Saturday, July 09, 2011

DSS on list of world's top five treasure troves

THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS are on the WSJ's list of The World’s Top Five Treasure Troves, inspired by that recent discovery of vast treasure in the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Kerala, India.

The list looks about right to me. I would put the Cairo Geniza and the Ugaritic texts in a top-ten list. The treasures of the Copper Scroll (follow those links) would perhaps belong on the top-ten list too, if they could still be found, which is very unlikely.

Also, here's something recent on Massekhet Kelim (The Treatise of the Vessels), an apocryphal account of the fate of the Jerusalem Temple treasures.

I have noted some manuscript treasures from Kerala here (and links) and here (Cochin is in Kerala). (No word so far on any manuscripts in the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple trove.)

Hundreds at Byzantine-Era Synagogue

Hundreds at Byzantine-Era Synagogue

by Maayana Miskin (Arutz Sheva)

Hundreds of Jews were allowed to visit an ancient synagogue from the Byzantine era on Friday morning. The tour, coordinated with the IDF, took place as part of a program to commemorate young hikers slain by Palestinian Authority terrorists.

The more than 200 hikers first visited the ancient synagogue of Samoa and the nearby village of Anin, mentioned in the book of Joshua. They held morning prayer services in the synagogue.

They then continued on to a second ancient synagogue, this one located in the village of Susiya, a town dating back to Talmud times that in recent decades has enjoyed renewed Jewish settlement.

Recent post on other ancient synagogues here.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Newly Discovered Qumran Photographs from the 1950s

NEWLY DISCOVERED QUMRAN PHOTOGRAPHS FROM THE 1950s. (Via Jim West via Joseph Lauer and the Agade list.)

Syriac language at Artuklu University in Turkey

Southeastern university starts Syriac courses

MARDİN - Doğan News Agency (Hurriyet Daily News)

Kırklar Chapel’s Priest Gabriel Akyüz attended the first lesson of Syriac language courses started by Artuklu University in the southeastern province of Mardin. DHA photo

Kırklar Chapel’s Priest Gabriel Akyüz attended the first lesson of Syriac language courses started by Artuklu University in the southeastern province of Mardin. DHA photo

Already providing Kurdish-language education, Artuklu University in the southeastern province of Mardin, or MAU, is readying to open an intensive course on the Syriac language.

The courses will be provided by the university’s Living Languages Institute. Also, a committee from the faculty of letters is working on establishing a Syriac Language and Culture Department.

This project in Turkey has been in development for some time. More on it here, here, here, and here. It's good to see it up and running.

Analyzing The Dead Sea Scrolls' Provenance

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: The latest in non-destructive manuscript analysis from Chemical and Engineering News:
Analyzing The Dead Sea Scrolls' Provenance

Cultural Analysis: Scientists think that X-ray fluorescence could identify the geographical origin of these ancient texts

Sarah Everts

An X-ray fluorescence analytical technique may help scholars settle a decades-long archaeological debate: Were the multitude of Dead Sea Scroll texts written near the Dead Sea or just stored in caves nearby? This technique could provide an answer without harming the valuable Hebrew documents that have been degrading rapidly since their discovery in the 1940s and 50s, its developers say.

This short piece links to the page for the technical article that presents the research:
3D Micro-XRF for cultural heritage objects – new analysis strategies for the investigation of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Ioanna Mantouvalou , Timo Wolff , Oliver Hahn , Irene Rabin , Lars Lühl , Marcel Pagels , Wolfgang Malzer , and Birgit Kanngiesser
Anal. Chem., Just Accepted Manuscript
DOI: 10.1021/ac2011262
Publication Date (Web): June 29, 2011
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society


A combination of 3D Micro X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (3D Micro-XRF) and Micro-XRF was utilized for the investigation of a small collection of highly heterogeneous, partly degraded Dead Sea Scroll parchment samples from known excavation sites. The quantitative combination of the two techniques proves to be suitable for the identification of reliable marker elements which may be used for classification and provenance studies. With 3D Micro-XRF the three-dimensional nature, i.e. the depth resolved elemental composition as well as density variations, of the samples was investigated and bromine could be identified as a suitable marker element. It is shown through a comparison of quantitative and semi-quantitative values for the bromine content derived using both techniques that, for elements which are homogeneously distributed in the sample matrix, quantification with Micro-XRF using a one-layer model is feasible. Thus, the possibility for routine provenance studies using portable Micro-XRF instrumentation on a vast amount of samples, even on site, is obtained through this work.
This new technique sounds like it has promise to answer some difficult and controversial questions about the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

BAR: "New Synagogue Excavations In Israel and Beyond"

BAR: New Synagogue Excavations In Israel and Beyond by Joey Corbett, with discussions of the synagogues found at Magdala, Wadi Hamam and Horvat Kur.

More on the Magdala synagogue here and links, on the Wadi Hamam synagogue here and here, and on the Horvat Kur synagogue here.

New curator for Bodleian's Hebrew & Judaica collection

CONGRATULATIONS to Dr Cesar Merchan Hamann and the Bodleian Library:
Curator named for Oxford Hebrew Centre

By Jennifer Lipman, July 6, 2011 (

The Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies has announced the successor to its longtime curator Dr Piet van Boxel.

Dr Cesar Merchan Hamann will take over from Dr van Boxel in September as curator of the Bodleian Library's Hebrew and Judaica collections.


Report on Waqf's Temple Mount excavations to be released?

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: That State Comptroller's report on the Waqf's excavations on the Temple Mount may be released after all, according to Arutz Sheva:
Report on Muslim Temple Mount Digs to Be Declassified?

by Gil Ronen

A special Knesset subcommittee convened Wednesday afternoon to discuss declassifying a report by the State Comptroller on illegal excavation by Muslim authorities on the Temple Mount.

The Chairman of the Knesset’s State Control Committee, MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima), toured the Temple Mount Wednesday after he received the full and detailed report by the Comptroller regarding unauthorized Waqf digs on the Mount.

Background here and links.

Rollston on the Mariam Ossuary

THE MIRIAM (MARIAM?) OSSUARY is the subject of a blog post by Christopher Rollston: The Ossuary of Mariam Daughter of Yeshua’ in Context: Limning the Broad Tableau of the Epigraphic and Literary Data. A useful discussion with lots of information.

Background here and link.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

If we are in a computer simulation

MORE ON THE SIMULATION ARGUMENT: If We Are In A Computer Simulation (FuturePundit). As already noted, the Gnostics worried about some of these questions centuries ago.

The Talmud Blog relaunched

THE TALMUD BLOG has been relaunched by Shai Secunda as a collective enterprise.
I’m proud to announce the opening of a new collective Talmud Blog. Here scholars of rabbinic literature will find announcements (of articles, new publications, conferences, and more); a curated list of links (in the “tools” section) for aiding in talmudic research; original posts that present new research; discussions of critical methodologies, and of course the French import even more beloved than “freedom fries” – Critique.
Be sure and update your link.

Review of Grossman (ed.), "Rediscovering the Dead Sea Scrolls"

Maxine L. Grossman, ed. Rediscovering the Dead Sea Scrolls: An Assessment of Old and New Approaches and Methods. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2010. xiii + 318 pp. $28.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8028-4009-7.

Reviewed by Jean Duhaime (Université de Montréal)
Published on H-Judaic (July, 2011)
Commissioned by Jason Kalman

Old and New Tools at Work on the Dead Sea Scrolls

This book is the result of a few years of collaborative work between the authors in order to produce a volume that would "bring together a range of diverse perspectives on and scholarly approaches" to the Dead Sea Scrolls (p. 1). The contributors were asked to provide an introduction to an approach to the scrolls and an example of it, but also a "more self-reflective assessment" (p. 1) of its limits and the potential pitfalls associated with it. The book consists of an introduction, "Tools for Our Work," by Maxine L. Grossman, and fifteen chapters clustered according to their contents.

More on this book here, here, and here.

Three new books from the SBL

THREE NEW BOOKS from the Society of Biblical Literature:
John, Qumran, and the Dead Sea Scrolls: Sixty Years of Discovery and Debate
Mary L. Coloe, Tom Thatcher

The Dead Sea Scrolls reveal a Palestinian form of Second Temple Judaism in which the seeds of Johannine Christianity may have first sprouted. Although many texts from the Judean Desert are now widely available, the Scrolls have had little part in discussions of the Johannine literature over the past several decades. The essays in this book, ranging from focused studies of key passages in the Fourth Gospel to its broader social world, consider the past and potential impact of the Scrolls on Johannine studies in the context of a growing interest in the historical roots of the Johannine tradition and the origins and nature of the “Johannine community” and its relationship to mainstream Judaism. Future scholarship will be interested in connections between the Gospel of John and the Scrolls and also in Qumran Judaism and Johannine Christianity as parallel religious movements. The contributors are Mary L. Coloe and Tom Thatcher, Eileen Schuller, Paul N. Anderson, John Ashton, George J. Brooke, Brian J. Capper, Hannah K. Harrington, Loren T. Stuckenbruck, and James H. Charlesworth.

Paper $28.95 • 242 pages • ISBN 9781589835467 • Early Judaism and Its Literature 32

Was 1 Esdras First? An Investigation into the Priority and Nature of 1 Esdras
Lisbeth S. Fried

The books of Ezra-Nehemiah and 1 Esdras tell the story of the Judean return from exile in Babylon, of rebuilding the temple, and of creating a new community in Zion. For scholars and students trying to understand the Second Temple period, there are no other contemporary narratives available, giving these books prime importance. In Was 1 Esdras First? world-renowned scholars fully discuss, without arriving at a consensus, the relationship between Ezra-Nehemiah and 1 Esdras. In addition, they delve into these books’ dates and methods of composition, the sources used, their respective historical and social milieus, their original languages, and their authority and status in antiquity. This collection adds to our understanding of the history of Second Temple Judah, the formation of early Judaism, and the processes by which biblical books were composed. The contributors are Lisbeth S. Fried, Deirdre N. Fulton and Gary N. Knoppers, Lester L. Grabbe, Adrian Schenker, Bob Becking, Kristin De Troyer, Juha Pakkala, Zipora Talshir, James C. VanderKam, Jacob L. Wright, Sebastian Grätz, Paul B. Harvey Jr., Sylvie Honigman, Sara Japhet, Ralph W. Klein, and H. G. M. Williamson.

Paper $34.95 • 298 pages • ISBN 9781589835443 • Ancient Israel and Its Literature 7

Hazon Gabriel: New Readings of the Gabriel Revelation
Matthias Henze, editor

Since its rediscovery a decade ago, the Hazon Gabriel or Gabriel Revelation, a Hebrew inscription of the first century B.C.E., has attracted considerable attention. The inscription, of which about 87 lines are preserved, written in black ink on a slab of gray limestone, has been compared to the Dead Sea Scrolls. This book makes accessible in one place all existing editions of the Hazon Gabriel together with annotated English translations and offers initial interpretations of the text as a whole, its language, and its most prominent motifs. The volume, originating from a 2009 conference at Rice University, compares the Gabriel Revelation to other literature of the time—the book of Daniel, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the New Testament in particular—to determine its place in early Judaism. The contributors are David Jeselsohn, Ada Yardeni and Binyamin Elizur, Elisha Qimron and Alexey (Eliyahu) Yuditsky, Israel Knohl, Gary A. Rendsburg, Adela Yarbro Collins, John J. Collins, Matthias Henze, Kelley Coblentz Bautch, Daewoong Kim, and David Capes.

Paper $29.95 • 234 pages • ISBN 9781589835412 • Early Judaism and Its Literature 29
The Gabriel Revelation (a.k.a. the Vision of Gabriel) has been discussed many times at this blog. See here and follow the links.

A homily on Elisha ben Avuyah (Acher)

A HOMILY ON ELISHA BEN AVUYAH (ACHER/AHER/AKHER) by Rabbi Andrea Myers appears in The Jewish Week: From Elisha Ben Abuyah To Morris, The Golfer: Hearing the voice of the Other. Excerpt:
Morris is in good company. When we talk about what it means to be Other in the Jewish community, it is essential to look at the first Other: Elisha ben Abuyah, the first/second-century rabbi who becomes known as Acher, or Other, because of his apostasy. There are many stories about why he lost his faith, but the most powerful one describes the incident that may have pushed him to reject the central tenets of the Judaism of his time:

For it was taught: R. Jacob said … in connection with honoring parents it is written, “that your days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with you” (Deut 5:16). In reference to the dismissal of the nest it is written, “that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days” (Deut 22:6). Now, if one’s father said to him, ’Ascend to the loft and bring me young birds,’ and he ascends to the loft, dismisses the dam and takes the young, and on his return falls and is killed, where is this man’s happiness and where is this man’s prolonging of days? ... Now, what happened with Acher? Some say, he saw something of this nature. (B. Kid.39b)

Like Morris, Elisha ben Abuyah had a problem of theodicy: the question of how God can exist if there is evil in the world. His experience led him away from the Jewish community; he went from being a respected scholar to an apostate. After this break with the tradition, his name was no longer cited in the Talmud.
How interesting. I was not aware of this passage and Simon Holloway did not include it in his three-part survey of the Akher traditions at his blog Davar Akher. Actually, Elisha ben Avuyah shows up a number of times in the rabbinic literature, especially in connection with the story of the four who entered paradise. The better-known account of his apostasy, which is associated with that story, is translated (from 3 Enoch) and discussed here. And I have one more post on Aher here.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Computer source criticism?

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Computer source criticism?

Algorithm developed by Israeli scholars sheds light on the Bible’s authorship (AP).

As described by this article, this new algorithm, which has been developed by a team led by Prof. Moshe Koppel at Bar-Ilan University, might just be useful. It sounds like a fairly blunt instrument; the source criticism of both the Pentateuch and Isaiah is considerably more complicated than indicated, although this may just be the article simplifying what the program actually did. The designers have clearly put some thought into verifying their results independently (with the experiment on the mixed texts of Ezekiel and Jeremiah) and seem to have gotten encouraging results. I want to see this published in a peer-review journal, to have the raw data looked at by both biblical scholars and computer experts, and to have more tests run on documents whose sources we can verify independently for comparison. But on the basis of this early report I am cautiously optimistic.

The Singularity may be nearer than I thought.

UPDATE: Reader David Clark is skeptical:
I saw your post this morning on computer source criticism. I intended to add a comment to your blog, but it appears you do not allow comments. In any case, software like this make me very suspicious for two reasons.

First, the software tends to know what humans know. That is, they are biased by how the researchers code the software. Thus, if researchers are testing a theory about word choice and authorship, they will necessarily code in information about what a word choice is and how that may relate to authorship. Software like this tends to find what the authors think it will find, no matter how objective and careful they tend to be. Even very subtle biases in a complex computer program behave in non-linear ways, which can have disproportionate effects in the outcome. My point is that even though I think the scholarly consensus on the Pentateuch and Isaiah is correct, I highly doubt this kind of program adds much new insight.

Second, these kinds of software programs have played out already in other religious communities. The best one I can think of is the Mormon faith and the attempt to identify the author(s) of the Book of Mormon. Teams made up of mostly Mormons have written software to identify authorship, as have teams of people not affiliated (or no longer affiliated) with the Mormon faith. Not suprisingly, the software of the former tends to find that the Book of Mormon was not authored by Joseph Smith or his contemporaries, from which they conclude this is evidence of a divine origin. While the latter tend to find evidence for the authorship of the Book of Mormon by Joseph Smith or one of his contemporaries. The bottom line is that computer programs tend to find what people want them to find.
Much depends on whether the software can deduce the sources in documents that were not in the minds of the developers and whose sources we know with confidence on other grounds. If it can do that, I will be impressed.

UPDATE (20 July) More here. Also,this e-mail from reader Ed Kaneen came in on the 11th and I've been meaning to post it, so I will do so while I'm linking to this post.
I'm afraid I've only just picked up your post of 5/7 on Computer Source Criticism, and David Clark's comment. As a former computer scientist, I don't feel the criticism is entirely justified in this case. The original paper offered to the Association of Computational Linguistics Conference is available here: The method used by Koppel et al. is to first of all group units of text according to the presence of synonyms (as defined by Strong's Concordance), on the assumption that one author will prefer one set of synonyms, and another a different set (this is explained under 'Exploiting Synonym Usage' and they give some examples in section 1.3). This, they suggest, fairly reliably assigns portions of texts to separate authors. However, there are not many such synonyms. Therefore, on the basis of the few units that can be separated in this way, they then use the combination of common words (which occur >5 times in 10, unnamed, biblical books) in these already identified sections as a seed from which to automatically learn a measure for discriminating between the remaining non-identified sections. Their test texts consist of random combinations of two biblical books, primarily Jeremiah and Ezekiel but others too. They do this first at the chapter level, and then at the verse level (i.e. by drawing a random number of chapters/verses from Jeremiah, and then a random number from Ezekiel, and so on – described in section 1.6). Their method seems to be remarkably successful at separating these chapters/verses into their correct original books. They likewise claim in their conclusion a 90% success rate in identifying P and non-P in the Pentateuch (based on Driver).

The point of the above description is that their method is essentially automated, and not dependent on the results they are trying to find. Having said that, of course they will optimise the method to get better results, that is the point isn't it? Nevertheless, I suggest there is at least one problem with both the method and this experiment. With respect to the method, the assumption that there are exactly two authors for a text is a significant restriction – can this be overcome or does the lack of data make the method unreliable for innumerable authors? What results would have been given by applying the method to, say, Ezekiel alone? If the two-author restriction cannot be overcome then it not useful to biblical studies, except perhaps as some measure of confirmation of pre-existing hypotheses. The problem with the experiment is how reliable is the combination of KJV and Strong's Concordance in identifying synonyms, and where does a style of deliberately using synonyms for variety fit into this? In this case however, we should bear in mind that their primary interest is in the novel computational method used, rather than the problem of biblical authorship.

In sum, this is an impressive result, but unsurprisingly relies on the quality of biblical scholarship at its source.

Cinema’s 10 most underrated monsters

THE GOLEM is one of Cinema’s 10 most underrated monsters.
A beast formed from clay according to Jewish folklore, the Golem has suffered mix fortunes in the movies. Where Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein monster was immortalised in James Whale’s classic movies, German expressionist Paul Wegener’s 1915 movie The Golem survives only in fragments. His second Golem feature, The Golem And The Dancing Girl, has disappeared from history altogether.

The director’s third, 1920’s The Golem: How He Came Into The World, however, does survive, and it’s a masterpiece of early filmmaking and design. Based on the famous 16th century story of the Golem of Prague, the film sees a Rabbi bringing the creature to life in order to protect his people from racist attacks.

More on the Golem here and links.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Review of Hoffman & Cole, "Sacred Trash"

HOFFMAN AND COLE, SACRED TRASH, is reviewed in Haaretz by Avi Steinberg. Excerpt:
As they approach the end of their book, the authors admit that they haven’t even begun to begin. They haven’t, they write, adequately dealt with Biblical literature. “Another Geniza book, or three,” they admit, “could be written around what we’ve left out.” This confession turns out to be a lesson: that the problem of what has been left out of “Sacred Trash” is not truly a problem but rather the unavoidable consequence of dipping into the Geniza’s seemingly fathomless ocean of possibilities. Apparently the deeper one swims in this ocean, the sharper this lesson becomes. Of “A Mediterranean Society,” the multi-volume, several-thousand-page scholarly masterpiece that emerged over decades from Geniza sources, S.D. Goitein, its author, said it was “only a sketch.”

There is a tendency among the obsessed to speak in occult terms about the Geniza, about specters and miracles. “Suddenly,” wrote scholar Ezra Fleischer, “with the Geniza’s discovery, [tens of thousands of recovered lost poems were] released like spirits or ghosts through the square opening of that sealed room at the end of the women’s gallery of the Ben Ezra synagogue.” With the Cairo Geniza, it is difficult to avoid the uncanny, disorienting experience of encountering lost memory − it is a testament to Cole and Hoffman that they have fleshed out these ghosts, and patiently constructed a vivid, human saga every bit extraordinary as a miracle.
Earlier reviews noted here and links. And another recent post on the Cairo Geniza is here.

More on the Miriam Ossuary

MORE ON THE MIRIAM OSSUARY: Ossuary Yields New Detail of Gospel Story (The Media Line). This covers the story as already reported, but includes new details here and there. Excerpt:
Assahel Lavi, a former member of the government’s unit for the prevention of the theft of antiquities, said the Judean hills are riddled with thousands of ancient graves, many containing ossuaries and other items spanning the millennium.

“But what attracts the grave robbers the most are the artifacts from the Second Temple period,” Lavi told The Media Line. “Grave robbers want anything with a Jewish symbol on it, like a menorah, from that period because it fetches a lot more money than from other periods.”

Lavi said items with crosses and other symbols from latter times, such as the Byzantine period, were much more common.

“This is one of the leading drivers for grave robbers seeking out ancient Jewish sites from the time of Second Temple,” he said.

Zissu, who was once the commander of the anti-grave robbing unit, said he was very disappointed that the ossuary had not been found in situ, which prevented him from examining it in its archaeological context.

“Sadly, the robbers’ desire of monetary gain has erased entire pages of the country’s cultural history,” Zissu said. “But I’m sure there is more to discover. This land is still full of surprises.”
Indeed and indeed.

International SBL and KJB@400

TODAY BEGINS the International Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in London and its celebration of the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. Wish I could be there. Oh well, maybe in 2111 ...

Happy Independence Day

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY to my American readers.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Samaritan astrologers

SAMARITAN ASTROLOGERS: West Bank: ancient priesthood predicting future (AFP).

Latest Calaway Hekhalot exegesis

MORE HEKHALOT EXEGESIS from Jared Calaway at Antiquitopia:

Tombouctou Manuscripts Project

TIMBUKTU ARCHIVES UPDATE: Tombouctou Manuscripts Project.
The Tombouctou Manuscripts Project

Timbuktu has often been invoked as a symbol of the most distant place on Earth, as a mysterious and exotic, but unreachable, attraction. Yet, it is a real city with a history.

Indeed, it has a rich and diverse heritage and a fascinating past. The city and its desert environs are an archive of handwritten texts in Arabic and in African languages in the Arabic script, produced between the 13th and the 20th centuries. The manuscript libraries of Timbuktu are significant repositories of scholarly production in West Africa and the Sahara. Given the large number of manuscript collections it is surprising that Timbuktu as an archive remains largely unknown and under-used. Timbuktu’s manuscript collections deserve close study. It is a significant starting-point for reflecting on Africa’s written traditions.

Recognising its significance as a site of African architecture and of its scholarly past, Unesco declared Timbuktu a World Heritage Site in 1990.

A South Africa-Mali Timbuktu Manuscripts Project was officially launched in 2003 and a major achievement of this project was the new library-archive building, which was inaugurated in Timbuktu in January 2009.

The Tombouctou Manuscripts Project at the University of Cape Town (UCT) is dedicated to research various aspects of writing and reading the handwritten works of Timbuktu and beyond. Training young researchers is an integral part of its work.
Background here and links.