Saturday, January 21, 2012

Controversy over Jerusalem national parks

In Jerusalem, national parks seen by Palestinians as a land grab

Seven existing and planned parks in sensitive East Jerusalem, chosen in part for their archaeological significance, would expand areas of Jewish control where Palestinians envision a future capital.

By Ben Lynfield, Correspondent / January 20, 2012 (CSM)


An Israeli government plan to create a greenbelt around Jerusalem, preserving the ancient city's natural beauty and archaeological wealth, is fueling opposition among Palestinians and their supporters as the project moves into a critical stage.
Related stories

Israel says the parks plan is necessary for the public's benefit. It also fits into Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat's vision for bolstering tourism in Jerusalem, which, despite its storied history, gets only a fraction of the visitors of Paris or New York.

But critics say the parks amount to a land grab that consolidates Israel's grip on disputed East Jerusalem. The territory was annexed by Israel after the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 and declared part of its "eternal, undivided capital." But it is envisioned by Palestinians as the capital of their future state.


Bridge demolition update

NO, not the Mughrabi Gate Bridge, the other one:
Bridge at Rabbi Bar Yochai’s grave demolished without protests by ultra-Orthodox Jews

Some 100 policemen guard operation, fearing violent ultra-Orthodox protests; bridge was built illegally.

By Eli Ashkenazi Tags: Jewish World Orthodox Jews

A bridge built illegally at the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was demolished without incident on Thursday.

Some 100 policemen came to guard the operation, fearing violent ultra-Orthodox protests, but no demonstrators showed up and the demolition was completed in an hour.

That wasn't so bad. Background here.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Earliest fragment of Paul's Letter to the Romans?

A NEW FRAGMENT OF ROMANS has reportedly been discovered in recent days and provisionally dated to the mid-second century. If the report turns out to be correct, this would be one of the earliest surviving fragments of the New Testament. At the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog, Peter Williams links to the CNN video and he himself promises to tell us more soon.

Dictionary of Classical Hebrew completed

CONGRATULATIONS to David Clines and his University of Sheffield team:
Sheffield's dictionary triumph

By Simon Rocker, January 19, 2012 (Jewish Chronicle)

What has been billed as the first Dictionary of Classical Hebrew has been completed by a team of scholars based at Sheffield University.

"The only dictionaries there have been are of biblical Hebrew," explained the editor of the eight-volume set, David Clines, emeritus professor of biblical studies at Sheffield. "They didn't include the Dead Sea Scrolls or other Hebrew inscriptions that we have now."

The new publication contains 12,628 words, by Professor Clines's calculation, over 4,200 more than previous biblical dictionaries.

Its distinctive feature is that it cites every instance of a word - with the exception of a few common words - used in more than half a million biblical and other texts, explaining the different usages.

If only there actually were half a million texts in Classical Hebrew. I'm guessing the original press release or whatever said that the total corpus of Classical Hebrew consists of about half a million words, which sounds about right.

Scipio Tombs reopen in Rome

Long-Awaited Scipio Tombs Reopen in Rome

By AMANDA RUGGERI (In Transit blog, NYT)

The founder of one of ancient Rome’s most illustrious clans, consul Lucius Cornelius Scipio Barbato, began building monumental tombs for his relatives in the third century B.C., and the family continued to use the site as a place of rest until the first century A.D. The site was forgotten, then made into a public park in 1929 and shuttered for restorations in 1992. This week, for the first time in two decades, the tomb of the Scipios has been reopened to the public (Via di Porta Sebastiano 9,

The actual sarcophagi have been moved to the Vatican, but there are replicas at the site, and the site itself sounds worth visiting.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Reformatted Soncino Babylonian Talmud English translation

The Reformatted Soncino Babylonian Talmud English translation is online.

Download this newly reformatted edition of the Talmud in English free at

This new edition was reformatted by Reuven Brauner of Raanana Israel in 5771. It is in PDF file format in two-column pages.


This edition Contains the Sedarim (orders, or major divisions) and tractates (books) of the Babylonian Talmud, as translated and organized for publication by the Soncino Press in 1935 - 1948.

The site has the entire Soncino Talmud edition in the newly reformatted easy to read PDF format.

The earlier edition in one-column format in PDF and HTML is also available on the site.

Article from Alin Suciu

ALIN SUCIU has released a pdf offprint of his article, co-authored with Einar Thomassen, "An Unknown “Apocryphal” Text from the White Monastery," published in the Festschrift for Tito Orlandi.

(Originally attributed the article to the wrong Festschrift. Error now corrected. Sorry!)

Comprehensive Bibliography on Syriac Christianity

Comprehensive Bibliography on Syriac Christianity

It was during the sixteenth century in Renaissance Europe that, as a result of the efforts of the Catholic and Protestant scholars of the New Testament, Syriac studies became a part of European intellectual life. [1] Since then, the number of scholarly publications on various matters related to the historfy, culture and religious life of Syriac-speaking Christians has only increased. As these publications are in a variety of languages, and many of them scattered through journals and periodicals belonging to various academic fields, it is often difficult to obtain precise information on what has already been published on one or another aspect of Syriac Christianity. Our project aims to fill the evident gap in the bibliographical resources and provide a convenient and easily accessible tool for the worldwide scholarly community. The ultimate goal of this project is to create and launch an on-line database on Syriac Christianity that will be updated on a regular basis and available free of charge to the international scholarly community.
(Via lagus1974 on the Hugoye list.)

PaleoJudaica is back!

PALEOJUDAICA IS BACK! And with a new template.

Sorry for the outage. Don't worry, I wasn't hacked. There was a major glitch with the template code (my fault) and it took some time to sort. ( But you can think of it as a SOPA/PIPA protest if you want.) I still need to do some customizing in order to restore the links bar, etc., but meanwhile we're up and running again.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

New book: Kraemer, "Unreliable Witnesses"

Unreliable Witnesses
Religion, Gender, and History in the Greco-Roman Mediterranean

Ross Shepard Kraemer

ISBN13: 9780199743186
ISBN10: 0199743185
Hardback, 344 pages
Nov 2010, In Stock
Price: $74.00 (06)
Shipping Details

AAR Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in the Textual Studies category

In her latest book, Ross Shepard Kraemer shows how her mind has changed or remained the same since the publication of her ground-breaking study, Her Share of the Blessings: Women's Religions Among Pagans, Jews and Christians in the Greco-Roman World (OUP 1992). Unreliable Witnesses scrutinizes more closely how ancient constructions of gender undergird accounts of women's religious practices in the Greco-Roman Mediterranean.

Kraemer analyzes how gender provides the historically obfuscating substructure of diverse texts: Livy's account of the origins of the Roman Bacchanalia; Philo of Alexandria's envisioning of idealized, masculinized women philosophers; rabbinic debates about women studying Torah; Justin Martyr's depiction of an elite Roman matron who adopts chaste Christian philosophical discipline; the similar representation of Paul's fictive disciple, Thecla, in the anonymous Acts of (Paul and) Thecla; Severus of Minorca's depiction of Jewish women as the last hold-outs against Christian pressures to convert, and others.

While attentive to arguments that women are largely fictive proxies in elite male contestations over masculinity, authority, and power, Kraemer retains her focus on redescribing and explaining women's religious practices. She argues that - gender-specific or not - religious practices in the ancient Mediterranean routinely encoded and affirmed ideas about gender. As in many cultures, women's devotion to the divine was both acceptable and encouraged, only so long as it conformed to pervasive constructions of femininity as passive, embodied, emotive, insufficiently controlled and subordinated to masculinity.

Extending her findings beyond the ancient Mediterranean, Kraemer proposes that more generally, religion is among the many human social practices that are both gendered and gendering, constructing and inscribing gender on human beings and on human actions and ideas. Her study thus poses significant questions about the relationships between religions and gender in the modern world.
Follow the link for more information and to order.

(Via Christopher Rollston on FB.)

Review of Berman, "Created Equal"

JOSHUA BERMAN, CREATED EQUAL: HOW THE BIBLE BROKE WITH ANCIENT POLITICAL THOUGHT is reviewed by Diana Muir Appelbaum in Jewish Ideas Daily: America the Biblical. Excerpt:
What is interesting about these laws is that they carefully describe a social and economic system calculated to produce a broad middle class, which is, as it happens, the only type of system in which it is plausible to claim that all men are created equal. Neither the ancient nor the medieval world paid much attention to these biblical ideas—that all members of a nation should be treated as equals before the law and that society should be organized so as to prevent the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of the few. Louis XVI had no more use for such an idea than Joseph Stalin or the Han Emperor. Certainly neither Bashir Assad nor Kim Jong-un has the least use for it today.

In contrast, the men and women who founded the American colonies and the American republic were profoundly affected by notions of human equality that are essentially biblical in origin.

"Carmen" at Masada in 2012

Israeli Opera hopes Wild West will take 'Carmen' to Masada heights

Georgian mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili will reprise title role, which she has also sung at La Scala in Milan, under the direction of Daniel Barenboim, and at New York's Metropolitan Opera.

By Haggai Hitron Tags: Israel culture (Haaretz

The Israeli Opera, under the baton of Daniel Oren, will perform "Carmen" at the foot of Masada in June, the opera house announced Monday.

The Georgian mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili will reprise the title role, which she has also sung at La Scala in Milan, under the direction of Daniel Barenboim, and at New York's Metropolitan Opera.

For previous opera events at Masada, go here and follow the links.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Hebrew Bible translated into ... Hebrew

PHILOLOGOS: From Hebrew to... Hebrew. The Bible, that is.
For a while now I’ve been hearing about a new translation of the Hebrew Bible, called Tanach Ram. (Tanakh, of course, is Hebrew for “Bible,” an acronym composed of Torah, the Five Books of Moses; Nevi’im, the Prophets, and K’tuvim, the other biblical writings, while Ram is the name of an Israeli publishing house.) What makes the Ram edition unusual is that it’s a translation, by Israeli educator Avraham Ahuvia, of the Hebrew Bible into — of all languages — Hebrew.

That is, it’s a translation into contemporary Israeli Hebrew. ...
My instinct is that speakers of Modern Hebrew should be able to read the Hebrew Bible comfortably with a reasonable sprinkling of annotations for archaic vocabulary, grammar, and usages, much like modern editions of Shakespeare for speakers of English. But, that said, if this project gets more Israelis to read the Hebrew Bible, it's okay with me. Philologos takes pretty much the same line:
There’s no doubt that the Bible is a more stirring and evocative book in ancient Hebrew than in this kind of modern rendition. But this doesn’t mean that modern Hebrew can’t be used as a bridge to biblical Hebrew, over which contemporary students can cross to one from the other. What matters is getting to the other side, not the vehicle by which one gets there.

Talya Fishman wins National Jewish Book Award

Religious studies professor wins national book award

Talya Fishman was awarded the 2011 National Jewish Book Award for her book on medieval Jewish cultures.

By Ella Duangkaew · January 16, 2012, 7:31 pm (

A Religious Studies professor has been recognized by the Jewish Book Council for her work this past year.

Last Monday, Talya Fishman was awarded a 2011 National Jewish Book Award for her book “Becoming the People of the Talmud: Oral Torah as Written Tradition in Medieval Jewish Cultures.”

“I feel numbed with honor,” Fishman said when she found out about the award. “I am enormously gratified and mostly feel very lucky.”

For her work, Fishman received the Nahum M. Sarna Memorial Award, which is part of the annual award program’s scholarship category. This award had special significance for Fishman, who knew Sarna personally.

“Nahum Sarna was a really fine Bible scholar known for the breadth and accuracy of his scholarship,” Fishman said. “It is a high bar to be a scholar of his caliber and that makes this award especially meaningful.”

I noted a review of the book last year here and also, back in 2004, noted when Dr. Fishman received a Guggenheim Fellowship for her work.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Baking cuneiform tablets at the HSM

BAKING CUNEIFORM TABLETS at the Harvard Semitic Museum:
Baking in the details: Semitic Museum project conserves thousands of ancient clay tablets

January 6, 2012 By Alvin Powell (

In the basement of Harvard’s Semitic Museum, Alex Douglas looked at the pieces of baked clay in front of him, teasing out how they fit together into a small tablet, thousands of years old and marked with ancient cuneiform writing.

Finding a void in the reassembled tablet without a piece to fit into it, Douglas referred to a computer screen, where a photograph of the intact tablet was displayed.

“I want to make sure that wasn’t me getting the mend wrong,” Douglas said. “When I first took it out, there were a lot of pieces. I wasn’t sure where they all went.”

Douglas, a graduate student in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, is part of a long-running project at the Semitic Museum to conserve its unusual collection of thousands of clay tablet.

The project seems humble enough. A furnace on a table behind Douglas bakes a handful of the small tablets, just inches on a side. That is followed by two baths in de-ionized water, drying, and, for tablets whose internal moisture causes them to break in the process, reassembly.

“They’re our responsibility, essentially forever,” said Adam Aja, the assistant curator at the museum and overseer of the project. “This is the best treatment you can do. They’ll be as stable as any ceramic pot and can be handled.”

Preparing tablets that are already thousands of years old to survive “forever” may warrant such a long-running project. The Semitic Museum has been baking tablets for 10 years and has another five or so to go, Aja said. The tablets themselves are part of an enormous collection of 5,000 clay tablets, some of them purchased, but most excavated in the 1920s and 1930s by a Harvard-led dig in the ancient city of Nuzi, near Kirkuk in present-day Iraq.


The tablets represent a unique record of the area 3,500 years ago, according to Anne Lohnert, a postdoctoral fellow in the Mahindra Humanities Center who works two days a week translating tablets. Rather than a grand telling of history, most of the tablets are records of everyday life, sales receipts, real estate transactions, and adoption records.

(Again, via Explorator.)

The Nuzi tablet are best known for their over-use in the mid-twentieth century for exciting-sounding parallels to the biblical patriarchal narratives, which parallels consistently evaporated when examined critically. But now that is out of the way and the truly exciting task remains of studying them to learn about the culture and life of people, especially regular people, in this ancient Hurrian city.

When I was a doctoral student in the Harvard NELC program in the 1980s, some of us tried to persuade William Moran to work with us on some of the unpublished Nuzi tablets. But the timing wasn't right and the proper technology was not yet in place. I'm glad to hear that the tablets are now getting the attention they deserve.

Computer dating of Old Irish texts

A HIGH-SCHOOL STUDENT IN DUBLIN has produced a computer program for dating Old Irish documents:
Letter use analysed to date ancient Irish texts

DICK AHLSTROM, Science Editor, at the RDS (Irish Times)

A DUBLIN-BASED student has taken the Irish language, mashed it through a wringer and in the process has come up with a powerful tool for analysing ancient Irish texts. In particular it looks promising for dating texts of unknown but ancient origin.

Aoife Gregg (16) is presenting her findings at the BT Young Scientists and Technology Exhibition under way at the RDS. Although the exhibition is open tomorrow, it reaches its climax this evening when the young scientist for 2012 is announced.

The transition-year student from Loreto College, St Stephen’s Green, carried out a letter frequency analysis of the Irish language, using a computer to determine which letters occurred most frequently. The top four in order were A, I, H and N, but then she got the idea to measure letter frequencies in older documents to see how the Irish language changed.

She studied 17 documents dating as far back as AD 600 and immediately found changes in the letter frequencies. The letter A is much more frequent today, she said yesterday and also the letter H. This may seem a bit academic but in fact she used these methods to date old Irish texts. She correctly determined the ages of eight out of 10 old texts, she said. “It provides an alternative way of dating Irish documents.”

(Via Explorator.)

As it stands, this sounds like a blunt instrument, but the concept is worth further development. Perhaps it will be useful someday for dating Irish Old Testament pseudepigrapha, of which there are a surprising number. Some of them are being translated for the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project. My colleague, Grant Macaskill, posted an essay on the subject several years ago for a class we taught together: The Pseudepigrapha in the Irish Church.

Looting in the Judean Desert

MORE LOOTING REPORTED, including of coins from the Bar Kokhba era: Antiquities Theft in Judean Desert Next to Tekoa.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

New book: Otero & Torijano Morales, "Textual Criticism and Dead Sea Scrolls Studies in Honour of Julio Trebolle Barrera"

Textual Criticism and Dead Sea Scrolls Studies in Honour of Julio Trebolle Barrera

Florilegium Complutense

Edited by Andrés Piquer Otero, Universidad Complutense de Madrid & Pablo A. Torijano Morales, Universidad Complutense de Madrid

This volume includes papers on different topics of textual criticism of the Bible, history of the Hebrew text and the Septuagint, and Dead Sea Scrolls studies, contributed by friends and colleagues of Julio Trebolle Barrera to honour him on the occasion of his 65th birthday. The book presents a good selection of current research in the history and composition of the Bible, the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls, all with the aim of honouring a scholar who has excelled in those areas throughout his career.
(Via Christopher Rollston on FB.)

Obituary for Wilfred Lambert

Professor Wilfred Lambert

Professor Wilfred Lambert, the Assyriologist who has died aged 85, was a scholar of ancient Mesopotamia and the world’s leading expert on cuneiform, an ancient form of writing which began as a system of pictographs and, over three millennia, developed into a more simplified and abstract script.
It would be hard to single out "the world’s leading expert on cuneiform," but Lambert would certainly have been in the running.

Via the Agade list. Background here.