Saturday, February 25, 2012

A real ancient Aramaic Bible manuscript

TIMOTHY MICHAEL LAW has noted and posted (The Apostle Paul in Cairo!) a photo of a palimpsest manuscript from the Cairo Geniza whose upper layer is Mishnah Berakhot, but whose lower layer is, of all things, the New Testament Pastoral Epistles in Christian Palestinian Aramaic.

He put up the post several days ago and I have been meaning to get to it. But now go and have a look to clear your palate of yesterday's ridiculously over-hyped, at best early-modern, and possibly very recent Syriac manuscript supposedly containing The Gospel of Barnabas. (To be fair, as I said on Facebook, if it really is an apocryphal gospel, at least it still gets to count as an apocryphon whatever its date. That's the nice thing about apocrypha.)

If you need more, go look again at Codex Ambrosianus B.21, another genuine Aramaic Bible manuscript. It too even has some cool colored ink.

UPDATE: Okay, the Cairo Geniza manuscript is presumably medieval rather than ancient, but it contains two genuinely ancient texts and no one is trying to kid us about its date or content.

Also, if you can bear it, the Daily Mail has more—presumably priceless—photos of the Turkish manuscript, along with some new article content and even a passing note of skepticism: Secret £14million Bible in which 'Jesus predicts coming of Prophet Muhammad' unearthed in Turkey.

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Syriac apocryphal gospel manuscript in Turkey?

1,500-year-old handwritten Bible kept in Ankara, ministry confirms

23 February 2012, Thursday / FATMA DİŞLİ ZIBAK, İSTANBUL (Today's Zaman)

The minister of culture and tourism on Thursday confirmed media reports suggesting that a 1,500-year-old Bible that was discovered by Turkish police during an anti-smuggling operation in 2000 is being kept in Ankara today.

According to media reports on Thursday, the Bible was seized from a gang smuggling artifacts during a police operation in southern Turkey in 2010 and reportedly preserves its originality and many traces of the period in which it originated.
The manuscript in the picture (click on the image to enlarge) is too small to be anything like a complete Bible, so this is misleading terminology, although the article does clarify that it seems to be a single text, perhaps an apocryphal gospel. For an actual complete Syriac Bible from about the period indicated, see here.
The gang was reportedly convicted of smuggling various items seized during the operation, including the Bible, and all the artifacts were kept in a safe at an Ankara courthouse. The Bible, which was reportedly kept at the courthouse for years, was only recently handed over to the care of the Ankara Ethnography Museum.

Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay said on Thursday that the ministry has received a copy of Bible from the Ankara courthouse which dates back to 1,500 years ago and is thought to have been written in Aramaic, the language of Jesus. He said the Bible needs restoration and it will be opened to public display after this.

The Turkish media reports also said on Thursday that the Vatican has requested that Turkey allow it to examine the 1,500-year-old Bible; however, the Vatican Embassy in Ankara denied the reports on Thursday suggesting that the Vatican had asked Turkey to examine the copy of Bible in Ankara.
This contradicts the report relayed in another Today's Zaman article: 1500-year-old gospel kept in Ankara excites Vatican, report claims. The report does sound fishy. I see no reason why the Vatican should have any special interest in a particular Syriac apocryphal gospel manuscript.
The leather-bound Bible, which is said to be worth TL 40 million, was written on leather sheets and is now under protection as it is regarded as a valuable cultural asset. Even a Xerox copy of pages from the book is reported to be worth as much as TL 3-4 million.
Yeah, right. Someone is getting a little carried away. At today's exchange rate, 40 million TL is about $22.7 million dollars, which is vastly more than any 1500-year-old Syriac manuscript of an obscure apocryphal gospel is going to be worth. And $1.7 to 2.3 million for a photocopy? They print this, with no questioning or hint of irony, with an actual photograph of a page at the top? By this calculation that photo has to be worth a few tens of thousands of dollars, right? Are journalists born without any sense, or do they have to study?

It appears to be a very old (centuries? more?) Syriac manuscript. I can't say any more without taking more time to look at it than I can afford, but at least some of the page looks readable. It appears to be the final page of the manuscript and the bottom paragraph looks like a colophon. I think I can see the word "world" on the third line of the page. If any Syriacologist readers would like to have a closer look and send me what they find, that would be interesting.

Back to the article:
Some media reports also said the copy of Bible in Ankara may be a copy of the much-debated Gospel of Barnabas, which Muslims claim is an original gospel that was later suppressed; the oldest copies of this gospel date back to the 16th century and are written in Italian and Spanish. However, the Gospel of Barnabas is not included in the four gospels that currently comprise the canonical New Testament -- Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

The Gospel of Barnabas contradicts the canonical New Testament account of Jesus and his ministry but has strong parallels with the Islamic view of Jesus. Much of its content and themes parallel Islamic ideas, and it includes a prediction by Jesus of the Prophet Muhammad coming to earth.
The Arabic Gospel of Barnabas is an early modern apocryphal gospel (uniquely?) of Muslim origin. The Wikipedia article (insert usual Wikipedia caveats here) is here. You can read the whole thing (it's long) in translation here. I haven't read it and knew nothing much beyond the name before this report, but it sounds as though it can't be entirely excluded that it contains material from earlier apocryphal traditions, suitably worked over from a Muslim perspective.
Ömer Faruk Harman, a theology professor, said scientific examinations may reveal whether the Bible in Ankara is the Gospel of Barnabas, which he said complies with the messages in Muslim holy book of Quran and is believed by Muslims to be the most original copy of Bible.

He said in line with Islamic belief, the Gospel of Barnabas treats Jesus as a human being and prophet not a God, rejects trinity and crucifixion of Jesus and includes a prediction about Prophet Muhammad’s coming to Earth. About the prospects of whether the Bible could be the Gospel of Barnabas, İhsan Özbek, a Protestant pastor, said this is unlikely because St. Barnabas lived in the first century and was one of the Apostles of Jesus, but the Bible in Ankara is said to be from the fifth or the sixth century.

“The copy in Ankara might have been written by one of the followers of St. Barbanas and since there is around 500 years in between St. Barnabas and the writing of the Bible copy [in Ankara], Muslims may be disappointed to see that this copy does not include things they would like to see and it might have no relation with the content of the Gospel of Barnabas,” said Özbek.
If the date of the manuscript is correct, I would say that is likely.
Aydoğan Vatandaş, a Today’s Zaman journalist and author who has written two books on the Gospel of Barnabas, said there is no clue that the Bible mentioned in the Turkish press dates back to 1,500 years ago, but he said it is sure that the Gospel of Barnabas had been written in the Aramaic language and Syriac alphabet.
This manuscript is in Syriac at any rate. The Gospel of Baranabas was presumably composed in Arabic, although, as above, it is perhaps possible it drew on Syriac apocryphal traditions.
“There is only one Gospel that exactly matches this definition: the ‘Gospel of Barnabas’ that was found in a cave in Uludere in Hakkari [now of Şırnak] in the early 1980s by villagers, which I told the story of first as a screenplay in 2005 for a film project, then in my novel in 2007, ‘The Secret of Gospel of Barnabas’ and my investigative journalism book, ‘Apokrifal’ in 2008.”
Oh goody, another manuscript found in a cave.
As a result of his research, Vatandaş said he found that this Gospel was actually preserved by the Special Armed Forces intelligence unit in the 1990s and that some parts of this Gospel were translated by an Aramaic language expert Dr. Hamza Hocagil under the control of the intelligence unit. He said Dr. Hocagil was asked to stop translating it by the Special Armed Forces when it turned out that he had shared sensitive information with journalists at the time.

“Since then we did not know where this Gospel was. After my book about the entire story of this Gospel and the criminal incidents surrounding it, the public’s interest and curiosity has increased and the Turkish military has been the target of several questions about the case. Therefore, I believe that the emergence of this Gospel again is very timely,” he said. Vatandaş also claimed that three other copies of this Gospel written by St. Barnabas are hidden in different locations in the region, so the Gospel in Ankara might be one of these as well.
I am inclined to doubt that the the Turkish intelligence unit of the Special Armed Forces is taking such an interest in this other manuscript, if it exists at all.

This article is so full of nonsense that it is difficult to get much useful out of it. In order of likelihood: The Turish Government has seized an old Syriac manuscript from some smugglers (well done!). This much seems clear. The manuscript may be of late antique date. (Syriac paleographers should be able to comment on the basis of the available photo.) It may be of an apocryphal gospel. (Possible, but no evidence has been produced.) This apocryphal gospel may have some relationship with the much later Muslim Gospel of Barnabas. (Conceivable, but pretty unlikely.) Anything beyond this consists of wild rumors that can be ignored until some verification is produced.

The discovery of an old—perhaps very old—Syriac manuscript is exciting. It's a pity that the story has to presented with such meretricious trimmings.

UPDATE: Maybe it's not even that exciting. Timothy Michael Law reads the date in the colophon as "1500 of our Lord" and suggests that it may be a modern forgery.

UPDATE (25 February): More and related here.

UPDATE (27 February: The text is from the Gospel of Matthew. Peter Williams's analysis is noted here.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tom Verenna on the photo of the Mark fragment

TOM VERENNA: More Thoughts on the Markan Manuscript Fragment. "All that said, I have to say it looks fake." I certainly haven't seen anyone rushing to declare it authentic. Tom has links to additional biblioblogger reactions.

Note, of course, that the question of whether this fragment is fake is entirely separate from the question of whether a first-century fragment of Mark has been discovered.

Background here and links.

Book note: Hanegraaff, Esotericism and the Academy

APRIL DECONICK: Book Note: Esotericism and the Academy (Wouter J. Hanegraaff) .

Syriac in Turkey for International Mother Language Day

ARAMAIC WATCH: International Mother Language Day in Turkey (AINA):
Yuhanna Aktaş for instance recalled how he learned the Syriac alphabet unofficially and secretly at church and in a monastery. "The spoken language, I learned at home from my father. Teaching this ancient language is forbidden, hence it is at risk of disappearing completely. Saint Afrem says 'You don't know where you come from, when you don't know your mother language'. According to Afrem, language is the most important tool for the continuation of a people. Abdüldmeseli Karabaş, another Syriac writer, said 'every oppressed people trying to protect their mother language resemble a captive with the prison keys in his hand who expects to be freed any moment'.
International Mother Language Day was on 21 February. I'm sorry to have missed it.

Some recent posts on Syriac in Turkey are here, here, here, and here with many links.

Jerusalem in the time of Jesus

Discovering the Jerusalem From the Time of Jesus

Ariel Ben Ami, Travelujah
Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What did Jerusalem look like in Jesus' days? For most of Christian history, this question remained shrouded in mystery.

When the Temple and city were destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D., the ruins remained buried for nearly two millennia -- even after the Jewish people began to return to the Land of Israel at the end of the nineteenth century. During the War of Independence (1948), the Jewish Quarter of the Old City was largely destroyed by the Jordanians and it remained off limits to Jews for 19 years, until Israel retook the Old City during the Six Day War (1967).

After the Six Day War, during the renovation of the Jewish Quarter (1967-82), the ancient site was uncovered, revealing spectacular finds: a luxurious Second Temple-period residential quarter in the Upper City of Jerusalem. Because of its grandeur and opulence, it was renamed the Herodian Quarter, also known today as the Wohl Museum of Archeology.

In the days when Jesus came up to Jerusalem every year to celebrate the Jewish festivals, the wealthy aristocratic and priestly families lived in the magnificent houses of the Herodian Quarter. It is easy to see why this area, built on a hillside overlooking the nearby Temple Mount, would have been particularly attractive to priests who ministered in the Temple every day.

Today, this is the largest and most important site from Second Temple times that can still be seen in Jerusalem's Jewish Quarter. Perhaps even some of the priests and Sadducees whom the Gospels recall as disputing with Jesus, lived in these houses.

Also published in the Jerusalem Post, but the Crosswalk version has an additional photo. A nice companion to the Haaretz piece on Aelia Capitolina.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Human sons of God in Ben Sira 16:7?

REMNANT OF GIANTS: The Earliest Non-Angelic Interpretation of Genesis 6.1-4.

Tyrone Slothrop thinks it's as early as Ben Sira. His interpretation of Sir 16:7 sounds possible, but I think one could also read the verse to say that God did not forgive the giants (who were superhuman but still mortal, and thus not inappropriate for this list) when they revolted in their might and filled the earth with wickedness before the Flood (Gen 6:11). As Tyrone observes, Ben Sira's phrase "in their might" alludes to Gen 6:4, which calls the Nephilim/giants, not the angelic Watchers, "mighty men." So I don't see anything in the verse that need be taken to say that the Watchers themselves (the sons of God) were human.

UPDATE (23 February): Have a look at Tyrone's post again. He has appended a response to my comments above.

Speaking of the Cairo Geniza ...

GILUY MILTA B'ALMA: A new Midrash (to Jeremiah 23-24)? It is from the Cambridge Cairo Geniza collection, possibly donated by Rabbi Solomon Aaron Wertheimer; it consists of five leaves written in an Oriental script; its beginning is lost but it relates to these chapters of Jeremiah; and it has linguistic similarities to the classical Midrashim and the Jerusalem Talmud.

Bodleian Cairo Geniza online catalogue

AWOL: Genizah: Cairo Genizah Collection of the Bodleian libraries.
The collection of Cairo Genizah fragments held at the Bodleian Libraries is one of the major collections of its kind. Acquired over the years since 1890 it consists of about 4,000 fragments. The collection, skilfully selected and featuring Bible, Early Rabbinic literature, liturgical fragments, legal documents and letters, both personal and commercial, is particularly remarkable for the size of many of the documents. The 4,000 fragments comprise about 25,000 pages, amounting to over six pages per fragment, an average unparalleled elsewhere.

The online catalogue is based upon the printed catalogue of the Hebrew manuscripts in the Bodleian Library (second volume) by Adolf Neubauer and Arthur Ernest Cowley (1906) [link] and the typewritten catalogue of additional Genizah fragments by Arthur Ernest Cowley (ca 1929).
Much more on the Cairo Geniza here and here, and follow the endless links back.

More on the GEDSH

AT THE BETH MARDUTHO WEBSITE: List of Entries in the Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage. Many are relevant to ancient Judaism and other matters that come up often at PaleoJudaica.

Background here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Metal Dead Sea Scrolls

THE METAL in the title doesn't refer to another goofy set of fake metal plates. Rather:
Angel Witch Streams New Song "Dead Sea Scrolls"

posted Feb 20 2012 at 12:01 PM by CROMCarl. (0 Comments)

U.K. NWoBHM band Angel Witch, who was activated again in 2008, is streaming the new song "Dead Sea Scrolls." The song appears on the band's first full length LP since the 1986 release "Frontal Assault" entitled "As Above, So Below", which is scheduled for release on March 12, 2012 through Rise Above Records (Europe) and on March 27, 2012 through Metal Blade Records (North America).
If you go to the link you can hear the song streamed there. It's pretty good.

Aelia Capitolina rediviva

AELIA CAPITOLINA has been receiving some well-deserved attention from archaeologists in recent years:
Archaeologists bringing Jerusalem's ancient Roman city back to life

Excavations of the Roman city Aelia Capitolina, built on the ruins of Second Temple-period Jerusalem, have unearthed a few surprises.

By Nir Hasson (Haaretz)


In the history of Jewish Jerusalem, Aelia Capitolina is the very embodiment of defeat and destruction - a reminder of the humiliation of the Second Temple's destruction, which erected a pagan temple in its place. This image has distanced Aelia Capitolina from the fathers of Israeli archaeology, who were naturally drawn to the ornate, Jewish city that preceded it. "No one concealed Aelia Capitolina, but we wanted to talk about the Second Temple," says Dr. Ofer Sion, of the Antiquities Authority. "Aelia Capitolina was an accursed city, a city from which we were banished. It was more idealistic to excavate the Second Temple."

Almost all of the archaeologists who study Aelia Capitolina call it "an elusive city." As opposed to the Jerusalem of Second Temple times that preceded it, Aelia Capitolina has not been entirely unearthed during the many excavations that have been performed in the city since 1967. The residents of Aelia Capitolina did not leave written texts like the works of Flavius Josephus during the Second Temple era or of Christian travelers in the following period.


Following the latest wave of excavations, which began in the mid-1990s, more and more archaeologists have become convinced that Aelia Capitolina was a much larger and more important city than was once thought, and its influence on the later development of modern Jerusalem was dramatic.

Aelia Capitolina has sprung to life in a significant way through no less than four extensive excavations that have taken place in the Old City area, and in a number of other digs in other parts of Jerusalem. Most of these digs have been rescue excavations by the Antiquities Authority, salvage digs carried out before new construction and development goes ahead. In a few more years, Aelia Capitolina could again be covered over by new buildings.


The latest excavations give archaeologists much greater insight into Aelia Capitolina than was possible even a decade earlier. Experts agree the city was planned extraordinarily well, based as it was on designs of other cities in the empire and according to orders that came directly from the emperor. It included broad streets, numerous and magnificent entrance gates, temples and infrastructure, and it even housed a new elite of army officers and free soldiers who turned Aelia Capitolina into a thriving city.

"When I began to study the history of the Roman city, it was a barren field," says Prof. Yoram Zafrir, one of Israel's most veteran archaeologists. "Today, it is clear that the basic structure of Jerusalem is that of Aelia Capitolina." Zafrir describes the process by which, after the Roman period, beasts of burden replaced wagons, the central government became weak and streets became "privatized." This process led to the city that we know today.

The article has many interesting details. Read it all.

UPDATE (23 February): And here's an article on Jerusalem in the time of Jesus.

UPDATE: Bad link now fixed. Sorry!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Talmud Kindle items and free book

FOR YOU, SPECIAL DEAL: Tzvee Zahavy e-mails about some Talmud and related Kindle items and, today only, a free Kindle copy of his book. The Talmud texts are mostly from the English Soncino Talmud, although a couple seem to consist of his own translations.
Many new Kindle book projects have come to fruition.

Here are some links for you to circulate and promote as you see fit

Titles From Our Kindle Talmudic Books
Kindle Talmud Temurah
Kindle Talmud Kerithoth
Kindle Talmud Meilah, Tamid, Middoth and Kinnim
Kindle Talmud Niddah
Kindle Mishnah Seder Tohoroth
Kindle Rashi: the Greatest Exegete

By Tzvee:
Kindle Kosher Talmud (Bavli Hullin)
Kindle Kosher Prayers: selected from Yerushalmi Berakhot

Free Kindle Book, one day only, Monday, February 20: God's Favorite Prayers

More on the early Mark fragment

JAMES MCGRATH: Earliest Manuscript of Mark’s Gospel Found…on Facebook?! I commend James for his very sensible skepticism. I'm not a Greek paleographer, so I'm not qualified to comment further, but I hope we hear something from the Evangelical Textual Criticism bloggers about it soon.

Background here and links.

Doctor Who, the giants, and the demons

JAMES MCGRATH has a post over at Exploring Our Matrix on the early Doctor Who multi-episode The Faceless Ones in which James compares the episode to the ancient Jewish story of the giants who were killed in the Flood, but whose spirits survived to become the demons that, er, bedevil human beings thereafter.

Here are some of the specific Second-Temple-era Jewish texts that narrate the story. In the book of 1 Enoch, the Book of the Watchers tells the story in chapters 15 and 16. And the Book of Jubilees chapter 10 gives a slightly different version in which, first, only one tenth of the giant spirits are let loose upon humanity and, second, a special book of incantations is given to Noah to protect his descendants from the demons.

Incidentally, the Talmudic-era compendium of incantations known as Sefer Ha-Razim or The Book of the Mysteries purports to be this lost book of Noah (or something similar). I am translating it for volume two of The More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project. (Details about volume one, which is in press, are here. And more on Sefer Ha-Razim here and links.)

I am not suggesting—nor, I believe, is James—that these ancient traditions influenced the Doctor Who episode. Rather, I would say this is an example of what we might call the convergence of independent nightmare traditions.

A final thought: another somewhat tangential parallel to the Doctor's faceless ones and to the giant-demons is the story of Sauron in the Tolkien mythos. After Sauron's body was destroyed in the (n.b.!) Flood of Numenor, he was able to rebuild a new hideous body, but when Isildur cut the One Ring from the finger of that body after the Battle of Dagorlad, Sauron was reduced to a powerful but malevolent spirit not unlike the giant-demons, although vastly more dangerous than they. Finally, after the One Ring was destroyed, he was further reduced to a still malevolent, but now entirely impotent disembodied spirit.

UPDATE (3 March): More here.

Review of Schipper & Moss, eds. Disability Studies and Biblical Literature

Jeremy Schipper and Candida R. Moss, eds. Disability Studies andBiblical Literature. New York Macmillan, 2011. 248 pp. $90.00
(cloth), ISBN 978-0-230-33829-6.

Reviewed by Amos Yong (Regent University)
Published on H-Disability (February, 2012)
Commissioned by Iain C. Hutchison

Disability Studies and Biblical Interpretation: Toward Emancipation?

The establishment of the Biblical Scholarship and Disabilities program unit within the Society of Biblical Literature in 2004 (since renamed at least twice, now going under the title Healthcare and Disability in the Ancient World) has begun to generate a steady stream of scholarship, both monographs and edited volumes, at the interface of these two disciplines. The goal of _Disability Studies and Biblical Literature_, edited by Candida R. Moss (University of Notre Dame) and Jeremy Schipper (Temple University), is "to familiarize the reader with research on disability and the Bible done by scholars who specialize in biblical studies" (p. 2). Besides the editors' introduction, which surveys and situates this volume within the state of the discussion at this intersection, there are twelve chapters by biblical scholars who each draw innovatively from the discipline of disability studies in order to illuminate the scriptural material. In particular, social and cultural models of disability prevalent in the field of disability studies provide alternative perspectives that, on the one hand, distinguish between bodily impairments and the social experiences of prejudice and discrimination, and on the other hand, show how disability is "a product of the ways that cultures use physical and cognitive differences to narrate, organize, and interpret their world" (p. 4). When deployed as lenses through which to revisit the biblical material, new light is shed on impairing conditions and disabling realities in the ancient world.


Why was Moses beautiful?

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: Or at least an interesting one. Jared Calaway: Why is Moses beautiful in Acts and Hebrews?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Aramaic dictionary on sale

FOR YOU, SPECIAL DEAL: Three-day sale on Michael Sokoloff's A Dictionary of Jewish Babylonian Aramaic of the Talmudic and Geonic Periods at Bar Ilan University Press.

(Via the Agade list.)

Ancient Judaism reviews in JSJ

THE TALMUD BLOG: Reviews Galore in the Journal for the Study of Judaism.

Job in Classic and Biblical Hebrew

JOB: At Rogue Classicism, David Meadows notes a fixed-term post in Classics and Biblical Hebrew at the University of British Columbia.