Saturday, July 30, 2011

Review of Miles, "Carthage Must Be Destroyed"

An Empire of the Mediterranean
There was more to Carthage than her defeat by Rome


'Carthage must be destroyed'—the title of Richard Miles's book was the constant theme of the Roman statesman Marcus Porcius Cato (234-149 B.C.). In the last years of his long life, Cato became obsessed with Rome's old rival, the city that had unleashed Hannibal on the Roman Republic and brought it to the brink of destruction. Famed for his oratory as well as his stern morality, the old man was frequently asked to give his opinion in the Senate. Regardless of the topic, his last sentence was always the same—"And I think Carthage ought to be destroyed." A rival countered by ending his own speeches with "And I think Carthage ought not to be destroyed," but Cato carried the day, although he died before Carthage was captured in 146 B.C. The city was demolished and the site formally cursed by Roman priests. The oft-repeated story of the ground being sown with salt is a much later invention, but the destruction of Carthage as a political state was total.

The subtitle of the book is the more revealing, for this is not primarily an examination of the three Punic Wars fought between Carthage and Rome but instead a full history of "The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization." Those epic conflicts, and indeed the savage wars fought between Carthaginians and Greeks to dominate Sicily in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C., are just part of the bigger story. The campaigns are covered intelligently, but even the biggest battles rarely rate more than a paragraph. Richard Miles is instead concerned with the wider context of these struggles, and his book is all the more valuable for that.

Via the Agade list. Earlier reviews here.

Review of Dov, "Bibliographia Karaitica"

The Medieval Review 11.07.27

Walfish, Barry Dov. Bibliographia Karaitica: An Annotated Bibliography of Karaites and Karaism. Études sur le judaïsme medieval; v. 43; Karaite Texts and Studies; v. 2. Leiden: Brill, 2011. Pp. lxxxii, 810. $327. 978-90-04-18927-0. . .

Reviewed by:

Daniel J. Lasker
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Boston College
Despite any reservations that might be expressed about one detail or another in this bibliography, the reader can peruse the book only in amazement at the wealth of material from multiple sources amassed and described by the authors. It will certainly be impossible from now on for anyone to engage in Karaite studies without reference to this work. In combination with recent scholarship on Karaism, and the availability of library collections, archives and memorabilia in the Former Soviet Union which were inaccessible for much too long a period, it is to be hoped this Bibliographia Karaitica will accelerate the placement of Karaite studies in an honored position in the realm of Judaic studies.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Day of Archaeology 2011

TODAY IS DAY OF ARCHAEOLOGY 2011. If I'd known sooner, I would have tried to do some archaeology today. I'm sure there's something going on nearby; this time of year there always is.

HT James McGrath.

More on the Qumran brontologion and the Jewish calendar

MORE ON THE QUMRAN BRONTOLOGION and the research on it by Helen R. Jacobus which recently won the Dever Prize:
Dead Sea Scroll tract was precursor to Jewish calendar

29 Jul 2011 (University of Manchester)

An obscure Babylonian document from the world famous Dead Sea Scroll collection was almost certainly a precursor to the Jewish calendar according to University of Manchester research.

An obscure Babylonian document from the world famous Dead Sea Scroll collection was almost certainly a precursor to the Jewish calendar according to University of Manchester research.

Dr Helen Jacobus, a part-time doctoral student who graduated this month, investigated one of the 972 texts found in Khirbet Qumran on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea in Jordan between 1947 and 1956.

The Babylonian text known as Qumran scroll ‘4Q318’and kept at the Israel Antiquities Authority in Jerusalem, is thought to have been written around 2000 years ago.

Shown by Dr Jacobus to be a calendar - it contains predictions based on the moon’s position in the zodiac when the sound of thunder occurs.

The calendar can still be used to find the moon's position in the zodiac on a given date in the Jewish calendar – a calculation no other document in the world is able to achieve.

According to Dr Jacobus, the Aramaic month names used in the scroll are the same as those used in the Hebrew calendar today. They are, she says, Aramaic translations of the Babylonian month names.

Dr Jacobus said: “This ancient tract can be still used a functioning lunar zodiac calendar , which was a precursor to the Jewish calendar of today.


In defense of ancient biological anthropology

ANCIENT BIOLOGICAL ANTHROPOLOGY is vigorously defended by Patricia Smith in the current issue of BAR: Archaeological Views: Uncovering the Secrets of the Dead. Excerpt:
Today, especially at salvage excavations carried out in Israel, a nonacademic religious organization—Atra Kadisha—is routinely called in to excavate and remove human remains for reburial in a common grave without proper bio-anthropological documentation.b Although cursory examination of skeletal remains on site is sometimes permitted, this is totally unsatisfactory given the need to clean, reconstruct and analyze human remains in a specialized laboratory setting. In such facilities, we not only measure, photograph and take radiographs, we also analyze the skeletons using a vast array of modern tools. These include CT scans, scanning electron microscopes, as well as DNA and isotope analyses, all of which enable us to reconstruct in great detail the life history of past individuals and populations.

While cemeteries and isolated tombs are still occasionally excavated in Israel, we are largely unable to obtain scientific information about the human individuals for whom these tombs were constructed. Had the Ashkelon skeleton been excavated after 1995, it is unlikely that we would have been able to examine her in as much detail. This means that today, we are in the absurd situation of carrying out research into past societies exclusively through the study of their material culture without access to the most direct and conclusive data set, namely the evidence obtained from their skeletal remains.
My own view is that proper respect for the ancient dead demands that we allow the biological anthropologists to run the full gamut of analyses on their remains. This is the only voice these ancients have left in which to tell us their story. It's fine to rebury the remains after the analysis, but ideally they should go into sealed containers in recorded locations in case some new wonderful new technique allows us to gain substantially more information by revisiting them.

And yes, to answer the question someone always asks at this point, I would be perfectly happy to have my remains or those of my family members studied in this way by future archaeologists. In fact I think it would be kind of cool.

In any case, this is a temporary problem. In what I suspect will be the surprisingly near future, nanotechnology should allow us to do full-scale, non-destructive scans of buried ancient human remains without disturbing where they rest. Faster please.

Tangentially related reflections here and links. [UPDATE (30 July): Also here.]

UPDATE: Then again, maybe I'll reserve my remains for other purposes. But in that case those future archaeologists and historians would learn a lot more by seeing to it that I'm reanimated.

More on Philip and Hierapolis

TIMELY: Francesco D’Andria, Conversion, Crucifixion and Celebration: St. Philip’s Martyrium at Hierapolis draws thousands over the centuries, in the current issue of BAR. Timely, of course, because of the recent claim, apparently from the same excavation, that the actual tomb of the Apostle Philip has been discovered. This article has much valuable background on the apocryphal Philip legend and on the current excavation of the site, but although it mentions the traditional tomb of Philip, there is nothing on this presumably very recent discovery. I remain skeptical until I see compelling evidence.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Oxyrhynchus papyri and an army of papyrologists

AN ARMY OF PAPYROLOGISTS: This is an excellent idea. Oxford University press release:
Public to hunt for lost gospels, literature & letters

26 Jul 11

Papyri of a lost gospel from the Oxyrhynchus collection
Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 5072 (3rd century AD), Uncanonical Gospel. Credit: Photo courtesy of the Egypt Exploration Society and Imaging Papyri Project, Oxford. All rights reserved.

Members of the public are being asked to help decode papyri, in order to find fragments of lost gospels, works of literature, and letters about everyday life in ancient Egypt, in a new project launched by Oxford University.

Ancient Lives (, which launches today, is putting hundreds of thousands of images of fragments of papyri written in Greek online. Researchers say that ‘armchair archaeologists’ visiting the website can help with cataloguing the collection, and could make amazing finds, such as the recent discovery of fragments of a previously unknown ‘lost’ gospel which describes Jesus Christ casting out demons.

Nobody knows who wrote this lost gospel: it is part of a treasure trove of papyri recovered in the early 20th century from the Egyptian city of Oxyrhynchus, the ‘City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish’. The texts were written in Greek during a period when Egypt was under the control of a Greek (and later Roman) settler class. Many of the papyri had not been read for over a thousand years.

Because of the huge number of images involved researchers need volunteers to look through and catalogue them or transcribe the text using a simple web interface, which displays both known and unknown texts.

‘It’s with the digital advancements of our own age, that we're able to open up this window into the past, and see a common human experience in that intimate, traditional medium, handwriting,’ said lead developer and designer, William MacFarlane of Oxford University’s Department of Physics.

Experts have been studying the collection for over a hundred years. It is because of Oxyrhynchus that we now have lost masterpieces that went missing during the medieval period: the lost poetry of Sappho, the lost comedies of Menander and the lost plays of Sophocles. There are personal documents too – we learn from a letter that Aurelius the sausage-maker has taken out a loan of 9000 silver denarii, perhaps to expand his business, whilst in another letter of 127 AD a grandmother, called Sarapias, asks that her daughter is brought home so that she can be present at the birth of her grandchild.

‘Discovering new texts is always exciting,’ explains team papyrologist Dr James Brusuelas, ‘but the fact that you’re reading a piece of literature or a private letter that hasn’t been read in over a thousand years, that’s what I like about papyrology.’ Paul Ellis, an imaging specialist who assisted with the digitization of the papyrus texts, said: ‘Online images are a window into ancient lives.’

The project is a collaboration between Oxford University papyrologists, the Egypt Exploration Society, and a team in Oxford University’s Department of Physics who specialise in building ‘citizen science’ projects that allow anyone to make an authentic contribution to research.

‘Until now only experts could explore this incredible collection,’ said project leader Dr Chris Lintott of Oxford University’s Department of Physics, ‘but with so much of the collection unstudied there’s plenty for everyone. We’re excited to see what visitors to can unearth.’

‘Papyrologists are well known for friendship among those interested in ancient texts,’ said Project Director Dr Dirk Obbink, Oxford University Lecturer in Papyrology and Greek Literature at the University of Oxford. ‘This effort is pervaded by a spirit of collaboration. We aim to transcribe as much as possible of the original papyri, and then identify and reconstruct the text. No single pair of eyes can see and read everything. From scientists and professors to school students and ancient enthusiasts, everyone has something to contribute – and gain.’ is part of the network of public participation projects, which includes Old Weather, which aims to rescue weather records contained in World War I ship’s logs. More than 500,000 logbook pages have been transcribed so far. The original Zooniverse project was Galaxy Zoo, and a total of more than 400,000 people have registered to take part.

The project was supported by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the John Fell Fund, and is indebted to the Oxford University Department of Classics and the Egypt Exploration Society, London who oversee the Oxyrhynchus Collection in the Sackler Library, Oxford as part of a wide range of scholarly and outreach activities.
Should you take part in this initiative and you happen to run across anything that might be from a known or lost Old Testament pseudepigraphon, I would be grateful if you would drop me a note to let me know. The More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project (also here) is still recruiting texts.

Earlier posts on "An Army of" projects are here (for the Cairo Geniza, where I see I called for something similar for the Oxyrhynchus papyri) and here (the link is dead, but it was about the eTACT project). The title is nicked from Glenn Reynolds's book, An Army of Davids.

UPDATE (4 August): Lots more here.

Israeli national parks and nonprofit associations

Knesset legislation gives right-wing group control over City of David park
Knesset approves preliminary reading of ammendment to allow nonprofit associations to manage national parks.

By Nir Hasson and Zafrir Rinat Tags: East Jerusalem Knesset

The Knesset yesterday approved a preliminary reading of an amendment to the Nature Reserves and National Parks Law allowing nonprofit associations to manage national parks.

The amendment now goes to the Interior and Environment Committee to be prepared for a first reading.

If I didn't know better, I would be wondering if Haaretz were editorializing by headline.

I've been following the Elad controversy for a long time. Some background posts are here and links, here, here, here, and here.

Golden-bell-from-HP's-vestment meme gaining traction

THE THE-GOLDEN-BELL-IS-FROM-THE-HIGH-PRIEST'S-VESTMENTS MEME is gaining traction: Audio: Temple Talk: Golden Bell Found from the High Priest's Tunic (Arutz Sheva). Folks, let's slow down a little and think through all the possibilities.

Background here and links.

Philip the Apostle’s tomb found?

AFP: PHILIP THE APOSTLE'S TOMB 'FOUND,' in a place called Pamukkale (Hierapolis in antiquity) in Turkey. As usual, the proper response to this sort of claim is skepticism until compelling evidence is produced. I give the AFP points for the scare quotes around "found."

UPDATE (29 July): Related item here.

Justin Bieber and dad's matching Hebrew tattoos

Like father, like son: Justin Bieber and dad's matching Hebrew tattoos

By Daily Mail Reporter

Last updated at 4:04 PM on 27th July 2011

Justin Bieber and his father pose topless, showing off their matching tattoos.

A newly-released photo shows the father and son in Israel earlier this year where they had the etching done together.

The pair had the word 'Yeshua,' - which many believe to be Jesus' Hebrew or Aramaic name - etched onto the left side of their torsos.

The name Yeshua frequently appears in the Hebrew Bible to describe Joshua the High Priest.

Yes, there's a picture, if you can bear it. "Many" do not "believe" that Yeshua is the Hebrew/Aramaic form of Jesus' name. It just is.

Joshua the High Priest is mentioned several times in the books of Haggai and Zechariah, but the name Joshua is best known from Moses' right-hand man and successor for whom the book of Joshua is named.

Cross-file under "Tattoo Watch" and "Can't Make It Up." Background here, with a link to posts on other ancient-language tattoos.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

More FBAs: Nicholas de Lange and Robert Gordon

MORE FELLOWS OF THE BRITISH ACADEMY: This just in from Viv Rowett on the SOTS list:
PS: Thanks to the several members who have let me know that TWO MORE of our number have also been elected Fellow of the British Academy; here is information sent to me by Janet Tollington:

Professor Nicholas de Lange, Fellow of Wolfson College, has been Professor of Hebrew and Jewish Studies since 2001. He is the principal investigator on both the projects: ‘Medieval Hebrew inscriptions from the Byzantine Empire’ and ‘Mapping the Jewish Communities of the Byzantine Empire’. He is based in the Faculty of Divinity and Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies.

Professor Robert Gordon is the Regius Professor of Hebrew at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, and a Professorial Fellow of St. Catharine’s College. He has worked extensively on both Testaments, and has a special interest in the ancient translations of the Old Testament. He has published a number of books and has edited/co-edited several other volumes. He published a selection of his articles in 2006 under the title Hebrew Bible and Ancient Versions. He is a member of the editorial board of Vetus Testamentum, the journal of the International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament, and was its Book List editor from 1997 to 2010.

Congratulations to all!

Background here.

BBC backtracks on fake metal codices

FAKE METAL CODICES WATCH—The BBC begins backtracking:
Doubts over authenticity of 'ancient Christian' books

By Kevin Connolly BBC News, Jerusalem

In the cool living room of a stone-built house in Northern Israel I might just have held in my hands the keys to the ancient mysteries of Christianity.

And then again, I might not have.
Let's go with the not.
With the blinds shuttered against the glare of the midday sun my host, Hassan Saeda, lays out a collection of extraordinary books which he says are about 2,000 years old.

Flowing of hair and neat of beard, he bears a distracting resemblance to an illustration of Christ from an old children's Bible. It lends the scene an air of extra gravity.

The books - bindings, pages, covers and all - are made entirely of various metals.

They are inscribed - or engraved, stamped or embossed - with various simple pictures and writing in a variety of languages including Greek and Old Hebrew.


"I spent so much time and so much money to prove these are real. There are a lot of professors and one of them told me that I'm living in a fantasy.

My answer to him was: 'I think you got old and your eyes don't see anything.' I took my book and went away. Many professors say it's a fake. Why? I don't know why. But this is a real book."

It's a real book all right, and it's possible that it's made from ancient lead, but the iconography and writing are modern. All those professors are saying the books are fakes because they are obvious, clumsy forgeries. I have given a detailed account of the evidence here and here.

The article also interviews a Jerusalem antiquities dealer and also osteologist Joe Zias, both of whom agree they are fake. This still isn't asking philologists and art historians, but it is progress.

The BBC has known for a long time that the codices are fake. It looks to me as though they are trying to squeeze the last dregs out of the story, while laying the groundwork for eventually correcting it with the truth. They should have done that months ago and their conduct has been reprehensible.

Background here leading back to many links. Also see Thomas Verenna's essay at Bible and Interpretation: Artifacts and the Media: Lead Codices and the Public Portrayal of History.

UPDATE: More from Tom Verenna here.

UPDATE: Mark Goodacre underlines the point and names a name here.

A Syriac printing press in Lebanon

ARAMAIC WATCH: A Syriac printing press in Lebanon:
Old school printer exploits his passion for languages to the last letter

July 27, 2011 02:00 AM
By Annie Slemrod
The Daily Star


[Abdel-Karim] Chahan’s dexterity and memory is extraordinary, but even more so given that he is 85. He is Lebanon’s only Syriac printer, but he’s more than that. His tan printer’s smock also contains a linguist, author, teacher and polyglot.

When Chahan asks his young assistant to get the old press rolling, he does so in Aramaic. The assistant is a refugee from a part of Iraq where modern Aramaic is still spoken. Chahan easily switches between Aramaic, Syriac, Arabic and English.

Languages, and Syriac in particular, are Chahan’s passion. But they began as a necessity. Born in Allepo’s Syriac quarter to a family from Odessa, he spoke Armenian with his mother, Turkish with his father, and Syriac in church. School was in French, and government activities were carried out in Arabic, so “from the age of 7 you needed to speak five languages,” he says.

Lots of interesting details in this article. Mr. Chahan's and his business partner's printing projects include Syriac translations of works by Dickens and Hemingway.

Philo Sessions at SBL Annual Meeting

TORREY SELAND: Philo Sessions at SBL Annual Meeting.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Posts from the Talmud Blog

SOME ONLINE REVIEWS pertinent to ancient Judaism are noted by Shai Secunda at the Talmud Blog: RSK’s New Book and Paradigms of Gender Research. ("RSK" is Ross Shepard Kraemer.) Note also Amit Gvaryahu's recent post on the same blog: A New Reading of 4Q251 8.

Hear the bell on YouTube

IMRA: Hear the bell on You Tube!!! The sound of the recently discovered ancient golden bell can be heard on YouTube here. And, yes, I think tinkle or bangle noise fits pretty well.

HT Joseph Lauer. Background here.

Did Jews Invent the Question Mark?

PROBABLY NOT: Did Jews Invent the Question Mark?

The question is asked by Renee Ghert-Zand in The Forward blog The Shmooze. The question mark in, er, question is the punctuation mark found in fifth-century CE (not BCE) Syriac manuscripts as noted recently by Cambridge researcher Dr Chip Coakley. Syriac is the Christian Aramaic dialect spoken in the ancient Anatolian city of Edessa and it became the language of the Aramaic-speaking Eastern Church. If the mark was invented in the fifth century, it is very likely that it was invented by Eastern Christians. Still, we (or at least I) don't know exactly how early the mark was developed, and it is possible that Jews were involved in the translation of Hebrew Bible books into Syriac a few centuries earlier, so the possibility cannot be entirely discounted.

Cross-file under "Aramaic Watch."

Monday, July 25, 2011

More on the golden bell from Jerusalem


First, the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs publishes an IAA press release: Rare gold bell discovered in excavations in Jerusalem. It is substantially the same as the Arutz Sheva article I linked to on Friday, and it looks to me as though they were both translated independently into English from the same Hebrew press release.

Second, the AP has an article that has some new details: Ancient bell found in Jerusalem Old City sewer. Evidently the sound it makes is "something between a clink and a rattle" (I wonder if that counts as a "tinkle" or a "bangle noise"). And it may be my imagination, but perhaps there's a little backtracking of the claims. Instead of coming from the clothing of "a man of high authority," the owner is now "a wealthy resident" of Jerusalem, although the bell still came from "his garment."

Also, Green Prophet gets the award for most inflated headline so far: Authentic Remnant From Solomon’s Temple? The find is from the time of the Second Temple or Herod's Temple. The First ("Solomon's") Temple was destroyed many centuries before.

Background here, where I raise the possibility of the bell coming from a woman's clothing.

UPDATE (26 July): Hear the bell tinkle.