Saturday, December 10, 2011

Geza Vermes on Jewish Christianity

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

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

Friday, December 09, 2011

More on Mughrabi Bridge closure

City demands closure of Mugrabi Bridge in one week

12/09/2011 03:57

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

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

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


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

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

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

High school class studies Latin Josephus manuscript

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

By Caroline McMillan (Charlotte Observer)

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

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

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

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

Facebook is involved as well. More please.


MICHAL SCHWARTZ: Kabbalah: Lilith the Demonic Goddess.

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

AWOL: Persepolis Fortification Archive Upload to InscriptiFact

AWOL: Persepolis Fortification Archive Upload to InscriptiFact.

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

Review of NYC DSS exhibit

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

Egyptian blogger update

Detained blogger seeks right to vote from jail

Shaimaa el-Karanshawi (AlMaysryAlYoum)

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

Background here and links.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Happy Pretend To Be A Time Traveler Day!

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

Happy 10th anniversary to PEJ

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

DId Josephus mention Gilgamesh?


For Gilgamesh in the Book of Giants, see here.

The "Gospel Trail" in the Galilee

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

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

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

Coptica site

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

(Via the Agade list.)

New book on the Qur'an

A scholar reveals the Qur’an

By Jonathan Kirsch (

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

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


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


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


10 of the Middle East's greatest ancient wonders

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

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

Experts stumped by ancient Jerusalem markings

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

Mughrabi Gate Bridge to be closed?

Moghrabi Temple Mount Bridge to Be Closed

(Arutz Sheva)

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

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

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

Background here and links.

Egyptian blogger update

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

Background here.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Latest Jewish-Temple denial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HT Joseph I. Lauer.

WND and noncanonical texts

DON'T BUY THIS: The Researchers Library of Ancient Texts Vol One.

Although I applaud the effort of WorldNetDaily to acquaint their readership with the Old Testament Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha and the New Testament Apocrypha, this is not the book to use for that purpose. It is not a collection of new translations from the original texts (I would have known about such a project), so it must be old translations in the public domain. You can generally find such things for free online, for example, here. And the WND volume can't be put together all that critically, or it would not include the Book of Jashar, which is a medieval text.

You would be much better off to spend a little more money to get modern translations with good up-to-date introductions. For the Old Testament Apocrypha, look for any ecumenical study Bible or Catholic Bible in a modern translation.

For the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, the two Charlesworth volumes are the best collection in print, and they are now out in paperback.

For the New Testament Apocrypha, Elliott's The Apocryphal New Testament is available in a one-volume paperback.

Either or both would make fine Christmas, Hanukkah, or Winter Solstice presents.

Also, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Canonical Scriptures, Volume One, should be out by this time next year, so put it on your present list now for 2012.

Egyptian blogger update

Detained Egyptian blogger misses birth of first child


The wife of detained Egyptian blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah gave birth to the couple’s first child on Tuesday, while the baby boy’s father remained in custody for alleged involvement in clashes in Cairo. ...
Congratulations to Manal and Alaa, despite the circumstances.
Frustrated @Alaa's father takes innocence evidence to the public

Prominent lawyer and father of detained activist Alaa Abdel-Fatah, fed up with prosecutors 'inexplicable laxness' in vetting charges, goes public on TV with evidence suggesting his son's innocence

Nada Hussein Rashwan, Tuesday 6 Dec 2011 (ahramonline)

Ahmed Seif El-Islam, rights lawyer and father of detained activist and blogger Alaa Abdel-Fatah, provided evidence in support of his son’s innocence on a television appearance on Monday night. Abdel-Fatah has been charged by military prosecutors with instigating violence during the 9 October clashes in Cairo’s Maspero district.

In a telephone interview on the popular ONTV talk show Akhr Kalam with Yousri Fouda, Seif El-Islam said he possessed timed posts from his son’s Facebook and Twitter accounts confirming his absence from the Maspero area when the bloody clashes occurred.

He reports that there is cellphone log evidence as well.

Background here and links.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

"Revelation of the Magi" in Bible History Daily

'TIS THE SEASON: The Syriac Revelation of the Magi is treated in BAR's Bible History Daily: Bible Scholar Brent Landau Asks “Who Were the Magi”? Revelation of the Magi text gives wise men’s view of the Christmas story. This is based on an article by Professor Landau in the current (Nov/Dec '11) issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, but you have to have a paid subscription to read the complete text of the article itself.

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

BMCR reviews

Philip A. Harland, Travel and Religion in Antiquity. Studies in Christianity and Judaism/Études sur le christianisme et le judaisme, 21. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2011. Pp. xii, 289. ISBN 9781554582228. $85.00.

Reviewed by Josephine Shaya, The College of Wooster (


This interdisciplinary collection of essays tackles the complicated and significant role of travel and movement in ancient Mediterranean religions. Its chapters address issues of pilgrimage, travel narratives, ethnography, migration and occupational travel through the examination of literary, epigraphic, papyrological and archaeological sources. Focusing primarily on the eastern Mediterranean, it explores travel in the religious lives of ancient Mesopotamians, Judeans, Greeks, Romans, Nabateans, and Christians. Its chronological, geographic and methodological range is impressive and the chapters only grow stronger when seen in dialogue with one another.

Philip Harland is also a blogger, and another recent book by him was noted here, along with a link to his blog. And note that the "Preview" link above goes to a website for the book under review.
Wendy J. Cotter, The Christ of the Miracle Stories: Portrait through Encounter. Peabody, MA: Baker Academic, 2010. Pp. xxvi, 293. ISBN 9780801039508. $29.99 (pb).

Reviewed by Bilal Bas, Marmara University (

Table of Contents

The book deals with the miracle stories attributed to Jesus in the Synoptic tradition. In her earlier Miracles in Greco-Roman Antiquity: A Sourcebook for the Study of New Testament Miracles Stories, Cotter focused on the miracles attributed to gods and heroes in Greco-Roman antiquity and the significances regularly claimed for them in order to reconstruct a backdrop against which the Jesus miracles can be placed. In this book, Cotter addresses the encounter between Jesus and the petitioner.


Marius Heemstra, The Fiscus Judaicus and the Parting of the Ways. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament. 2. Reihe, 277. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010. Pp. xi, 241. ISBN 9783161503832. €59.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Jack Gibson, Grace Brethren High School (


In this provocative and clearly-written study, Marius Heemstra analyzes the fiscus Judaicus under Domitian and Nerva. Dealing with issues such as the dating of 1 Peter, Hebrews, and Revelation, the birkat ha-minim, and the parting of the ways between Judaism and Christianity, he contributes to current discussion in several fields, including early imperial Roman history, early Christian history and early rabbinic Judaism. While the fiscus Judaicus has not been entirely ignored in these fields, it has largely been minimized. Heemstra seeks to correct this oversight, arguing that the administration of this tax by Domitian and Nerva exerted a profound influence upon early Judaism and Christianity, and that our understanding of the end of the first century C.E. should be altered accordingly.

Regarding this point:
Based upon his interpretation of the fiscus Judaicus under Domitian and Nerva, Heemstra examines the dating of several New Testament books. His argument for dating 1 Peter to the period of 70-85 C.E., however, is somewhat tenuous. The only reason he provides is that the author of 1 Peter uses the term “Babylon” to refer to Rome (96). Yet, it is an argument from silence that Christians would not have used such terminology at an earlier date. Jews prior to 70 C.E., and Jewish Christians in particular, had substantial reason to hide their disdain for Rome by using a codeword. Claudius’ decree in 49 C.E. would have been especially problematic for Jewish Christians, such as Paul, who were preaching to Gentiles. Combined with the expulsion of all the Jews from Rome due to a disturbance regarding Chrestus (Suetonius, Claudius, 25), which likely involved a dispute between Jews who followed Jesus and those who did not, the Jewish Christians had sufficient reason at a much earlier date than after the Jewish revolt to have disdain for Rome.
The idea of Rome as Babylon is, as the reviewer notes, an obvious one in the context of late Second Temple Judaism in general, not just Judaism after the Roman destruction of the Temple. Moreover, this connection was already made, long before the New Testament, in the Qumran Pesher to Habakkuk. The pesher uses a sectarian code-word for the Romans (Kittim) in places where the original text of Habakkuk had Kasdim, "Chaldeans." "Chaldeans" is another biblical term for Babylonians, so the Qumran sectarians already thought of Rome as a stand-in for Babylon.

Egyptian and Syrian bloggers

EGYPTIAN BLOGGER UPDATE: Alaa is still being held in prison:
Court refuses to release Egyptian blogger

Published: Dec. 5, 2011 at 4:58 PM

CAIRO, Dec. 5 (UPI) -- An Egyptian court has refused to release an activist blogger accused of participating in clashes between protesters and the military that killed 28 people.

Background here.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Government is getting in on the oppress-the-bloggers act:
Prominent Syrian blogger arrested

Posted by: Angie Nassar (NowLebanon! blog)
Monday, December 05. 2011

In October 2011, I was invited to participate in the 3rd Arab Bloggers Meeting in Tunis, Tunisia. Since then, at least two of my fellow participants – both brave and incredibly inspiring individuals - have been arrested.

Egyptian blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah was arrested on October 30 on charges that he incited attacks against soldiers and for participating in the October 9 clashes in Cairo.

And now today there’s word that Syrian blogger, feminist, and human rights activist Razan Ghazzawi was arrested on Sunday at the Syrian-Jordanian border.

And the world is watching them too.

Monday, December 05, 2011

The King James Bible and the Talmud

KJB@400 WATCH: An eye for an eye? The King James Bible and the Talmud (Jonathan Romain at the Guardian's Comment is Free blog).

BASP 48 (2011)

ETC: BASP 48 (2011) – Lots of Interesting Stuff.

How tall were the Giant Anakim?

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: How tall were the Giant Anakim? Naturally, it is Dean Galbraith asking over at Remnant of Giants.

AWOL: André Lemaire articles onlin

AWOL: André Lemaire articles online. Professor Lemaire is a Northwest-Semitic epigrapher who has published much important work. It is good to have some of it online.

Robert Fisk on Phoenicians in Beirut

PHOENICIAN WATCH: Robert Fisk: Phoenician footprints all over Beirut (The Independent). Excerpt:
Today, the Persian-ruled city in Lebanon is exposed beneath the new souks of Beirut. It is part of the city's "Heritage Trail" – in Lebanon, the word heritage means what it says and does not carry the grotty reputation of Britain's tawdry historical re-creations – so that future generations can walk around the old/new city and "watch" its creation over the centuries in Roman streets and Crusader walls, a project overseen by Amira Solh, the young Cornell-trained urban planner who works for Solidere, the company that rebuilt Beirut. She has dreams of an interactive film display behind the underground Persian streets – and promises me there will be no English-style guides flouncing around in Persian costumes. This is serious history for serious people.

Nothing, of course, could be more serious than finding yourself under Persian rule. Roula el-Zein, an archaeologist and consultant for Solidere, described Beirut at the time as "just a small city belonging to Sidon, the city which had all the power". The Phoenicians, she says, "accepted Persian rule after the Babylonians left, and without any problem in assisting the Persian wars against Egypt. Sidon and Tyre were with the Persian kings" – King Baalshillem the Second and King Abdashart, for those who want to know. But when the Persians decided to attack Phoenician Carthage, things quickly went wrong.

"According to Herodotus," el-Zein says, "the Phoenicians of Sidon refused to build ships for the Persians and help them. And because of this, the Persians never finished their north African project." It makes sense. Why should the Phoenicians of Sidon and Beirut help their masters attack the Phoenicians of Carthage? It would be left to the Romans ("Carthaga delenda est") to destroy the city whose remains lie in modern-day Tunisia and whose land was sown with salt so that it could never be reinhabited.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Church Slavonic Android app

THERE'S AN APP FOR THAT: Bible CS is an Android app that "contains texts of The New and The Old Testament in Church-Slavonic language." I am not aware of a comparable iPhone app, but that doesn't mean there isn't one.