Monday, December 31, 2012

Hannibal film update

VIN DIESEL may now have backing for his proposed film(s) on Hannibal: Vin Diesel Says A Studio Is Interested In Making His Hannibal Trilogy (Denzel Washington Still In?) (IndieWire Shadow and Act Blog).

My understanding is that Denzel Washington has been slated to play Hamilcar, Hannibal's father, not Hannibal himself.

Diesel has been talking about this project for some years, and his Facebook comment does seem to imply that he now has studio backing for it. I hope so, anyway.

Background here and links. Cross-file under "Punic Watch."

More on Rollston

COMMENTARY ON THE CHRISTOPHER ROLLSTON CASE is provided by Robert Cargill: Winners and Losers in the Emmanuel Christian Seminary Scandal. And Daniel O. McClellan provides an editorial cartoon.

Background here.

UPDATE (2 January 2013): Roger Pearse comments.

Sunday, December 30, 2012


JAMES MCGRATH: Mithraism and Mythicism. In which he collects online resources and resorts to dubious etymology.

DSD 19

DEAD SEA DISCOVERIES has published a special, thematic volume (19): The Rise of Commentary: Commentary Texts in Ancient Near Eastern, Greek, Roman and Jewish Cultures.

Follow the link for the TOC. Requires a paid personal or institutional subscription to access the full articles.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Group for the Study of Late Antiquity

NEW SEMINAR at the Hebrew University: The Group for the Study of Late Antiquity.

Seow, Job 1-21

Job 1-21
Interpretation and Commentary

C. L. Seow

HARDCOVER; Coming Soon: 2/28/2013
ISBN: 978-0-8028-4895-6

The book of Job is by all accounts an exquisite piece of literary art that has its rightful place among the most outstanding compositions in world literature. It is a work of remarkable theological richness, passion, and honesty. Yet it is also widely recognized as an immensely difficult text to understand.

C. L. Seow's two-volume commentary -- the first in the Illuminations biblical commentary series -- pays close attention to the reception history of Job, including Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Western secular interpretations as expressed in theological, philosophical, and literary writings and in the visual and performing arts. In addition, this volume offers a primarily literary-theological interpretation of Job, a new translation, and commentary, resulting in a "history of consequences" that draws on insights from a rich tapestry of historical and contemporary interpretations.

JTS 63.1 (2012)

THE JOURNAL OF THEOLOGICAL STUDIES has a fairly recent new issue out: 63.1 (2012).

Follow the link for the full TOC, but note the following articles in particular:
Charlotte Hempel
Who is Making Dinner at Qumran?
J Theol Studies (2012) 63(1): 49-65

Jonathan Knight
The Origin and Significance of the Angelomorphic Christology in the Ascension of Isaiah
J Theol Studies (2012) 63(1): 66-105
Also, this review:
H. G. M. Williamson
Qumran Cave 1. II: The Isaiah Scrolls. Part 1: Plates and Transcriptions. Part 2: Introductions, Commentary, and Textual Variants. By Eugene Ulrich and Peter W. Flint, with a contribution by Martin G. Abegg, Jr.
J Theol Studies (2012) 63(1): 230-234
Requires a paid personal or institutional subscription to access the full articles and book reviews.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Bnei Menashe update

MORE BNEI MENASHE—supposed remnants of the 10 lost tribes of Israel—are emigrating from India to Israel. Some detailed coverage in Tablet Magazine: ‘Lost’ Indian Jews Come Home. Shut out for years, this week Bnei Menashe Jews moved to Israel. Why did the government change its policy?

Background here and links.

Ancient shrine found

REMAINS OF AN IRON-AGE II SHRINE have been discovered near Jerusalem:
Animal Figurines Found in Ancient Israel Temple

by LiveScience Staff
Date: 27 December 2012 Time: 01:52 PM ET

Just outside of Jerusalem, archaeologists have discovered a cache of vessels and figurines inside a 2,750-year-old temple that could provide a rare window into religious rituals of the period, the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced.

The finds were uncovered at Tel Motza, an archaeological site being excavated ahead of the expansion of Highway 1, the main road connecting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The dig revealed part of a large building, believed to be a temple, and objects that date back to the era of the First Temple, which, according to the Hebrew Bible, was constructed by King Solomon in the 10th century B.C. and then destroyed 400 years later.

The Deuteronomistic Historian would not have approved.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Rollston update

CHRISTOPHER ROLLSTON has resigned from Emmanuel Christian Seminary.

Background here and links.

UPDATE (congratulations!): Visiting Professorship at George Washington University.

Gender Dualism in the Book of Baruch

SARAH VEALE has an interesting essay at Invocatio on gender dualism in Justin the Gnostic's Book of Baruch: Gnostic Dualism and Gender in Baruch.
But Baruch does not portray the female or the material world as a holy thing. In all cases, it is something to be subdued by masculine power and separated from higher, transcendent principles. When the female does have power, it is corrupt, evil, embodied and uncontrollable. It’s hard not to see the dualism and its implications on gender at work in this text.
This Book of Baruch is a lost Gnostic text known to us only in a summary by Hippolytus and, unlike 1-3 Baruch, the title character is not the prophet Jeremiah's scribe, but rather an angel of the same name who figures in Justin's retelling of the biblical narrative. You can read about Justin and his book in Hippolytus's Refutation of All Heresies, 5.18-23. The surviving fragments of this Book of Baruch are being translated by Todd Klutz for volume 2 of the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project.

Cross-file under "Pseudepigrapha Watch" and "Lost Books."

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


HURRIYET DAILY NEWS: Four caught selling 1,900-year-old leather Torah.

I would be happy to be wrong on this, but I simply do not believe that these guys had a complete Torah scroll that was 1900 years old. That would be nearly as old as the Dead Sea Scrolls. It does sound like they did have an oldish Hebrew scroll of some sort which perhaps they shouldn't have had, and it's as well that this was noticed. I'm not sure if the photo is supposed to be of the scroll, but it's upside down and of poor resolution, the script is not of 100 CE, and it doesn't look a Torah scroll to me.

Ilan Ben Zion has more details in The Times of Israel: Turkish police bust men trying to sell ‘a 1,900-year-old Torah’: Suspects insist they legally acquired ancient 29-foot-long parchment.

That would make it comparable in length to the Temple Scroll (9 meters).

As the latter article notes, the Turkish authorities do not have an impressive recent track record for understanding such Bible-related antiquities as fall into their hands. (See here and [final story] here.) Still, I give them points for at least paying attention and investigating these things.

Caesarea development decision

Court rejects Caesarea residential neighborhood

By SHARON UDASIN (Jerusalem Post)
12/24/2012 23:20

After 7-year legal battle, Jerusalem court rejects plan to build neighborhood over site off coast of Aqueduct Beach.

Following a seven-year legal battle, the Jerusalem District Court has decided to reject a plan to build a neighborhood over a site off the coast of Aqueduct Beach, just north of the ancient city of Caesarea, the Antiquities Authority announced on Monday.

The decision, which was made on December 13, denied the appeal of the Caesarea Edmond Benjamin de Rothschild Development Corporation and thereby determined that a residential neighborhood would not be cropping up on the Aqueduct Beach.

Approval of the plan would cause “irreparable damage to ancient remains, harm the cultural heritage of the State of Israel, as well as eliminate one of the important archeological sites of the country,” the Antiquities Authority had expressed in its official position to the court.

Sounds like an important legal precedent.

I noted the case back in 2006, when it was just getting underway.

More Waqf depredations at the Temple Mount

Temple Mount authority reportedly carts off antiquities to the dump
Despite High Court ruling, mounds of earth excavated from Jerusalem holy site go unexamined by archaeologists

By Ilan Ben Zion December 24, 2012, 5:55 am 12 (Times of Israel)

The Muslim authority managing the Temple Mount on Sunday dumped tons of unexamined earth and stones excavated from the holy site into a municipal dump, in violation of a High Court injunction, Maariv reported on Monday.

Israel’s top court in September 2004 prohibited removal of earth from the Temple Mount and ruled that, should it be necessary, the Antiquities Authority must be notified a month in advance so it may examine the earth for artifacts.

Some indication of what that earth may contain:
Soil from the Temple Mount that had been removed to the Kidron Valley in recent years has yielded “tens of thousands of finds, including signet rings from the First Temple era, painted floor tiles from the Second Temple era, ancient gold coins, and horseshoe nails and arrowheads belonging to the Knights Templar, who stabled their horses in Solomon’s Stables,” [archaeologist Tzachi] Dvira said.
In recent years I have noted other details of finds sifted (see below) out of similarly pillaged Temple-Mount earth here, here, here, and here.

Arutz Sheva is also covering the story:
Report: Waqf Continues to Destroy Jewish Antiquities
The Waqf is continuing to destroy Jewish antiquities on the Temple Mount in a direct violation of a court ruling, new report finds.

By Elad Benari
First Publish: 12/25/2012, 2:13 AM

The Muslim Waqf is continuing to destroy Jewish antiquities on the Temple Mount in a direct violation of a ruling by the Supreme Court, a new report released Monday finds.

The author of the report, archaeologist Tzachi Zweig-Devira, told Arutz Sheva that his report is based on a personal visit he made to the Temple Mount.

This sort of thing has been going on for years, and I can't fathom why the Israeli Government continues to abide it. Much of the illicitly excavated material has been scrutinized for artifacts by the Temple Mount Sifting Project, with which Tzachi Zewig-Dvira is associated. More on the project here and follow the many, many links back.

(HT Joseph I. Lauer and others.)

UPDATE—The story develops: MK Eldad Joins Rally for Temple Mount Preservation and Court May Be Asked to Stop ‘Destruction of History’ (Arutz Sheva).

Helen Bond on Historical Jesus studies

HELEN BOND has published an essay in Bible and Intepretation summarizing the results of her new book The Historical Jesus: A Guide for the Perplexed:
Ten Things I Learnt about Jesus by Writing a Book about him

I’ve become increasingly convinced that the search for authentic words of Jesus is a waste of time. The human memory has been studied exhaustively in recent decades, and the overriding picture which emerges is one of fragility and subjectivity. On an individual level, we tend to fill in the blanks, to make sense of what we see or hear, and to allow later information to blend into and inform what we think we remember. Over time, we may retain the gist of what happened, but not the specific details....the idea that a person or a group could remember and transmit Jesus’ sayings perfectly seems highly unlikely.
I am not a specialist in Historical Jesus studies, but her comments seem to me refreshingly sensible and undogmatic (both in the religious sense and the political-correctness sense). I have posts making similar points to her points 2 and 6 here and her point 3 here (end of post).

(Via James McGrath.)

Fourth international Colloquium on apocryphal literature

COLLOQUIUM: THE LIFE OF ADAM AND EVE AND ADAMIC TRADITIONS (7-10 janvier 2014 – January 7th-10th, 2014) (Alin Suciu).
This fourth international Colloquium on apocryphal literature is devoted to Adam and Eve in apocryphal traditions. The new edition of the Vita latina Adae et Evae just published in the Corpus Christianorum Series Apocryphorum led the AELAC to organise this meeting. It should be an opportunity to honour the memory of Jean-Pierre Pettorelli, who devoted much time and energy in the last years of his life to the completion of this outstanding edition.
Cross-filu under "Pseudepigrapha Watch."

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

MERRY CHRISTMAS to all those celebrating!

Posts of Christmas past are collected here and links. And relevant posts from yesterday are here, here, and here.

Something for this Christmas: Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., Two Christmas stories: An analysis of New Testament narratives (OUP Blog).
My purpose here is not to criticize blending the two Christmas stories or to debate the historicity of the events they describe. What I do want to show is that by harmonizing the two stories we may be missing points that were especially important for Matthew and Luke, respectively. I want also to suggest that appreciating each biblical account separately might open up new perspectives on the infancy narratives for people today.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The wrong Bethlehem!

OOPS! Birth of Jesus celebrated in 'wrong Bethlehem' (The Telegraph).

This is an old story, being recycled for the Season. I have a discussion of it from five years ago here. I see nothing in the brief Telegraph article to indicate that Mr. Oshri has made any notable progress in proving his theory.

Some other recent Bethlehem-related stories are here (fifth paragraph) and here. And while I'm at it, past discussions of the Star of Bethlehem and the Magi are here and links.

Frankincense returns to Israel

After 1,500 years, frankincense returns to the Holy Land in time for Christmas
December 23, 2012, 3:49 pm 1

Matthew Kalman (Times of Israel blog)

KIBBUTZ KETURA, ISRAEL – Seven years after I revealed her success in sprouting a 2,000 year-old date palm seed found on Masada, botanist Dr Elaine Solowey of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies has done it again.

1,500 years after the last frankincense tree disappeared from the Holy Land, Dr Solowey has managed to grow the first shoots of a tree whose scented white sap was once worth more than gold.

At Kibbutz Ketura deep in Israel’s Negev Desert, Dr Solowey is carefully nurturing the fragile sapling in her greenhouse, where she is also growing myrrh and balm of Gilead – probably the “gold” brought by the Three Wise Men to the infant Jesus in Bethlehem.

Cool about the frankincense, but if it's all the same to you, I'm going to keep the gold in my mental picture of the story.

More on the magi here and links.

Bones of St Nick

TIMELY, IF ODD NEWS: Turkey wants St. Nick's bones back.
ISTANBUL, Turkey, Dec. 23 (UPI) -- A Turkish professor has requested that the bones of Saint Nicholas, the original Santa Claus, be returned to Turkey from the Vatican.

If Turkey wants to be taken even the least bit seriously when they start asking for the repatriation of Christian relics, they need to start taking proper care of the Christian antiquities that are already there.

Background on the body of St. Nicholas is here. The first link has rotted, but the second is still good. Cross-file (tangentially) with "Mor Gabriel Monastery."


THE ECONOMIST: Hell: A very rough guide. Somehow, "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here" doesn't quite fly as a travel slogan.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Ben Zvi and Levin (eds.), Remembering and Forgetting in Early Second Temple Judah

Remembering and Forgetting in Early Second Temple Judah. Ed. by Ehud Ben Zvi and Christoph Levin
2012. XIV, 360 pages. FAT 85

ISBN 978-3-16-151909-3
cloth € 99.00

Remembering and Forgetting in Early Second Temple Judah
Ed. by Ehud Ben Zvi and Christoph Levin

This volume collects revised versions of essays from a 2011 workshop held in Munich on Remembering and Forgetting in Early Second Temple Judah . The authors of the essays address these issues from both general methodological perspectives and through case studies emerging out or associated with a wide range of texts from the prophetic literature, the Pentateuch, the historical books, Psalms and Lamentations. All these texts share one main feature: they shape memories of the past (or future) and involve forgetting.

Contributors: Bob Becking, Ehud Ben Zvi, Kåre Berge, Diana Edelman, Christina Ehring, Judith Gärtner, Friedhelm Hartenstein, Michael Hundley, Jörg Jeremias, Sonya Kostamo, Francis Landy, Christoph Levin, James Linville, Zhenhua Meng, Bill Morrow, Reinhard Müller, Urmas Nõmmik, Juha Pakkala, Hermann-Josef Stipp

Friday, December 21, 2012

Rees, From Gabriel to Lucifer

BOOK REVIEW by Tom Holland in The Guardian: From Gabriel to Lucifer: A Cultural History of Angels by Valery Rees. Excerpt:
... "In our increasingly secular age, when the presence of angelic beings seems remote and unreal, angel imagery still holds an immense power of attraction." So Valery Rees opens her new book, which aims to make sense of the dimension between heaven and earth, and to explain why so many people, for so long, have populated it with entire hosts of messengers.

In pursuit of that goal, Rees flits across space and time with an aptly angelic facility. Ranging from ancient Sumeria to the novels of Philip Pullman, and from medieval scholasticism to Jungian theory, the breadth of her learning is formidable. We are given accounts of the cherubim and seraphim that read almost like the reports of a field anthropologist, detailed biographies of the archangels, and a rich seam of angelological trivia. The next time you are at a carol concert and want to impress someone, why not follow up a rendition of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" by revealing that the 15th-century philosopher Marsilio Ficino thought there were 399,920,004 angels in all, that the Qur'an features angels with three wings, and that Pius XII claimed to have seen St Peter's Square thronged with the guardian angels of the faithful gathered below him?

Yet ultimately, the sheer extent of Rees's researches overwhelm her. ...
Maybe, but I don't this it's fair to criticize her for this:
As a result, the parameters of her investigation are constantly shifting. Sometimes angels are described as though they possess an objective reality; sometimes as though they are expressions of the subconscious; sometimes as though they are theological constructs.
The reviewer writes as though these were mutually exclusive propositions.

Cosmic Day


Winter solstice celebrated at Stonehenge

Happy Yalda: The longest and darkest night of the year!

To be fair, those two normally go together. But it's not every year that they coincide with the Apocalyse:

Can you read this? Good, we’re still alive!

The day is not over though ...

Meanwhile, there are references to write, exams to second mark, and posts to blog before The End comes or the holiday break begins, whichever it is.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Categories of Sabbath-breaking

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN by Adam Kirsch in Tablet: Why the Sabbath Is Everything. This week, the Talmud’s rabbis explore possible holy day violations to determine the nature of the sinner.

And, once again, asking the important questions:
The very first question the Gemara asks about the Mishnaic catalog of melachot ("the kinds of labor prohibited on the Sabbath"), however, is an unexpected one—though after several months of reading Daf Yomi, I find myself recognizing it as a familiar example of Talmudic reasoning. “Why,” the rabbis ask, “do I need the number?” That is, why did the Mishnah preface its list by stating that it would contain 39 items? Surely the reader could have tallied them up himself. But it is a basic principle of Talmudic interpretation that every word, every sentence, of a text is there for a reason—whether it is a biblical verse or a line of Mishnah. What purpose, then, did the Mishnah have in mind when it gave this seemingly superfluous number?
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.


TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Signed Checks Worth a Half a Billion Dollars Found at Kotel. Jerusalem police were left bewildered after finding signed checks worth around half a billion dollars at the Western Wall on Wednesday. (Arutz Sheva). "The honest finder handed them over in accordance with the law to the police lost property office. For now the checks are waiting for whoever lost them."

Some comment bringing in the Copper Scroll and the Treatise of the Vessels must be appropriate here, but I can't think of what it would be.

Chaldo-Assyrian latest

CHALDO-ASSYRIAN (ARAMAIC/SYRIAC) WATCH: Here are a few recent stories of relevance.

Pope accepts resignation of 85-year-old Chaldean Patriarch (CNA)

New Book on Assyrians (Donef, Assyrians Post-Nineveh) (AINA).

Southeast Turkey Monastery: Mor Gabriel Must Survive (Sebastian de Courtois, Al-Monitor)
Why is Turkey forcing a small minority it has vowed to protect to leave? Who is behind the dark designs against them? Who wants to close down one of the last remaining monasteries of Turkey? If this monastery is closed down, this will have a devastating impact on Turkey's image. The dignity of Turkish citizens will be stained by bad governance and a leadership which fails to take necessary measures to protect this monastery despite all the promises it made. The promise of the founder of the Turkish Republic was broken by those who have no respect for history. The monastery has had a difficult time during its legal struggle. Mor Gabriel must be allowed to exist freely.
Like the man says.

Background and additional reflections on the Mor Gabriel Monastery case here with many links back.

Google/Israel Museum DSS Project update

MORE DEAD SEA SCROLLS ONLINE: Israel puts 5,000 images of the Dead Sea scrolls online in a partnership with Google (AFP/ArtDaily).

More on the Google/Israel Museum Digital Dead Sea Scrolls Project here and here and links.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mishnah manuscript online

THE CAMBRIDGE DIGITAL LIBRARY includes the full scanned text of an important manuscript of the Mishnah (MS Add.470.1, a complete, 15th century, Byzantine manuscript):
The text of the Mishnah describes the first written account of the early Jewish oral tradition and the earliest significant work of Rabbinic Judaism. It dates from the period of the second century BCE at a time when persecution of the Jewish populations gave rise to the fear that the details of the oral traditions dating from the first five centuries BCE might be lost. As a written authority it is second only to the Bible text and can be used as a source of authority for making judgements. The Mishnah is divided into six orders (Shisha Sedarim) and over the next six centuries, along with further commentaries, came to form the Talmud. The major part of the text of the Mishnah is written in Hebrew and reflects the debates which took place in the first and second centuries CE by a group of Rabbinic thinkers known as the Tannaim. It teaches by drawing on examples of specific judgements along with debates by notable Rabbis, and discusses problems from all areas of human existence.

This is one of only three complete manuscripts of the Mishnah, and considered to be 'an outstanding witness of the western type of Mishnaic Hebrew'. Of the manuscript, Schiller-Szinessy (vol. ii p. 9) writes: ‘Although this copy can lay claim neither to a very great age, nor to absolute correctness, we cannot hesitate to pronounce it to be a MS. beyond all price.’ Edited by W. H. Lowe, ‘The Mishnah on which the Palestinian Talmud Rests’ (Cambridge, 1883) – although that title can be considered inaccurate given more recent research on the manuscript.
Noted by the Talmud Blog on Facebook.

More on the Cambridge Digital Library here and links.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Van Henten, Early Christian Ethics

Early Christian Ethics in Interaction with Jewish and Greco-Roman Contexts

Jan Willem van Henten, University of Amsterdam, and Joseph Verheyden, Catholic University of Leuven

Early Christian Ethics in Interaction with Jewish and Greco-Roman Contexts focuses upon the nexus of early Christian Ethics and its contexts as a dynamic process. The ongoing interaction with Jewish, Greco-Roman or early Christian traditions as well as with the social-historical context at large continuously transformed early Christian ethics. The volume proposes a dynamic model for studying culture and its various expressions in a society composed of several ethnic and religious groups. The contributions focus on specific transformations of ethics in key documents of early Christianity, or take a more comparative perspective pointing to similar developments and overlaps as well as particularities within early Christian writings, Hellenistic-Jewish writings, Dead Sea Scrolls and Jewish inscriptions.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Herod the Great in the news

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: Mark A. Clarfield asks in the Montreal Gazette: What killed Herod the Great? Excerpt (do not read if you have a weak constitution):
The grand mausoleum is still being excavated and is not yet open to the public — unless you happen to be accompanied by the archeologist who discovered it. (Sadly, in 2010, a few months after our tour, Netzer died as a result of a fall suffered at his beloved site.) As I took in the place, I couldn’t help but wonder what illness Herod died from. In the case of most ancient personages, we haven’t got a clue. But here, once again, Josephus steps into the breach. Quoting more contemporary sources (Herod had died several decades before Josephus wrote his own account), he describes the king’s symptoms:

“He had a fever, though not a raging fever, an intolerable itching of the whole skin, continuous pains in the intestines, tumours of the feet as in dropsy, inflammation of the abdomen and gangrene of the privy parts.” He also suffered, according to Josephus, from “limb convulsions, asthma and foul breath.”

The doctors of the day were, not surprisingly, flummoxed by this combination of symptoms. They used the contemporary therapeutic armamentarium, including immersing the patient in a bath of hot oil. But Herod received no relief, and the bath burned his eyes.

The clinically curious of today can turn to the more modern Historical Clinicopathological Conference put on by the University of Maryland, which brings experts together periodically to examine the death of a famous personage, and which recently tackled Herod’s case. The combination of symptoms was a challenging one, especially the presence of gangrene of the genitalia — something one does not see every day. The scientists used a clever bit of clinical reasoning and came to a tentative conclusion: chronic kidney failure of unknown cause complicated by the rare (thank God) Fournier’s gangrene of the testicles. There are other candidates, of course, such as syphilis or other sexually transmitted diseases, but the kidney diagnosis seemed to fit the symptoms best.
Joseph I. Lauer has also circulated a long list of earlier treatments of this question in an e-mail. One by National Geographic is here. Earlier discussions of Herod's (apparent) tomb at Herodium are here and follow the many links back.

Samaritans and genetic testing

Samaritans, an ancient sect, find new hope with genetic testing

By Edmund Sanders
Los Angeles Times

MOUNT GERIZIM, West Bank — When Ben Yehuda Altif got engaged to his first cousin Mazal, there was no problem winning the blessing of their families or the Samaritan high priest, who leads their ancient Israelite sect. Marriage between cousins is common in the religious community.

But there was still an obstacle. Like many Samaritan couples today, the pair had to pass a premarital genetic screening to predict the likelihood of having healthy children. Without the green light from doctors, the marriage would be off.

"Doctors said OK, and now we have a healthy, handsome boy," said Altif, 33, reaching for his wife's cellphone to show off pictures of their son.

Samaritans, who trace their roots back about 2,700 years, are best known for clinging to strict biblical traditions that have largely disappeared, including animal sacrifice, isolation of menstruating women and, until recently, a ban on marrying outsiders.

But after facing near-extinction and being devastated by a high rate of birth defects because of inbreeding, the community is using modern science — including genetic testing, in vitro fertilization and abortion — to preserve their way of life.


Over the last decade, the community also relaxed its restrictions on intermarriage, allowing in about 25 women, mostly Jewish Israelis and arranged matches with brides from Ukraine.

Samaritan leaders are reluctant to discuss their gene-pool shrinkage, but they estimate the rate of birth defects was once 10 times higher than the nationwide average.

But since adopting genetic testing, Samaritans say, the rate of birth defects among newborns today is normal, even though most people still marry inside the community, including to relatives.

This is a positive set of developments, at least for the short term. In the long term, increasing the genetic diversity of the community will become increasingly important, genetic screening or not.

Some past posts dealing with genetic issues for the Samaritans are here, here, here, and here.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Betar case ruling

THE ISRAELI HIGH COURT has issued a ruling on the Betar case regarding the security fence:
Israeli court urges reroute of planned West Bank barrier
US-ISRAEL-PALESTINIANS-BARRIER:Israeli court urges reroute of planned West Bank barrier

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's highest court has urged defense officials to reroute a barrier planned for construction on ancient farmland at a West Bank Palestinian village.

Israeli judges have ordered changes in Israel's barrier through occupied land before, but the latest decision followed a rare appeal involving support from an Israeli government environmental agency for a Palestinian challenge.

In their ruling on Thursday, judges wrote that only a 500-meter (yard) long section of the wall was under dispute at the village of Battir, known for its terraced agricultural fields, some of which are believed go back to biblical times.

Background here.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Nash Papyrus (etc.) now online

THE NASH PAPYRUS, along with lots of other textual goodies, has been digitized and placed online in the Cambridge Digital Library: Ten Commandments go digital (PhysOrg).

Some background on the Cambridge Digital Library project is here.

For many other recent manuscript digitization projects go here and just keep following the links.

Three new members of the Israel Academy

CONGRATULATIONS TO EMANUEL TOV, AMIHAI MAZAR, AND NADAV NA'AMAN (and the six other new members), who have just been inducted into the Israel Academy of the Sciences and Humanities.
Israeli academy welcomes 9 new scientists

12/10/2012 22:55

Nine senior scientists will be inducted into the Israel Academy of the Sciences and Humanities in Jerusalem on Tuesday. They were voted in by the general assembly of the academy following recommendations of members of the academy from its two branches – natural sciences and the humanities and social sciences.

There will thus be 105 life members in the academy.


Tov, born in Amsterdam, is an emeritus professor of Bible Studies at the Hebrew University who contributed much to the research on the Greek Septuagint. He was also one of the editors of the Hebrew University Bible Project and editor-in-chief of the international Dead Sea Scrolls Publication Project.


Mazar, he has been professor at the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University since 1994. He has directed archeological excavations at a number of sites in Israel including Timna, Beit She’an and Tel Rehov.


Na’aman, who was born in Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim in 1939, is a professor emeritus of Jewish history at Tel Aviv University whose special interests include the ancient Near East, the Bible and archeology. He wrote six books and edited seven more and has published more than 280 articles in journals.

Tov's election to the Academy was noted here in June.

Betar case reaches high court

THE BETAR CASE regarding Israel's security fence was to go before the Israeli high court yesterday: Israeli separation wall threatens Battir's ancient terraces: Israeli environmentalists and even the state parks authority are backing Palestinian villagers' attempts to preserve landscape that is expected to be declared world heritage site by Unesco (Harriet Sherwood, The Guardian).

I've seen no word yet on when to expect a ruling.

Background on the case is here.

Germany clarifies circumcision ruling

German lawmakers approve bill allowing 'male infant circumcision'

Big News Network (ANI) Wednesday 12th December, 2012

German lawmakers have approved a bill that explicitly permits 'male infant circumcision', ending months of legal uncertainty after a court ruling claimed that the practice amounts to bodily harm, prompting outcry among Jewish and Muslim groups.
The German government has probably saved itself a lot of trouble with this ruling.

Background here and links.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The latest on early high Christology

LARRY HURTADO: “Early High Christology”: A Recent Assessment of Scholarly Debate.

Hasmonean-era (-ish) ruins found near Jerusalem

Remnants of Hasmonean-era community found under Jerusalem road
A salvage dig meant to allow the construction of a new light rail line uncovers a farm society active around the time of the heroes of Hanukkah

By Matti Friedman December 10, 2012, 6:21 pm 3 (The Times of Israel)

Israeli archaeologists digging under a road in Jerusalem have uncovered the remains of an agricultural community that could yield new information on the lives of residents before and after the rise of the Hasmonean dynasty around 2,200 years ago, the Israel Antiquities Authority said Monday.

The excavation in the city’s modern-day Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood has yielded a perfume bottle, wine press, bread oven and the remains of houses and agricultural buildings, according to an IAA statement.

Archaeologists also found a hand-made lead weight with a letter carved on it — seemingly the letter “yod,” the tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet and the equivalent of the English letter “y.”

The Hanukkah connection is a little tenuous, but hey, they're trying.

Via Joseph I. Lauer, who also notes an IAA press release in Hebrew here.

Of shoes and accessories

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN by Adam Kirsch in Tablet: Does God Care About Shoes? In this week’s Talmud study, Jewishness is not just moral and theological matters. It is a way of life. Excerpt:
It is a clever solution to the problem. But does it really have to be a problem in the first place? Does God care which shoe goes on first? My instinct is to say no. Any God I can imagine believing in would be indifferent to such a question, because it has no moral implications. Living in a modern, secular society, we tend to assume that life is made up of a large neutral sphere in which we can do whatever we see fit, and a more restricted religious sphere that deals with questions of right and wrong, good and evil.

This kind of dualism, however, is totally foreign to the rabbis. For them, Jewishness is not something that comes into play only in moral and theological matters. It is an entire way of life in which there is nothing however trivial that does not participate in Jewishness. What is frightening about this vision is the degree of mindfulness and intentionality it requires. ...
Also, Tractate Shabbat indirectly provides information about attitudes toward female fashion accessories and bodily hirsuteness.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links. Additional recent comments on b. Shabbat 63 are noted here (immediately preceding post).

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

When is a sword not just a sword?

JEWISH IDEAS DAILY has an essay by Chaim Saiman on the recent Daf Yomi passage b. Shabbat 63: Clothes Make the Man. Excerpt:
The general rule is that one may not transport objects in public areas on Shabbat. However, clothing and certain “adornments”—what we might call accessories—are permitted. But what constitutes an adornment? The Mishnah rules: “A man should not go out on Shabbat—not with a sword, nor a bow, nor a shield, nor a mace nor a spear.” On the surface, it would seem that items of military gear are off-limits on Shabbat because they are carried rather than worn.

But this ruling is disputed ...

The Bible may valorize military power, but the talmudic rabbis already live in anticipation of the Messiah. Talmudic men distinguish themselves not in physical battle but through the jousting of halakhic argumentation--what the Rabbis rather deliberately term “the battle of Torah.” Hence, in Rabbi Kehana’s view, the psalm speaks metaphorically, not of a warrior but of a Torah scholar who, as Rashi explains, keeps halakhic arguments at his side ready for deployment in battle. But the Talmud concludes otherwise: the verse must also retain its literal meaning. Metaphors are compelling only if their objects of comparison ring true.

The issues addressed in this passage touch on some of the central themes of Western thought: the ideals of manhood, the tension between intellectual and physical prowess, poverty and politics, and the possibilities and limitations of human perfection. But the Rabbis do not engage these questions through philosophy or theology; they do so through the specific regulations of halakhah. What begins as debate over a niggling detail in the laws of Shabbat becomes a discussion of humankind’s ultimate destiny. The reverse, however, is equally true: assessing the ideal man is forever tethered to the minute details of Shabbat observance. The compelling, sometimes maddening genius of halakhah is that its analysis of human thought cannot be disaggregated from its regulation of human behavior.
Some related Talmudic reflections are here.

HB/OT post at KCL

Lectureship in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament
School of Arts and Humanities

King's College London -Department of Theology and Religious Studies

Job ref: A6/AAT/1222/12/JM

Closing date: 18 January 2013


The Department of Theology & Religious Studies, King's College London, is seeking a Lecturer in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament to join an innovative, forward-looking and dynamic team with effect from 1st September 2013. This appointment builds upon the recent reestablishment of the historic Samuel Davidson Chair, to which Professor Paul M. Joyce was appointed in 2012.

The Department of Theology & Religious Studies at King's is a large, thriving and highly inter-disciplinary Department, specialising in the study of the three 'Abrahamic religions': Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Among the disciplines represented by its members of staff are Theology, Philosophy, History, Anthropology, Sociology, Art History and Literary Studies. Areas of strength include the study of conviviality and conflict among religions in multi-religious and secular societies, and the study of religion in the arts, literature and film.


The successful candidate will teach undergraduate courses (modules) in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, including Hebrew language modules, and will contribute to the MAs in Biblical Studies, Jewish Studies and Abrahamic Religions. Teaching experience and evidence of a strong research and publications record are required, as is the commitment to the academic and institutional development of the study of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament in the Department.

The closing date for receipt of applications is 18 January 2013

Equality of opportunity is College policy.
Follow the link for further particulars and contact information.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Workshop on Textual Transmission and Manuscript Culture

Textual Transmission and Manuscript Culture: Textual Fluidity, “New Philology,” and the Nag Hammadi (and Related) Codices

This is the first major international workshop of the NEWCONT-project.
Starting tomorrow. Pseudepigrapha and Hermetica figure in the program as well.

Background on Project NEWCONT is here.

Bar-Ilan University Press sale

FOR YOU, SPECIAL DEAL: Three-day 50% discount on all Bar-Ilan University Press books.

Review of Patrich, Studies in the Archaeology and History of 'Caesarea Maritima'

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.12.21
Joseph Patrich, Studies in the Archaeology and History of 'Caesarea Maritima': caput Judaeae, metropolis Palaestinae. Ancient Judaism and early Christianity, 77. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2011. Pp. xii, 340; 158 p. of plates. ISBN 9789004175112. $221.00.

Reviewed by Felipe Rojas, Brown University (



Joseph Patrich’s book treats many aspects of the charged and contested material fabric of Caesarea Maritima. The volume consists of twelve essays, most previously published; only one of the articles (chapter V, on commerce and economy in Late Antique Caesarea) is entirely new, while another was available until now only in Hebrew (chapter III, which deals with the proclamation of the city as a Roman colony). Apart from compiling the scattered output of a distinguished Israeli scholar who is intimately familiar with the city (Patrich conducted excavations there between 1993-1998 and 2000-2001), the book’s main merits are the unified bibliography and the three detailed indices, which enable targeted and efficient exploration of the volume’s diverse contents. A brief preface gives the original source of publication of the articles. Patrich’s book does not aim to be an introduction to Caesarea nor a purposeful synthetic account of the current state of archaeological and historical research. Instead, his collection offers a dozen studies concerned chiefly with the topography of the city, from individual buildings or complexes (e.g., the hippodrome treated in chapter VII or the palaces discussed in chapter VIII) to city-wide analyses. In addition to specialists interested specifically in Caesarea, the readers who will most benefit from Patrich’s essays will be those interested in urban spaces in the cities of the Eastern Mediterranean and in their successive transformations through Late Antiquity.

(HT Joseph I. Lauer.)

Research Seminar in Ancient Hebrew Language and Literature

H-JUDAIC: Research Seminar in Ancient Hebrew Language and Literature:
Halle-Tel Aviv Research Seminar in Ancient Hebrew Language and Literature
- Early Samaritan, Jewish, and Christian Liturgical Texts -
3-7 February 2013, Halle (Saale), Germany
Everyone interested is welcome to take part in the seminar. The primary language of the seminar is Hebrew.
The program of the seminar can be found here:
Prof. Dr. Stefan Schorch
Theologische Fakultät
Institut für Bibelwissenschaften
I wish I could attend this one.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

The Talmud and kosher hot dogs

THE TALMUD was mentioned in a recent court case involving Hebrew National hot dogs:
Federal court hearing turns Talmudic in the case of Hebrew National

By Mordecai Specktor, American Jewish World (Twin Cities Daily Planet)
December 06, 2012

During a St. Paul federal court hearing last Friday, on a motion to dismiss the lawsuit alleging that Hebrew National’s hot dogs are not kosher, pages of Talmud were projected onto video screens.

Corey Gordon, the lead lawyer for the defendant, ConAgra Foods, Inc., the corporate owner of Hebrew National, cited passages from the Torah; and mentioned Rashi, the medieval Talmud commentator, along with Torah sage Moses Maimonides, the Rambam.

It is not clear from the article, however, that the Talmud was actually cited:
Then Gordon went into a lengthy exposition about the basis of kashrut, the Jewish dietary laws, which have their basis in the Torah and later commentaries. “I brought a volume of the Talmud,” said Gordon, displaying a book that he said was an English translation. “My complete Talmud is 72 volumes.”

Then he began displaying the Talmud on the digital projection system, pointing out “Rashi script” and other notations on the page. “I know I could put you to sleep if I read some of these minute analyses,” Gordon told the court, regarding the Talmudic contentions.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day

TODAY IS PRETEND TO BE A TIME TRAVELER DAY, providing us this year with a cosmic synchronicity with Hanukkah, which may provide inspiration to some. Earlier inspirations are noted here and here.

Whether and how I observe the event this year will, as usual, remain shrouded in mystery.

Happy Hanukkah!

HAPPY HANUKKAH to all those celebrating!

Some background on the festival of Hanukkah is here and links.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Review of Stahl (ed.), Jesus among the Jews

Neta Stahl, ed. Jesus among the Jews: Representation and Thought. Routledge Jewish Studies Series. New York: Routledge, 2012. 248 pp. $135.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-415-78258-6.

Reviewed by Michael Cook (Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion, Cincinnati)
Published on H-Judaic (December, 2012)
Commissioned by Jason Kalman

Interdisciplinary Jewish Treatments of Jesus

This anthology of intriguing essays aims to chart how different disciplinary perspectives (e.g., rabbinics, philosophy, theology, poetry, and art) have represented Jesus in Jewish culture from antiquity to the present, even influencing Jewish self-understanding and expression.


Bowdlerizing bibical sins

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN by Adam Kirsch in Tablet: The Badness of Good Stories: This week, Talmudic rabbis seek righteousness in the Bible’s tales of vice, weakness, and human frailty. Excerpt:
The Bible displays extraordinarily little anxiety about portraying its heroes in an unflattering light. Jacob can be both a liar and thief, and the man who wrestles with an angel and wins the name of Israel; David can be both the anointed of God and an adulterer. But as this week’s Daf Yomi reading showed, the rabbis of the Talmud were by no means at ease with this kind of ambiguity. In a long discussion that begins in Shabbat 55b, they consider some of the most famous sinners in the Bible and argue passionately that in fact none of them did what the Bible expressly says they did.
Earlier columns are noted here and here and links.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Review of Orlov, Dark Mirrors

ANDREI ORLOV'S RECENT BOOK, Dark Mirrors: Azazel and Satanael in Early Jewish Demonology, was reviewed by Rebecca Lesses in the recent SBL session where I also presented a paper. Now Rebecca has posted her review here.

Earlier posts on the book are here, here, and here.

Verheyden (ed.), The Figure of Solomon

The Figure of Solomon in Jewish, Christian and Islamic Tradition
King, Sage and Architect

Edited by Joseph Verheyden, Catholic University of Leuven

Solomon is one of the more complex and fascinating characters in the history of Israel. As a king he is second only to David. As the king who gave Israel its temple he is unsurpassed. As the prototype of the sage his name lives on in numerous biblical and non-biblical writings. As the magician of later tradition he has established himself as a model for many other aspirants in this field.

This volume contains the proceedings of an international conference on Solomon that was held at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies of the University of Leuven, September 30 – October 2, 2009 and discussed various aspects of this multifaced character as he appears in Jewish, early Christian, and Islamic tradition.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The early text of the NT

LARRY HURTADO: The Early Text of the New Testament: The Latest Scholarship.

Fake metal codices program now on YouTube

SPEAKING OF THE FAKE METAL CODICES, that BBC program on them is now available on YouTube for all to see. (Via James McGrath.)

Background here with endless links.

GJW: tests still pending

THE TESTS ON THE GOSPEL OF JESUS' WIFE are not yet completed, so it looks as though Harvard Theological Review will not be publishing Karen King's article on it in January: Publication of Jesus’ wife research unlikey next month (AP).

Materials science isn't my thing, so I don't know how long such tests should take. A LiveScience piece from 19 October said the following:
"The owner of the papyrus fragment has been making arrangements for the next round of analysis of the fragment, including testing by independent laboratories with the resources and the specific expertise necessary to produce and interpret reliable results," [Kit] Dodgson [director of communications at Harvard Divinity School] wrote. "This next phase is likely to take several weeks, if not months."
(Noted recently on Facebook by Andrew Bernhard.) I suppose we are still within that time frame, so it's not fair to be too impatient yet. I hope this does not deteriorate into an endless round of delays, as with the fake metal codices.

Background on the Gospel of Jesus' Wife is here and follow the links.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Cyrus Cylinder on the go again

The Cyrus Cylinder travels to five major museum venues in the United States in 2013

LONDON.- The British Museum today announces that one of its most iconic objects, the Cyrus Cylinder, will tour to five major museum venues in the United States in 2013. This will be the first time this object has been seen in the US and the tour is supported by the Iran Heritage Foundation.

The Cyrus Cylinder is one of the most famous objects to have survived from the ancient world. The Cylinder was inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform (cuneiform is the earliest form of writing) on the orders of the Persian King Cyrus the Great (559-530BC) after he captured Babylon in 539BC. It is often referred to as the first bill of human rights as it appears to encourage freedom of worship throughout the Persian Empire and to allow deported people to return to their homelands. It was found in Babylon in modern Iraq in 1879 during a British Museum excavation and has been on display ever since.

The Cyrus Cylinder is truly an object of world heritage, produced for a Persian king in Iraq and seen and studied for over 130 years in the British Museum. It is valued by people all around the world as a symbol of tolerance and respect for different peoples and different faiths, so much so that a copy of the cylinder is on display in the United Nations building in New York. The Museum has previously lent the Cylinder to the National Museum of Iran in 2010 - 2011 where it was seen by over one million people. This tour will provide the first opportunity for a wide US audience to engage with this unique object of world importance.

Via the Bible Places Blog.

Background on the Cyrus Cylinder, its recent visit to Iran, and the sometimes overenthusiastic evaluations of its contribution to human rights is here and here (second link from bottom of post) and many links.

Porter & Pitts (eds.), Christian Origins and Hellenistic Judaism

Christian Origins and Hellenistic Judaism
Social and Literary Contexts for the New Testament

Edited by Stanley E. Porter and Andrew W. Pitts

In Christian Origins and Hellenistic Judaism, Stanley E. Porter and Andrew W. Pitts assemble an international team of scholars whose work has focused on reconstructing the social matrix for earliest Christianity through reference to Hellenistic Judaism and its literary forms. Each essay moves forward the current understanding of how primitive Christianity situated itself in relation to evolving Greco-Roman Jewish culture. Some essays focus on configuring the social context for the origins of the Jesus movement and beyond, while others assess the literary relation between early Christian and Hellenistic Jewish texts.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Jerome and Hebrew

NEW ARTICLE in Zeitschrift für Religions- und Geistesgeschichte 64.3 (2012): Görge K. Hasselhoff, Revising the Vulgate: Jerome and his Jewish Interlocutors. Abstract:
The Church Father Jerome is well-known for his translation (or revision) of the Latin Bible which later was named Vulgate. He did not translate from the Greek as was the case with the so-called Vetus Latina but he sought the Hebrew truth (hebraica veritas). However, this raises the question as to how good his understanding of the Hebrew language actually was. Therefore it is asked where Jerome might have learned Hebrew and who his Jewish interlocutors might have been.
(Requires a paid personal or institutional subscription to access.)

More on St. Jerome here and here and links.

Qumran latrines

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: What Is The Difference Between Urinating And Defecating?

Actually Duane Smith is linking to James Tabor's very interesting essay at the ASOR Blog: Texts without Qumran and Qumran without Texts: Searching for the Latrines. But Duane's title is more entertaining. The essay is wider ranging than either title might lead you to expect.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Biblical Studies Carnival November 2012

BIBLICAL STUDIES CARNIVAL NOVEMBER 2012 has been posted by Bob MacDonald at his Dust Blog. Very comprehensive. He also gives an insider perspective on composing the carnival here.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Vetus Testamentum 62.4 (2012)

VETUS TESTAMENTUM has published a new(-ish) issue (Volume 62, Issue 4, January 2012). Requires a personal or institutional subscription to access the full articles. TOC:
The Fightin’ Mushites*
Author: Mark Leuchter
pp. 479–500 (22)

Looking for Aphek in 1 Kgs 20*
Author: Shuichi Hasegawa
pp. 501–514 (14)

The Merkabah as a Substitute for Messianism in Targum Ezekiel? 1
Author: Alinda Damsma
pp. 515–533 (19)

Reconsidering 4QSama and the Textual Support for the Long and Short Versions of the David and Goliath Story
Author: Benjamin J.M. Johnson
pp. 534–549 (16)

The Structure of Genesis 38: A Thematic Reading*
Author: Dohyung Kim
pp. 550–560 (11)

The Vanishing Character in Biblical Narrative: The Role of Hathach in Esther 4*
Author: Jonathan Grossman
pp. 561–571 (11)

Antiochus IV as the Scorned Prince in Dan 11:21
Author: Benjamin Scolnic
pp. 572–581 (10)

Hearing Psalm 102 within the Context of the Hebrew Psalter
Author: Andrew Witt
pp. 582–606 (25)

“My Beloved Son, Come and Rest in Me“: Job's Return to His Mother's Womb (Job 1:21a) in Light of Egyptian Mythology
Author: Christopher B. Hays
pp. 607–621 (15)

Die Schuld der Väter (er-)tragen-Thr 5 im Kontext exilischer Theologie
Author: Thomas Wagner
pp. 622–635 (14)

Entdämonisierung von Dtn 32:24
Author: Szabolcs Ferencz Kató
pp. 636–641 (6)

The Syntax and Rhetoric of Ruth 1:9a
Author: Jeremy Schipper
pp. 642–645 (4)
Diodorus, Deuteronomy, and Egyptian Agriculture 1
Author: Jaclyn Neel
pp. 646–651 (6)

Book List
pp. 652–663 (12)

The Most Interesting Bible in the World

WHY DO YOU HATE THE PSEUDEPIGRAPHA? The Most Interesting Bible in the World.

Time travel in the Talmud

MOSES THE TIME TRAVELER: The First Science Fiction? This raises all sorts of tempting thoughts for Pretend To Be A Time Traveler Day (8 December), doesn't it?

Via James McGrath.

FOR YOU, SPECIAL DEAL at the Aramaic Blog: Help Support

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Ancient port at Akko

DISCOVERIES AT AKKO are reported by e! Science News from a University of Rhode Island press release. The nineteenth century shipwrecks are interesting, but the story relevant for PaleoJudaica is the ancient port and the prospect of finding ancient shipwrecks.
URI, IAA archaeologists discover shipwrecks, ancient harbor on coast of Israel

Published: Wednesday, November 28, 2012 - 17:04 in Paleontology & Archaeology

Arrchaeologists from the University of Rhode Island, the Israel Antiquities Authority, and the University of Louisville have discovered the remains of a fleet of early-19th century ships and ancient harbor structures from the Hellenistic period (third to first century B.C.) at the city of Akko, one of the major ancient ports of the eastern Mediterranean. The findings shed light on a period of history that is little known and point to how and where additional remains may be found. The discoveries were presented on November 15 and 17 in Chicago at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research by URI assistant professors Bridget Buxton and William Krieger on behalf of the Israel Coast Exploration project.


"Like many underwater archaeologists I'm very interested in finding a well-preserved example of an ancient multi-decked warship from the Hellenistic age," said Buxton. "These ships were incredible pieces of technology, but we don't know much about their design because no hulls have been found. However, a combination of unusual environmental and historical factors leads us to believe we have a chance of finding the remains of one of these ships off the northern coast of Israel."

Buxton believes that the ships they are looking for are likely buried in the coastal sediment, which has built up over the centuries through natural processes. However, time is not on their side. "That protective silt is now being stripped away," she said. "And it's being stripped away a lot faster than it was originally dumped, by a combination of development, environmental changes, and the effects of the Aswan Dam." The Nile River has historically deposited large quantities of silt in the area, but the dam has significantly reduced the flow of silt.


One line of buried targets detected off the southern seawall of old Akko is particularly suggestive. Continuing excavations in this area over the summer revealed an alignment between these targets and a newly-discovered slipway and shipshed structure, which continued out under the sea floor 25 meters from the Ottoman city wall. The feature resembles other naval shipsheds found in places such as Athens where they were used to haul up ancient warships. The excavation project was initially undertaken to strengthen the eroding sea wall, but it also revealed Hellenistic masonry, pottery vessels, an ancient mooring stone, and a stone quay 1.3 meters below the modern sea level. The possibility that much more of the Hellenistic port lies well-preserved under the sea floor is exciting for the archaeologists, because it means that shipwrecks from earlier centuries that have so far not been found at Akko may simply be buried deeper down in the sediment.

"We've got fragmentary historic records for this area in the Hellenistic period, and now we've found a very important feature from the ancient harbor. Ancient shipwrecks are another piece of the puzzle that will help us to rewrite the story of this region at a critical time in Mediterranean history," she said.

Located on the northern coast of Israel, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Akko is one of the few cities in the Mediterranean with more than 5,000 years of maritime history. Also known as Acre, Ake and Ptolemais, its port was an important waypoint for the Phoenicians, Romans, Crusaders, Ottomans and other ancient maritime empires. In the Hellenistic period, it was bitterly fought over by the rival empires of Egypt and Syria.

"Understanding the history and archaeology of Akko's port is crucial to understanding the broader issues of maritime connectivity and the great power struggles that defined the history of the Eastern Mediterranean during the Hellenistic Age," Buxton said.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"Go out and intend."

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN by Adam Kirsh in Tablet: The Power of Positive Thinking: This week, deduction and analogy propel the Talmud from the mundane to the miraculous. Excerpt:
This kind of reasoning grants to intention an almost magical power: If you think that you are going to use something on the Sabbath, you change its legal status, almost its existential status. You see a dramatic example of this with Rabbi Chanina ben Akiva, who once “went to a certain place and found branches of a date palm that were harvested for the sake of firewood, and he said to his students, ‘Go out and intend, so that we may sit on them tomorrow.’ ” “Go out and intend”: With this wonderful phrase, Chanina shows how much power merely thinking can have in Talmudic law. However, the Talmud goes on to explain, there are limits to such intention. It is only when you do not have time to tie the bundles of wood that it is acceptable merely to “intend” them. That is why Chanina’s “go out and intend” was spoken at “a house of feasting or a house of mourning,” that is, a place where people were too busy with other preparations to actually tie the wood together.

Hendel, The Book of Genesis: A Biography

THE BOOK OF GENESIS: A BIOGRAPHY, by Ronald Hendel, is reviewed by
Scott McLemee in Inside Higher Ed: In the Beginning. Excerpt:
... To write the biography of a book -- portraying it as having, in effect, a personality and a career -- is a literary conceit. But it is a justified and effective one in the case of texts which seem, to a great many of their readers, almost literally alive, or at least integral to understanding life itself.

On that score, no book could be more exemplary than Genesis. “Over the generations,” Hendel writes, “the ways that people have understood Genesis tend to correlate with the ways that people have understood reality. It is not just that Genesis provides an account of the origins of reality -- which it does -- but that the kinds of meaning that people expect to find in Genesis are the same kinds that they expect to find in the outside world.”

And for good reason: “Genesis envisions a single, God-created universe in which human life is limited by the boundaries of knowledge and death. We are earth-bound, intermittently wise, often immoral, mortal creatures.” Within the first few words, the reader will encounter temptation, disobedience, sex, death, violence, and exile. It’s not necessary to believe in the historical reality of a single person named in Genesis -- nor even that God exists, let alone gets byline credit for either Genesis or the universe itself -- to recognize much of this world. De te fabula narrator. The tale is told about you.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The BBC on the fake metal codices

FAKE METAL CODICES WATCH: The BBC has finally gotten around to doing some real investigative reporting on the codices and on their promoter, David Elkington, and his background. Almost half a segment of yesterday's Inside Out South program is devoted to the story. If you are in the UK, you can watch it here. If you are elsewhere, the segment is summarized here: Jordan Codices 'expert' David Elkington's claims queried.

Bottom line: the metal codices are still fake. My most recent posts on the subject are here and here and they lead to other posts in which I explain in detail the reasons for regarding the codices to be inauthentic. Regular readers of PaleoJudaica will be familiar with many of the points made belatedly in the BBC program, but it does include information that is new or that has been poorly circulated up to now, so watch it if you can.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Ghost sectarianism in m. Hallah?

THE TALMUD BLOG: The Mishnah and Second Temple Polemics: A Note on Tractate Hallah (Yitz Landes).
But are we overreading here? Can polemics be found here even though they aren’t brought up explicitly? Can the structural choices of the Mishnah’s editor(s) speak of points of conflict between the rabbis and other Jews? I’m not sure if the Mishnah works this way, and I’m wondering what other people have to say.

Sherwood, Paul and The Restoration of Humanity ...

Paul and The Restoration of Humanity in Light of Ancient Jewish Traditions

Aaron Sherwood

In Paul and The Restoration of Humanity in Light of Ancient Jewish Traditions, Aaron Sherwood questions the assumption of universalism in Pauline thought, and finds instead that relevant Pauline traditions depict a partly restricted and particularly Israelite restoration of humanity. This important Jewish component of Paul’s thought remains largely unrecognized, but Pauline and other ancient Jewish traditions consistently present Israel and non-Israelites' uniting in their worship of Yhwh as the restoration of both Israel and humanity.

Aaron Sherwood demonstrates in Pauline traditions the same deployment of Israel-nations unification as in biblical and post-biblical traditions. This suggests that rather than secondarily finding space for Gentile justification, the restoration of humanity plays a generative role in Paul’s theology, mission, and apostolic self-identity.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Brooke et al., The Significance of Sinai

The Significance of Sinai
Traditions about Sinai and Divine Revelation in Judaism and Christianity

Edited by: George J. Brooke, Hindy Najman, Loren T. Stuckenbruck. Editorial Assistance: Eva Mroczek, Brauna Doidge and Nathalie Lacoste

This volume of essays is concerned with ancient and modern Jewish and Christian views of the revelation at Sinai. The theme is highlighted in studies on the Dead Sea Scrolls, Paul, Josephus, rabbinic literature, art and philosophy. The contributions demonstrate that Sinai, as the location of the revelation, soon became less significant than the narratives that developed about what happened there. Those narratives were themselves transformed, not least to explain problems regarding the text's plain sense. Miraculous theophany, anthropomorphisms, the role of Moses, and the response of Israel were all handled with exegetical skills mustered by each new generation of readers. Furthermore, the content of the revelation, especially the covenant, was rethought in philosophical, political, and theological ways. This collection of studies is especially useful in showing something of the complexity of how scriptural traditions remain authoritative and lively for those who appeal to them from very different contexts.
This is not a new book (2008), but the Brill Facebook page highlighted it recently and I haven't mentioned it before, so here it is.

Friday, November 23, 2012

More digitization

OTTOMAN-ERA CORRESPONDENCE about important archaeological finds in Palestine is being digitized: Preserving Israel's recent and ancient pasts using 21st-century technology: Some 40,000 documents will be scanned and in a few weeks will be uploaded to a searchable website. (Nir Hasson, Haaretz). The Siloam Inscription is one of the artifacts mentioned.

Other recent digitization projects are noted here with many links.

Latest on Cincinnati DSS

THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS encountered a gala cocktail-dress reception and just missed a nearly naked mile in Cincinnati. The sectarians would have been mortified, but I am amused.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


HAPPY THANKSGIVING to my American readers and to all others celebrating with us. As usual, I shall have to work all day in a fog of post-SBL jet lag, but I will try to be thankful nonetheless.

Corpses and the Sabbath in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI column by Adam Kirsch in Tablet:
Eggs and Babies

This week’s Talmud study reveals legal debates that refine the limits and nature of inherently abstract concepts

By Adam Kirsch|November 19, 2012 7:00 AM|

This week’s Talmud reading was largely devoted to the legal concept of muktzeh, a category of items that may not be moved or used on Shabbat. It is a fairly technical discussion, but in the course of it, in Shabbat 43b, the Talmud comes up with a bizarre image that makes all the abstractions immediately memorable: a baby or a loaf of bread placed deliberately on top of a dead body. This is Rav’s solution to one of the difficult Shabbat-related cases the rabbis consider: What can you do on Shabbat with a corpse that is decomposing in the sun? “One should place a loaf of bread or an infant on the corpse and then move it,” Rav says.

What strikes me about this passage is that this sort of thing came up often enough to be an issue. It is hard for us to image what a brutal world the ancients lived in.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Review of Sabar, My Father's Paradise

A BELATED REVIEW of Ariel Sabar, My Father's Paradise by Moris Farhi in the Jewish Chronicle: Nostalgic and Aramaic: Professor Yona Sabar is one of a small remnant of native Aramaic speakers. His son explores his roots.

For earlier reviews etc. see here with many links.

Ancient Hebrew cosmology

JAMES MCGRATH has a post on Ancient Hebrew Cosmology which interacts with a diagram from Logos Bible Software. The diagram is accurate as far as it goes, but incomplete and to a large degree it misses the point. For the ancient Israelites (and ancient Near Eastern peoples in general), the physical universe was God's (or the high god's) temple. The firmament/dome of the heavens was the floor of the temple and formed its vestibule (entryway) and nave (main room). The heaven of heavens contained the holy of holies, God's throne room, where he sat enthroned. The earth was below all the action and was merely God's footstool. The earthly temple is the microcosmic representation of the macrocosmic reality. This layout is implicit in the architecture and decoration of the Jerusalem temple and is explained in detail by Philo of Alexandria (Spec. Leg. 1:66-67, 82-96; Moses 2:74-76, 88, 98, 101-5, 109-33). It forms the basis of the theology and celestial cosmography of mystical texts such as the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice and the Hekhalot literature.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


I'M BACK IN ST. ANDREWS. More later, or maybe tomorrow.

Binder on Tertullian and Avodah Zarah

Tertullian, On Idolatry and Mishnah Avodah Zarah
Questioning the Parting of the Ways between Christians and Jews

Stéphanie E. Binder, Bar-Ilan University
This work studies and compares systematically the text of Tertullian, an African Church Father of the third century CE, on idolatry with the rabbinic Mishnah Avodah Zarah, on the same subject, dating roughly from the same period. Similarities and differences between the Jewish and Christian approaches to idolatry are examined and accounted for. The research is inscribed in the wider framework of discussions on the “parting of the ways” between Jews and Christians. It also addresses related questions such as the role of the rabbis in second and third century Judaism in the Land of Israel and in the Diaspora; relations between Jews living in those places; interactions between Jews and pagans, Christians and pagans, Jews and Christians.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


GOOD SBL CONFERENCE. I was quite pleased with the reception of my paper and I got some good feedback. There is one more round of sessions and then I leave this afternoon, but my internet time in my room is almost up, so this is probably my last post before I go.

Cincinnati DSS exhibit

THE LATEST on the new Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition at the Cincinnati Museum Center:

A review: History comes alive: A walk through the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit (jgelfand,

HUC part of Scrolls' mystery
Cincinnati connections go back to the scrolls' discovery in 1947

11:38 PM, Nov. 15, 2012 |

Written by
Steven Rosen
Enquirer contributor

For decades, Cincinnati’s Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion has been an unsung hero in the long, dramatic struggle to save and understand the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls.

So pronounced has HUC’s role been – going back to the 1947 discovery of the first of the scrolls that are 2,000-plus years old – that a special section will be devoted to it when the traveling exhibition Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Ancient Times opens at Cincinnati Museum Center today.

It’s a story that, in different chapters, involves high intrigue in helping purchase and protect priceless scrolls put up for sale, storing a secret “security negative” on the University Heights campus in case war destroyed the originals in Israel, and a professor’s defiant publication of an unauthorized transcription of scroll text to force authorities to finally make the scrolls public.


Jason Kalman, an HUC professor of classical Hebrew text and interpretation, has studied his school’s complex involvement with the scrolls and just published a book about it, “Hebrew Union College and the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

Background here.

Tov interview

OUP BLOG: An interview with Emanuel Tov.
From 1990 to 2010, Professor Emanuel Tov (Professor Emeritus, Hebrew University of Jerusalem) served as the Editor in Chief of the Dead Sea Scrolls Publication Project, producing over thirty volumes from the famed 1947 discovery near Qumran. The scrolls — written between 250 B.C.E. and 70 C.E. by a Jewish monastic community (most likely the Essenes) — have had an enormous impact on Biblical studies scholarship over the last 65 years, calling into question, among many other things, the origin and influence of certain practices and beliefs. The volumes that Tov helped to produce during his tenure can now be found in the Discoveries in the Judaean Desert series, the foundational point of reference for students of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Kim, Early Biblical Hebrew, Late Biblical Hebrew, and Linguistic Variability

Early Biblical Hebrew, Late Biblical Hebrew, and Linguistic Variability
A Sociolinguistic Evaluation of the Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts

By Dong-Hyuk Kim
In Early Biblical Hebrew, Late Biblical Hebrew, and Linguistic Variability, Dong-Hyuk Kim attempts to adjudicate between the two seemingly irreconcilable views over the linguistic dating of biblical texts. Whereas the traditional opinion, represented by Avi Hurvitz, believes that Late Biblical Hebrew was distinct from Early Biblical Hebrew and thus one can date biblical texts on linguistic grounds, the more recent view argues that Early and Late Biblical Hebrew were merely stylistic choices through the entire biblical period. Using the variationist approach of (historical) sociolinguistics and on the basis of the sociolinguistic concepts of linguistic variation and different types of language change, Kim convincingly argues that there is a third way of looking at the issue.

Monday, November 19, 2012

New JHS articles and reviews

THE ONLINE JOURNAL OF HEBREW SCRIPTURES has published a couple of new articles and some reviews. Christophe Nihan e-mails:
I am glad to announce the publication of two new articles in the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures (

Elie ASSIS, "The Structure of Zechariah 8 and its

Abstract: This article claims that the collection of ten short oracles in Zechariah 8 is ordered in a well planned structure, and is meant to be read a meaningful sequence,
even though each one is an independent entity. The article demonstrates a sophisticated structure of these oracles, and reveals the meaning of the structure.

To access the article directly please go to

Michael AVIOZ, "The 'Spring of the Year' (2 Chronicles
36:10) and the Chronicler's Sources."

Abstract: This article offers a detailed discussion of 2 Chronicles 36:10 and the differences with the parallel account in 2 Kings 24, focusing on the expression "the
spring of the year," which is present in Chronicles but absent from Kings. It argues that the differences between Chronicles and Kings cannot be explained either as
representing exegetical changes or as reflecting a different Vorlage. Rather, as in this instance, such differences point to the fact that the Chronicler had access to sources that were not available to the authors of Kings.

To access the article directly please go to

Also, I am glad to announce the publication of several new
reviews in JHS:

Carr, David M., The Formation of the Hebrew Bible: A New
Reconstruction (Oxford and New York: Oxford University
Press, 2011). (Reviewed by Timothy J. Stone).

Hays, Christopher B., Death in the Iron Age II and in First
Isaiah (FAT, 79; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011). (Reviewed
by Konrad Schmid).

Lee, Kyong-Jin, The Authority and Authorization of Torah in
the Persian Period (Contributions to Biblical Exegesis &
Theology, 64; Leuven, Peeters, 2011). (Reviewed by James W.

To access the reviews directly please go to

Please note that JHS is now offering hypertext/ hyperlinked
versions of all articles and reviews published from 1996 to
2009 (inclusive of 2009). We are currently working to
include versions of the 2010/2011 articles and reviews.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lewis, Cosmology and Fate in Gnosticism and Graeco-Roman Antiquity

NEW BOOK with Brill by Nicola Denzey Lewis:
Cosmology and Fate in Gnosticism and Graeco-Roman Antiquity
Under Pitiless Skies

Nicola Denzey Lewis, Brown University
In Cosmology and Fate in Gnosticism and Graeco-Roman Antiquity, Nicola Denzey Lewis dismisses Hans Jonas' mischaracterization of second-century Gnosticism as a philosophically-oriented religious movement built on the perception of the cosmos as negative or enslaving. A focused study on the concept of astrological fate in “Gnostic” writings including the Apocryphon of John, the recently-discovered Gospel of Judas, Trimorphic Protennoia, and the Pistis Sophia, this book reexamines their language of “enslavement to fate (Gk: heimarmene)” from its origins in Greek Stoicism, its deployment by the apostle Paul, to its later use by a variety of second-century intellectuals (both Christian and non-Christian). Denzey Lewis thus offers an informed and revisionist conceptual map of the ancient cosmos, its influence, and all those who claimed to be free of its potentially pernicious effects.
She's on a roll this year.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Jewish Studies postdoc at Toronto

H-JUDAIC: Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Toronto.
The Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto is pleased to offer the Ray D. Wolfe Postdoctoral Fellowship to support advanced research in Jewish Studies. Applicants must have completed their doctoral dissertations by July 1, 2013 on a topic related to the history, culture, literature or thought of the Jewish people. The successful candidate will receive a scholarship of $45,000 (CAD) as well as up to an additional $1500 to support participation in academic conferences. The Fellow will spend the 2013-14 academic year at the University of Toronto, during which time he or she is expected to continue his or her research; deliver a public lecture; teach one course in each of the two terms; and contribute to the intellectual life of the Centre for Jewish Studies. Applicants from foreign as well as Canadian universities are welcome. Applications must include: (1) a letter of interest that describes the candidate’s research project; (2) a curriculum vitae; (3) a brief statement of teaching interests, including proposals for two undergraduate courses; (4) a writing sample, not to exceed 8,000 words. These materials should be emailed to the Centre’s Assistant, Ms. Emily Springgay, at by December 4, 2012. By this date, applicants must also arrange to have three letters of recommendation sent in sealed envelopes to:
Centre for Jewish Studies
University of Toronto
170 St. George Street, Room 218
Toronto, ON M5R 2M8