early career scholars. Contributors are welcomed from the following fields of research: Old Testament / Hebrew Bible, Pseudepigrapha, Dead Sea Scrolls, New Testament and Early Christianity
The four keynote speakers are Prof. Kristin De Troyer, Prof. N. T. Wright, Dr. Mark W. Elliott, and myself. I will be speaking about lost books quoted in the Bible. The call for papers is now open.

January Biblioblog Top 50 and Top 10

THE BIBLIOBLOG TOP 50, with a separate top 10, has been published for January.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Alex Joffe on Egypt and repatriation of antiquities

ALEX JOFFE on why recent events in Egypt show that repatriation of antiquities isn't always good idea:
Egypt's Antiquities Fall Victim to the Mob


When Zahi Hawass, the secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, came to work at the Egyptian Museum on Saturday, he found that looters had broken in and beheaded two mummies—possibly Tutankhamun's grandparents—and looted the ticket booth. Reports indicate that middle-class Egyptians, the tourism police and later the military secured the museum. But now it appears that many other museum's and storehouses have been looted, along with archaeological sites. A vast, impoverished underclass seems less taken with either the nationalist narrative of Egyptian greatness that stretches back to the pharaohs, or the intrinsic value of antiquities for all humanity, and more intrigued by the possibility of gold and other loot. For his part, Mr. Hawass has now been appointed state minister for antiquities by President Hosni Mubarak.

These events make Mr. Hawass's quest to return all Egyptian objects to Egypt misguided or at least poorly timed. Last week he again demanded the return of the bust of Nefertiti from Berlin. The Rosetta Stone in the British Museum has long been on Mr. Hawass's wish list, along with the Zodiac Ceiling in the Louvre and statues in Boston's Museum of Fine Arts and museums in Hildesheim, Germany, and Turin, Italy. And a few weeks back he complained bitterly that the obelisk known as Cleopatra's Needle, a gift to the U.S. from the Khedive of Egypt that has graced Central Park since 1881, was in poor condition and might have to be reclaimed. He has made similar demands for the repatriation of Egyptian artifacts around the world, whether purchased, donated or stolen. But can Egypt even look after what it has? This question is now out in the open.

Via Christopher Rollston on Facebook. Related post on another Joffe essay (about the Iraqi Jewish archive) here. I'll keep saying it: antiquities are the heritage of humanity and should be kept where they are safest and best cared for. Nationalist considerations are secondary.

UPDATE (via Dorothy Lobel King on FB): Lebanon Star: Looters pillage Egyptian antiquities warehouses.

Talmud: The Back Story

TALMUD: THE BACK STORY is a popular overview of the current state of Talmudic studies, published in Jewish Ideas Daily by Yehudah Mirsky. It focuses on the work of Shamma Friedman, but also surveys the field more broadly. Excerpt from the conclusion:
Though much of the work by Friedman and his students is perforce technical, its significance extends beyond academic confines and has already begun to reshape historical understandings. (Thus, Jeffrey Rubenstein has shown that Friedman and Halivni's efforts yield a more coherent picture of the evolution of the great Babylonian yeshivas.) Friedman's work has also come to be a reference point for numerous other studies of the talmudic text itself, and modified versions of it have been adopted for Talmud studies in Israeli schools.

Steering a middle course between Orthodox stances that place the Talmud outside of history and a postmodern skepticism that argues against the ability to say anything about its history at all, Friedman's massive scholarship yields a complex picture: a picture of hosts of talmudic sages consciously and ceaselessly reinterpreting earlier traditions in order to achieve coherent teachings to guide them in the present.

This portrait of rabbinic culture begets, in turn, a powerful challenge. Modern intellectual integrity having yielded a restless scenario of fragmentary ancient texts being worked and reworked into the sources we have today, can we somehow put the pieces back together into a coherent and compelling story? And will that story reflect not only the work of the rabbinic interpreters but also the original texts and traditions, by now lost to us, that they were trying, through their editing, to maintain?

The answer is yes, but it will be a different story, in ways both stranger and more familiar: a story of internal ferment and spiritual survival in the face of profound uncertainty.
Read it all.

(HT Shai Secunda)

UPDATE: Note also the two articles by Shamma Friedman which can be downloaded as pdf files from the "Relevant Links" box on the same page.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Maaloula Seeking to Join World Heritage List

Syria: Maaloula Seeking to Join World Heritage List

By H. Zain (Global Arab Network)
Sunday, 30 January 2011 13:29

Syria (Damascus) - A Workshop on Restoration Project of the old city of Maaloula and expanding local participation was held in Maaloula city, 56 kms to the northeast of Damascus.

Governor of Damascus Countryside Zahed Haj Moussa said Maaloula restoration project comes in the framework of the government interest in this city because it possesses all components and potentials qualifying it to enter the World Heritage List.


Maaloula is one of the most important archeological, religious and tourists destinations in Syria where most of the sites date back to the Roman and Byzantine eras.

Maaloula in the Syriac language means the high place where the fresh air blows.

The city is distinguished by its unique architectural style as its houses were built on the versant of the mountain, and connected with each others through narrow alleys.

The Aramaic language, the language spoken by Jesus Christ, is still spoken by the Muslim and Christian inhabitants of the city along with the Arabic language.

Maaloula encompasses various monasteries such as Mar Sarkis and Mar Thecla which embraces the remains of St. Taqla (Thecla); daughter of one of Seleucid princes, and pupil of St. Paul.

More on Maaloula (Ma'aloula, Malula) here and follow the many links back. It seems that the Syrian government may be recovering from its massive spasm of lameness chronicled in the background links — although the Aramaic Institute is not mentioned explicitly.

Talmon obituary at SBL Forum

AN OBITUARY FOR SHEMARYAHU TALMON has been posted at the SBL Forum.
Shemaryahu Talmon (1920–2010)

by Jonathan Ben-Dov

Professor Shemaryahu Talmon, a renowned scholar, an acclaimed leader, and a beloved family man, passed away in the month of Tevet 5771 (December 2010) at the age of 90. He was Professor Emeritus of Bible at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, serving in the Bible department between the years 1957 and 1988, and a winner of the Israel Prize for Biblical Studies in 1997. Among his many scholarly and public achievements, one may count the establishment and management of the Hebrew University Bible Project, the editing of scrolls from Masada and Qumran, key publications in the field of the biblical text, literature, and calendar, as well as life-long involvement in Jewish-Christian dialogue, and active management of various academic bodies in Israel and abroad.

Several months before he passed away, a group of colleagues and friends assembled at the Hebrew University Bible Project to celebrate Shemaryahu’s ninetieth birthday. He acted like he always did, combining sharp academic rigor with a healthy sense of humor, sharing his old memories with a smile, occasionally inserting a witty sting at something from the old days. This memory will live on among his close friends and colleagues.


Zahi Hawas reports on Egyptian antiquities

ZAHI HAWASS, Secretary General, The Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt, reports on his blog on The Situation in Egyptian Antiquities Today. There is no time stamp, but it seems to have been posted on Sunday. Recap of the Cairo Museum story, plus reports of more looting. But many museums seem now to have secured their contents.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Nabatean inscription from 2000 BCE? No.

NABATEAN (NABATAEAN) WRITING on a basalt column excavated in Syria?
Syria (Daraa) – A basaltic-stone column was discovered on Sunday during a project aimed at moving the archaeological and architecture items to the National Museum of Daraa.

The column's height is 1, 5 meters, standing on a square base.

Secretary of Daraa National Museum Ayham al-Zoubi told SANA that the column dates back to 2000 BC, and contains ornamentations and Nabataean writings.

Any writing from 2000 BCE would be in cuneiform, not Nabatean, and would be an unusual and highly noteworthy find. The photo is terrible, but I don't see anything on it that looks like cuneiform. My guess is that SANA misunderstood and the column is 2000 years old and bears a Nabatean (alphabetic Aramaic) inscription.

Via Explorator 13.41.

UPDATE (31 January): The Nabatean city of Bosra was in Syria in the vicinity of Daraa, which is further support for my understanding of the find.