Saturday, May 07, 2011

Minimalism and Khirbet Qeiyafa

MINIMALISM AND KHIRBET QEIYAFA: Two recent, long articles deal with the minimalist-maximalist debate in biblical studies, with a special focus on Yosef Garfinkel's excavation at Khirbet Qeiyafa. The first is by Garfinkel himself in Biblical Archaeological Review: The Birth & Death of Biblical Minimalism. The second (HT Gerald Rosenberg) is by Asaf Shtull-Trauring in Haaretz: The keys to the kingdom. Garfinkel dismisses the minimalist approach as largely defunct whereas the Haaretz piece seems to be trying to present both sides impartially. The "Solomonic" gates at Gezer, Megiddo, and Hazor; the Tel Dan inscriptions that mentions "the house of David"; the tenth-century-BCE Tel Qeiyafa inscription, whose interpretation remains controversial; and much else are discussed in one or both of the articles.

There's more on discoveries at Khirbet Qeiyafa here and follow the links.

The Koran as a text from Late Antiquity

Bridging the Gap between Orthodox Interpretation and New Research

In her comprehensive Koran study, Angelika Neuwirth, Director of the research project Corpus Coranicum, interprets the Koran as a text that was developed in the milieu of Late Antiquity theological debates. Stefan Weidner introduces the book and project


German scholarship of Islam experienced its heyday around 100 years ago. Back then, Ignaz Goldziher and Theodor Nöldeke presented studies on early Islam, the Koran and the emergence of Islamic law, publications still viewed as vitally important to this day.

For some years now, scholars have reconnected with these glory years of research into early Islam from a quite different perspective, at among others the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities. Under the programmatic title "The Koran as Text from the Late Antiquity. A European Approach", the scholar of Arabic Angelika Neuwirth, who heads a group of young Koran researchers at the Academy, presents the project's initial findings.

Embedded in a cultural and religious context

Angelika Neuwirth's work liberates the Koran from later Islamic tradition and makes the process of its creation visible. It then reads just as contemporaries must have understood it: as evidence of intensive theological wrangling on the Arab Peninsular but in a cultural and religious context that also characterised the rest of the Mediterranean region in the 7th century – and thereby ultimately European spiritual beliefs to this day:

"In as far as the Koran emerged from the debates raging during the Late Antiquity, and carved its own niche among existing Christian and Jewish traditions (…) this means it is itself part of the historical legacy of the Late Antiquity in Europe."


HT Abu 'l-Rayhan Al-Biruni.

Friday, May 06, 2011

King James Bible translator Richard Brett

KJB@400 WATCH: Portraits of the Past: Richard Brett.
King James Bible translator Richard Brett, 1567-1637, served on the First Oxford Company, translating Isaiah-Malachi. Brett was a scholar in Latin, Greek, Aramaic, Arabic, Hebrew and Ethiopic languages.
Related item here.

Another Lod Mosaic exhibition review

THE LATEST LOD MOSAIC EXHIBITION is reviewed by Emma Silvers in Pieces of history: Ancient Roman mosaic from Israel on display at Legion of HonorSan Francisco, CA.

Hot Action Enoch

"HOT ACTION ENOCH": The Forward discovers Enochic pseudepigrapha and the new game El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron. Excerpt:
All of which appears to make “El Shaddai” a fairly unique case. Sawaki and his team are consciously developing the characters and themes in conversation with traditional interpretations and treatments. While the ancient text, with its firmly unorthodox insistence on the fall of rebellious angels, wasn’t even considered for canonization by Jewish authorities and Enoch himself (either the human or taken as the angel Metatron) appears only a handful of times in the Talmud, the Book of Enoch is central to many Jewish mystical traditions and is also counted among the Apocrypha of Catholic and Orthodox Christianity. Notably, the book is included in the canon itself of the Beta Israel Ethiopian Jewish community. Meanwhile, the game seeks to play up on this angle of esoteric transmission, advertising itself as a “tale of times past: a tale that was not permitted to be handed down through the ages.”
Actually 1 Enoch is not part of the Old Testament Apocrypha (which form part of the Catholic and Orothodox biblical canons, but not the Jewish or Protestant canons).

Background here.

CSM still clueless on the fake metal codices

FAKE METAL CODICES WATCH: The Christian Science Monitor has a follow-up article:
What happened to the metal codices that promised Christian revelations

The tiny books have stirred debate over the Christian 'secrets' they could contain and who can sell them. Now, they may never be decoded.
Imagine that.

The main new(ish) information is here:
Since the controversy erupted, Saeda has returned to Israel and has refused scholars further access to the codices, while the Jordanians and Elkington have joined efforts to repatriate the texts to Jordan. Since Jordan announced that it will pursue diplomatic channels to "retrieve" the texts, Israeli antiquities officials have expressed willingness to meet with the Jordanian side, although they deny any involvement with the texts. Their previous lack of response was a source of anxiety in Amman rooted in an ongoing legal contest over the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Although Jordan officially severed ties with the West Bank in 1988, it has retained its claims to the scrolls – believed to be the oldest Hebrew Bible ever discovered – alleging that the texts were annexed from sovereign Jordanian territory during the 1967 war, a claim Israel refutes.

According to Moawiyam Ibrahim, archaeologist and Jordan's representative to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, this historical sense of "loss" of the scrolls triggered a sense of "urgency" in Amman when news of the codices emerged.

More than just a matter of national pride, tourism is also at stake. Tourism is a major pillar of Jordan's and Israel's economies, generating $2.1 billion and $4.3 billion, respectively, in 2010, and both countries compete for the lucrative pilgrimage market.

But the looming legal battle may prevent the books from ever reaching a museum. With mounting pressure from the Jordanian government and the media exposure generated by the claims, Elkington and Mr. Saad say Saeda is looking to make a quick and easy sale. "If these books are sold to private collectors, the world will never see them," says Elkington.
I doubt that any private collectors will be as careless in their research as the media have been.

The CSM deserves a little credit for following up the story, but the effort is paltry. They did not consult any outside experts (or even re-interview Davies or Barker as far as I can tell); nor take any notice of Thoneman's article in the London Times or the Yahoo article; nor consult any specialist blogs (or give any hint they have a clue which blogs to read); or even do a rudimentary Google search for recent developments. The Media Fail continues.

Background here and here and follow those links.

UPDATE: Mark Goodacre makes a comparison to the coverage of the Hitler Diaries in 1983. How far the media have fallen!

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Another review of BC Dura-Europos exhibition

THE DURA-EUROPOS EXHIBITION at the Boston College McMullen Museum of Art is reviewed by Melik Kaylan in the WSJ. Excerpt:
Though it features, among other things, the best example of a Roman armor-suit ever found, this is not a show about rare objects of great value. Rather, it illustrates moments of consciousness in history, including the moment of the excavations to illustrate how the world then chose to digest its own ancient history. Between the World Wars, the revelations of Dura-Europos were valued largely as contributions to the history of art, illuminating the bridge between Classical and Renaissance aesthetics. The show's present-day curators invite us to consider how their preoccupations (and ours) have changed. They focus on the successful cross-pollination of cultures at Dura-Europos, how Greek, Jewish, Parthian, Roman and Christian cultures synthesized and abided in harmony. A Sassanian helmet with a nose guard demonstrates how Romans learned from other cultures: They added a nose guard to their own helmets. The Palmyran temple frieze shows how a Roman general worshiped with local pagans. The curators prod us to view the ancients through our contemporary concerns: in a word, multiculturalism or diversity. In the study of archaeology, they seem to say, we see what we look for. It never goes out of fashion.
The review also has some background on the public response to the excavation in the early twentieth century.

Background here.

Second-Temple-era ruins in the Jordan Valley?

SECOND-TEMPLE-ERA RUINS in the Jordan Valley?
Ancient Roman ruins found at Jordan Valley building site 2011-05-04 20:55:22 FeedbackPrintRSS

JERUSALEM, May 4 (Xinhua) -- Construction crew building a clinic in a Jordan Valley Palestinian village have uncovered structures of the Roman and Byzantine era, Israel's Civil Administration, the Defense Ministry department responsible for managing civilian affairs between Palestinian and Israeli bodies said Wednesday.

COGAT (Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories) officials, in reviewing a German aid request to build a health clinic in Jiftlik, came upon the 2,000-year-old buildings, which contained ceramic shards, basalt tools, a preserved furnace and 40 historical coins, according to an official statement.

Details are sparse, but apparently the excavation has been going on for some time. This video shows the site and includes some narrative by archaeologist Yuval Peleg. He mentions only Byzantine ruins and says they will keep digging to see what else they find.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Alex Joffe on the fake metal codices

FAKE METAL CODICES WATCH: Alex Joffe has an article on the fake metal codices in Jewish Ideas Daily: On Faith and Forgeries. Excerpt:
In short, like so many objects before them, the lead codices seem to be fakes of a kind that goes back to the earliest days of organized Christianity. At least ten different churches and monasteries from Egypt to England have claimed to have the head of John the Baptist, and at least four others claim to possess his hands. Forgeries based on a smattering of scholarship and a great deal of artistic license have also dogged the field of biblical archeology for over a century. The real question is why they still attract the avid attention of the press, laypeople, and even some scholars.
Background here.

April's Biblical Studies Carnival

APRIL'S BIBLICAL STUDIES CARNIVAL has been posted at Dr. Jim's Thinking Shop. Very thorough. Well illustrated too.

SBL gets $300K NEH grant for website

CONGRATULATIONS to the Society of Biblical Literature:

ATLANTA -- We are pleased to announce that the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) was awarded a $300,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to build an interactive website that invites general audiences to engage with biblical scholarship.

This is a rare opportunity for the SBL to speak to the continued importance of the Bible in modern culture and to communicate the value that biblical scholars bring to the study of the Bible and to the humanities.

The NEH review process includes peer review along with deliberation by the National Council on the Humanities. The award announcement described the grant recipients as highlighting the breadth of high-caliber humanities projects and research supported by the Endowment. “These projects represent some of the most innovative work happening in the humanities today,” said Jim Leach, Chairman of the NEH.

The site will begin production immediately, with a planned launch in 2013. Once completed, the site will become a powerful public platform for SBL members to speak directly to new audiences and to gain a stronger voice in the public square when questions arise about the Bible and its contexts.

“This is a huge opportunity for SBL to showcase the work of biblical scholars, educate and engage the public, and foster biblical scholarship,” said John Kutsko, executive director of SBL. “It also goes without saying that this award comes at a time of increasing pressure on the public support of the humanities at the state and federal levels. Thus, the award commitment is all the more significant in this context, and we are all the more grateful that the NEH has made us stewards of their support of scholarship, education, and the humanities.”

A strong team of SBL staff and members, led by Kent Richards, executive director emeritus, advised the project to its current status, and S2N Media developed the prototype site. For further information contact: Moira Bucciarelli, mbucciarelli@sbl-

** * The Society of Biblical Literature is the oldest and largest non-sectarian international scholarly membership organization in the field of biblical studies. Founded in 1880, SBL’s membership includes scholars, teachers, students, and individuals from all walks of life who share a mutual interest in the critical, academic study of the Bible. SBL’s mission is to foster biblical scholarship.

New archaeological non-invasive scanning technology

An Israeli technology that's groundbreaking - literally
4 May 2011
A new geophysical tool for zeroing in on ancient artifacts buried deep underground could be a boon for archeologists and excavators.

By Jenny Hazan (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Archeologists around the world rely on a repertoire of only partially effective methods - historical texts, surface indicators and technology - to decide where to break ground to uncover sites of archeological significance. But the decision often comes down to educated guesswork, because it isn't possible to get a really clear look at what is going on underground.

Now it is, thanks to Prof. Lev Eppelbaum of Tel Aviv University's Department of Geophysics and Planetary Sciences. Eppelbaum has created a new non-disruptive, ecologically sound geophysical methodology, an "algorithmic toolkit," capable of cutting through the "background noise" of irrelevant underground features. It can detect archeological structures and artifacts up to 150 meters deep, producing an accurate 3D or even 4D image.

"It's the most conclusive evidence ever produced about what's below the ground's surface," says Eppelbaum, who immigrated to Israel from Azerbaijan in 1990. "Until now it was very difficult to reveal relevant archeological components, given the strong background noise of irrelevant components, and now it's possible."


Eppelbaum's method, dubbed the "Multi-PAM" (physical archeological models) System, uses a combination of up to seven different geophysical components to get an estimation of the underground landscape: magnetism; gravity; self-potential; VLF (very low frequency electromagnetic radio transmissions, the type the military uses to communicate with nuclear submarines deep below the water's surface); resistivity; induced polarization (based on differences in electromagnetic properties); and piezoelectricity, which detects minerals and some archaeological objects made from fired clay.

In most cases, not all seven methods are applied; mostly because of the expense. "Usually we can get an accurate image using two or three methods per site," the former chess champion says. Eppelbaum explains that the survey technology can be strapped to a remote-operated unmanned aircraft, the kind most often used by the military, and sent to scan the desired tract of land. The data it returns is then converted into an advanced mathematical algorithm that can be translated into a model image.


Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Apocryphal logion of MLK applied to OBL

ROBERT CARGILL notes an apocryphal logion of Martin Luther King which is currently in wide circulation in connection with the demise of Osama Bin Laden: fake martin luther king, jr. quote demonstrates how we got the apocrypha. It also illustrates how we got many Jesus sayings in the apocryphal and even the canonical gospels.

Conference at HU: Encounters by the Rivers of Babylon

CONFERENCE: Encounters by the Rivers of Babylon: Scholarly Conversations between Jews, Iranians and Babylonians in Antiquity, at the Hebrew University, 23-25 May.

Simcha's nails aren't even from the Caiaphas cave

SHOCKING IAA REPORT: Simha's nails aren't even from the Caiaphas cave. Their provenance is unknown, but it is clear that that cave is one place they are not from.
Dr. Zvi Greenhut of the Israel Antiquities Authority reveals: the nails in the Tel Aviv University Medical School anthropology laboratory are not the missing nails from Caiaphas’ Cave! Dr. Zvi Greenhut, Head of the IAA Artifacts Treatment and Conservation Department, explains that the two nails shown in the film by director Simcha Jacobovici are nails that were stored in Professor Nicu Haas’ laboratory in the Jerusalem Medical School until the late 1970s, and their provenance is unknown. Dr. Greenhut rejects the claims put forth by Simcha Jacobovici in a press conference held on April 13 in which Simcha maintains that he found the nails allegedly used to crucify Jesus inside an ossuary in a burial cave in Jerusalem. Dr. Greenhut explains that in 1975 Professor Nicu Haas was severely injured in an accident. He makes it clear that shortly thereafter, in the late 1970s, Joe Zias, Curator in charge of State of Israel archaeological collections and responsible for physical anthropology in the then Israel Department of Antiquities, was asked to transfer the nails from Professor Haas’ laboratory in the Jerusalem Medical School to the National Treasures, which was the responsibility of the Department of Antiquities and Museums in the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem. These nails were under the supervision, responsibility and custody of that curator for at least 15 years, until they were transferred in the beginning of the 1990s, at the behest of the then director of the IAA, to the Tel Aviv University Anthropology Department, where they have been until the present. Furthermore, the fact that the nails that appear in the film are unregistered, without any mark of identification, as opposed to what is described in the preliminary archaeological report by the excavator of the site, reinforces the fact that the nails did not come from a proper archaeological excavation. Therefore, the claim presented in the film that the provenance of the nails presently located in the Tel Aviv University physical anthropology laboratory and shown in the film was from the tomb of Caiaphas, discovered in the Jerusalem Peace Forest in 1990, is unsubstantiated and has no factual basis. The data shows exactly when and how the nails came to be in the Medical School lab approximately 15 or more years before the tomb of Caiaphas was excavated. For further details, kindly contact Itzhak Rabihiya, acting spokesman of the Israel Antiquities Authority, 054-7999209.
The original Hebrew press release is here. Both from Joseph Lauer. Background here.

Gafni on Palestine under Persian, Byzantine and Arab rule

ISAIAH GAFNI: Palestine under Persian, Byzantine and Arab Rule. A brief but pithy article reprint.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Ezekiel plates—and a legend of the Temple treasures

Dating the Ezekiel plates

05/01/2011 12:07 By DAVID PARSONS AND FLORENCE BACHE (Jerusalem Post)

The relative obscurity of the tiles may be about to change, if tests date them back to the first century.

A set of 66 stone tiles known as the “Ezekiel Plates,” believed to have come from the prophet Ezekiel’s traditional tomb along the Euphrates River in Iraq, are in the process of being dated by modern technological methods to finally establish whether they should be considered on a par with the Isaiah Scroll as among the oldest existing biblical texts ever found.

Currently on display at the Yad Ben- Zvi Institute in the Rehavia neighborhood of Jerusalem, the Ezekiel plates have been around a while but have failed to draw visitors like the impressive parchment containing the complete book of Isaiah, which dates to the first century and is housed in the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum.

Part of the problem is that the institute is located on a small side street in a residential area of the capital that affords very limited access for the public. The tiles have also failed to convince many in the archeological community that they date back to antiquity.

But that question may be settled soon, as two of the tiles were recently handed over to the Israel Museum to undergo dating tests. Results are expected soon, and the conclusions may require that the unique collection of stones be moved to a facility in Jerusalem that can give them more prominent display.

(HT Joseph Lauer.)

I've been aware of these stone plaques and their current location for a few years, although the only photograph I've seen (of a related plaque - see below) is scarcely readable. But this article fills in some details of their relatively recent history of which I was not aware.

I knew of the Ezekiel plaques because at the end of the series there were once two additional plaques bearing another text, Massekhet Kelim, the Treatise of the Vessels. This is not the Mishnaic tractate of the same name, but rather an apocryphal account of the hiding of the treasures of Solomon's Temple at the time of its destruction by the Babylonians. I am translating this text as part of the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project. J. T. Milik published the poor photo of one of the plaques bearing Massekhet Kelim in an article in 1959. They were in Lebanon last he knew of them, and I had the impression from his article that they were made locally and recently. In February of 2008 I put up a post on these plaques, asking if anyone knew their current whereabouts. Thanks to a reply from reader Robert R. Smith, I was able to trace the Ezekiel plaques to the Yad Ben Zvi Institute but, alas, it turned out that the plaques containing Massekhet Kelim were no longer with them and the Institute did not know what had become of them. (Hence my lack of follow-up to the post.)

The oldest other surviving copies of Massekhet Kelim which I have been able to locate are all in seventeenth-century printed editions.

Assuming it is accurate, this article tells where the stone plaques came from (the Tomb of Ezekiel in Iraq) and how they got from there to the Yad Ben Zvi Institute via Lebanon:
The tiles’ authenticity is also open to question because the time and location of the find, as well as its chain of custody, are not as well documented as scholars now demand for wider acceptance. A number of forgeries have infiltrated the field of biblical archeology in recent decades, and thus the standards of proof are being forced upward.
You don't say.
In this case, the tiles were supposedly found over 100 years ago when visitors to the traditional tomb of Ezekiel in the small Iraqi town of Kfar al-Kafil, located about 50 miles south of Baghdad, noticed a stone tile had fallen off the inside of the burial chamber. Oddly, its back side contained an ancient lettering which had been deliberately hidden, facing the wall. Other tiles were removed and similar inscriptions were found on their back sides as well.

The entire set of Ezekiel plates were then taken to Lebanon, where decades later a Christian Arab widow, on the advice of her priest, wanted to place them in Jewish hands before she moved to France. She sold them for a mere two pounds sterling to businessman David Hacohen in 1947.

He smuggled the plates into Israel in 1953, and they were eventually acquired by Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Israel’s second president and a noted historian, who considered them a valuable national treasure.

After Ben-Zvi’s death, the Ezekiel plates became the property of the Institute in Jerusalem set up in his honor, which had them in storage until Zwebner convinced his wife’s parents, Max and Lombi Landau, to sponsor their public display.
Some speculation on the date:
Until now, estimates of their age have varied widely. According to the British Museum, the plates could be anywhere between 300 to 2000 years old.

Veteran Israeli archeologist Dan Bahat of Bar-Ilan University, while cautioning that artifacts from Mesopotamia are outside his field of expertise, told The Christian Edition that the script is similar to ones he has seen from the 7th or 8th century CE.

Dr. Stephen Pfann, head of the University of the Holy Land and a Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, also suggested that studying the style of the script – a discipline known as paleography – is probably a better method of dating for such stone objects than carbon dating and other tests.
I have studied Massekhet Kelim closely and there is no way that it is from the first century. The Hebrew is rabbinic, but I have not tried to refine its date further. The text is well acquainted with rabbinic exegesis and must be of the Talmudic era or later. I wouldn't rule out a date of the seventh or eighth century CE, although I would be (pleasantly) surprised if the document is that early. (I have recently published an article on this document, which is noted here and here.)

The first line of the first plaque containing Massekhet Kelim has the last verse and a half of Ezekiel on it, so the plaques formed one set and it seems pretty clear that their date and provenance must be the same.

I don't know exactly what tests can be made on stone to determine its date, but I'm not a geologist. Probably they involve things like patinas. But Stephen Pfann is spot on to say that paleography is likely to be of more use. I hope some paleographers take some interest in the stones now. I also hope that this new publicity might lead both to the publication of better photographs of the plaques (it's too bad the picture in the Jerusalem Post article is so bad) and to some information on what has become of the stones inscribed with Massekhet Kelim.
Yet there is an old Talmudic tradition that Israel’s prophets and other great sages were often buried with copies of their writings. One such Talmudic legend held that the original book of Ezekiel was buried with the prophet in his tomb and was left there to be revealed in the last days.
That would be nice, but these plaques are not it.
Whether or not that legend turns out to be true, Ezekiel remains the most mysterious of the Hebrew prophets and his writings – with their accounts of strange flying objects and other rare “visions of God” – are reserved by strictly observant Jews only for the most learned.

Meanwhile, the tomb of Ezekiel has gone from being a major pilgrimage site for Jews and Christians to a neglected shrine, after the mass Jewish exodus from Iraq in 1951.

Amid the turmoil and conflict that followed the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Jewish leaders began voicing concerns about acts of desecration at the site. But Iraqi authorities have recently given assurances about preserving the tomb.
This is the traditional tomb of Ezekiel, but we have no way of knowing whether the tradition is correct. Locations for sites like the last resting places of prophets tend to be supplied if they happen to be wanting, so there is reason to be skeptical. PaleoJudaica has also followed closely the controversy over the treatment of the tomb. Last I heard, it seemed to be safe. Start here and follow the many links back.

So, my preliminary evaluation is that the Ezekiel plaques are not older than the seventh or eighth century CE and I suspect they may be considerably more recent.

Watch this space ...

Osama Bin Laden is dead

GOOD NEWS: Osama Bin Laden is dead.

This announcement is a courtesy in case any of the three people in the world who haven't heard the news happen to be PaleoJudaica readers.

Ten DSS fragments at SWBTS?

TEN FRAGMENTS? Last year it was reported that Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary had acquired three fragments of the the Dead Sea Scrolls. Later, three more fragments were added to that. (See also here.) But now in an article entitled, "Dead Sea Scrolls expert presents book in chapel," about Peter Flint and his new edition of the Isaiah Scroll, the number is given as ten:
Southwestern Seminary currently possesses ten fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Flint, a professor at Trinity Western University and co-director for the Dead Sea Scrolls Institute, has partnered with the seminary in promoting the study and publication of these scrolls.
What's the story?

(HT reader Matthew Hamilton.)