Friday, April 27, 2012

Open Access controversy

OPEN ACCESS to scholarly work (i.e., making it available free to anyone who wants to read it) is now a subject of controversy in the archaeological community. The Archaeological Institute of America recently published the following editorial by Elizabeth Bartman in Archaeology Magazine: From the President: Open Access. A reply by Sebastian Heath and Charles E. Jones has been posted at the Ancient World Bloggers Group blog: The AIA and Open Access: A response.

My take: there are two issues here, which need to be kept separate. The first is whether Open Access is a good thing, an ideal toward which we should be working as fast as is practicable. The answer is yes, and I think all three writers above would agree. The second question is whether governments should step in and enforce it now, top down. The AIA says no, and I agree: no government interference. The AWGB post does not address the issue, which leads to a certain amount of the two talking past each other.

It is unfortunate that the AIA editorial blankly stated "We at the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), along with our colleagues at the American Anthropological Association and other learned societies, have taken a stand against open access." I think what Elizabeth Bartman meant and should have said was that the leadership of these bodies had consulted together and took a stand against the US legislation now under consideration.

Why does the AIA oppose it and why do they charge for articles in some of their publications? I think I have quoted Robert Heinlein before to the effect that the answer to most questions that begin "Why do they?" is "money." It costs a certain amount to produce top-quality peer-review publications. If this legislation, however well meaning, makes it impossible for publishers to recover their investment, the unintended consequence will be that those publishers drop academic publishing and stick to things they can make some money on.

In some ways these costs have been rising precipitously, but in other ways they have also been dropping. Online publication can massively reduce the costs associated with dead-tree publishing by eliminating the typesetting and binding costs and displacing the printing costs onto readers. This is a win, since readers will only want to print out articles they actually read, and that on cheap paper without typesetting. In addition an increasing number of readers will use ebook readers and tablets and not need to print at all. But the bottom line is still the bottom line, and editors still have to be paid and peer-review organized (even if it is unpaid) and all this is not going to happen through volunteer work. Some publishing costs cannot be eliminated, and publishers still need to show a profit. If these basic market forces are not recognized, academic publishing will suffer.

My solution? Kill these bills and keep governments out of it. But the AIA and related academic publishers should make it a company goal to make academic publications available by Open Access once they recover their costs and a reasonable profit and they should provide sufficient financial transparency that it can be verified that they are doing so.

My very strong view is that such an arrangement should be voluntary and arranged among publishers in consultation with their specialist authors and ruled by market forces. If authors really care about such things, they will publish with those publishers and not others. And there is always the specter of government interference from above, with the attendant perils of unintended consequences, if the academic world can't get its own act together to make its work available to the interested public as soon as is reasonable.

UPDATE (29 April): Chuck Jones in a comment to the link above notes Elizabeth Bartman's response: Dialogue on Open Access. As I thought: "I am personally opposed to slated government legislation on the issue. I am not against open access as a concept, however."

New book: Friedman, The Aleppo Codex

NEW BOOK: Matti Friedman, The Aleppo Codex: The True Story of Obesession, Faith, and the International Pursuit of an Ancient Bible [Hardcover] Algonquin Books (May 15, 2012).
In an age when physical books matter less and less, here is a thrilling story about a book that meant everything. This true-life detective story unveils the journey of a sacred text—the tenth-century annotated bible known as the Aleppo Codex—from its hiding place in a Syrian synagogue to the newly founded state of Israel. Based on Matti Friedman’s independent research, documents kept secret for fifty years, and personal interviews with key players, the book proposes a new theory of what happened when the codex left Aleppo, Syria, in the late 1940s and eventually surfaced in Jerusalem, mysteriously incomplete.

The codex provides vital keys to reading biblical texts. By recounting its history, Friedman explores the once vibrant Jewish communities in Islamic lands and follows the thread into the present, uncovering difficult truths about how the manuscript was taken to Israel and how its most important pages went missing. Along the way, he raises critical questions about who owns historical treasures and the role of myth and legend in the creation of a nation.
(Via the Agade list.)

Matti Friedman is a journalist who writes a lot about ancient Judaism, for example, here. Much more on the Aleppo Codex, including an article by Friedman is here and many links. Related manuscript story here.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ingram website on Jesus the magician

HELEN INGRAM has a new website with material from her Birmingham doctoral dissertation (supervised in part by Mark Goodacre): Was Jesus a Magician? Excerpts from 'Dragging Down Heaven: Jesus as Magician and Manipulator of Spirits in the Gospels' by Dr Helen Ingram.

Revised book: Stories from Ancient Canaan

STORIES FROM ANCIENT CANAAN, Michael Coogan's excellent translation of Ugartic literature, have been reissued in a second edition:
Stories from Ancient Canaan, Second Edition [Paperback]
Michael D. Coogan (Editor), Mark S. Smith (Editor)

Book Description
Publication Date: March 15, 2012

The texts from ancient Ugarit are among the most important modern discoveries for understanding the Bible. For more than thirty years, Stories from Ancient Canaan has been recognized as a highly authoritative and readable presentation of the principal Canaanite myths and epics discovered at Ugarit. This fully revised edition takes into account advances in the reading, understanding, and interpretation of these stories since 1978. It also includes two additional texts, expanded introductions, and illustrations. Coogan and Smith have collaborated to bring this classic up to date in order to provide accessible and accurate translations of these texts for a new generation of students.
(HT Christopher Rollston on FB.)

April DeConick, Gnostics, and mushrooms

APRIL DECONICK gives some previews of the work she is doing on her next book: Sabbatical Blog 1: Mushrooms, Sabbatical Post 2: Creating an Image, Sabbatical Post 3: Why Mushrooms?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Biblical languages post at Nottingham

Teaching Associate in Biblical Studies (Fixed-term)

Reference CE07898A
Closing Date Thursday, 31st May 2012
Job Type Research & Teaching
Department School of Humanities - Department of Theology & Religious Studies
Salary £27578 to £35938 per annum, depending on skills and experience. Salary progression beyond this scale is subject to performance

This full-time post is available on a fixed-term basis from 1 August 2012 to 31 July 2016

Applications are invited for the above post based in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies. The primary duties of the successful candidate will be to teach, assess and administer modules in the area of Biblical studies within the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, including both first year New Testament Greek and first year Biblical Hebrew, and to undertake a number of pastoral and administrative duties at the direction of the Head of Department.

Candidates should hold or expect to shortly obtain a PhD in Theology and Religious Studies, have a capacity to teach both New Testament Greek and Biblical Hebrew at introductory levels, and be excellent and committed teachers. In addition, candidates should be able to demonstrate administrative efficiency and strong team working skills.

This full-time post is available on a fixed-term basis from 1 August 2012 to 31 July 2016.

Informal enquiries may be addressed to Dr Karen Kilby, Head of Department, tel 0115 951 5851 or email Please note that applications sent to this email address will not be accepted.

Interviews will be held mid-late June 2012
Follow the link for further particulars.

New book: Damsma, The Targumic Toseftot to Ezekiel

The Targumic Toseftot to Ezekiel

By Alinda Damsma, University College London

This book focuses on the additional liturgical and alternative readings of Targum Ezekiel, the so-called Targumic Toseftot. The critical text, translation, and commentary are presented with special reference to the long segments of unique mystical lore that are preserved in the Targumic Toseftot to Ezekiel 1, the chapter which describes the prophet’s vision of the celestial chariot. This unique manuscript material sheds light on a relatively dark chapter in the reception history of early Jewish mystical lore, being closely related to the Hekhalot literature, and to the Shi‛ur Qomah tradition in particular. The volume concludes with a systematic treatment of the Targumic Toseftot to Ezekiel in relation to their Aramaic dialect, date and provenance, as well as their historical and social setting.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Modern Aramaic-speaking communities

ARAMAIC WATCH: Modern Aramaic-speaking communities are profiled in a couple of recent articles.

First, it's been a while since we've seen an article on Maaloula (Ma'aloula, Malula, Ma'lula). Here's one from DayPress: Maalula.. Where Jesus' language Aramaic lives on in Syrian village. Most of what it says has been covered before, but here's a little new information:
Elsewhere in Syria, where Christians comprise nearly 10 percent of the population, even the ancient churches conduct services in Arabic. But finding the alphabets and script of Aramaic are not a lost cause, efforts are on at both individual and state level to resurrect the language in which Jesus probably spoke to Lazarus to wake up and walk with him.

The government has funded an institute to revive the written Aramaic and to teach the younger generation this sacred tongue.

George Rizkallah, a 65-year-old retired local schoolteacher, has started a school to teach local children the ancient language. He is finding new ways to resuscitate the language and has been composing Aramaic songs. The language will survive, but we need to find ways to preserve this ancient tongue, he said.

According to Yona Sabar, a professor of Semitic languages at the University of California, Los Angeles, the three villages [Malula, Bakhaa, and Jabaadeen] represent 'the last Mohicans' of Western Aramaic, spoken by Jesus in Palestine two millennia ago.

Malula is a microcosm of this multi-religious mosaic of a country embroiled in international headlines for being the new epicenter of Arab Spring-like protests against the long-standing regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Walking around amid proud believers and the keeper of an ancient legacy amid exhilarating mountain air, one would not know that barely a few kilometers away in Homs, the government forces are battling out protesters in a fierce battle for power.
I wish one of the articles would give a clearer update on the status of that government institute, which at least for a while was shelved on idiotic anti-Semitic grounds. Background on that and on Maaloula in general is here and links.

Second, Haaretz has an article by Eli Ashkenazi on Telling the story of Aramaic-speaking farmers in the Jordan Valley. A center for Kurdish culture will illustrate a missing chapter in the history of agricultural settlement in Israel. These are Kurdish immigrants at the Yardena moshav, who are working to preserve their traditional language and culture.
[Resident Gadi] Yehuda acknowledges that over the years the moshav acquired "the image of an underprivileged community compared to the surrounding kibbutzim. There were those who saw us as dumb Kurds, some of whose parents were illiterate, while the parents of the kibbutz children went on missions in service of the state." When in the mid 1970s he began studying in the first class of children from Yardena to study with kibbutz children, he experienced many scuffles before developing warm friendships with those same kibbutzniks.

With the decrease in population - "our parents would have 10 children, while we have only three," notes Yehuda - the school has closed its doors. After some renovation, the same building now houses an exhibit of items depicting the history of the community, a photo collection and a place to hear stories of the early days. Volunteers from the moshav teach visitors a traditional dance, speak in the disappearing Aramaic language and bake Kurdish bread with them. The moshav members are also planning to open a Kurdish restaurant and an art gallery and perhaps bed-and-breakfast accommodation as well.

The Talmud Blog on Facebook

THE TALMUD BLOG now has a Facebook page. Go and like it. I have already done so.

Bart Ehrman's blog

BART EHRMAN has a new blog, most of which is hidden behind a paid-subscription wall, the proceeds of which will go to charity. Mark Goodacre and Larry Hurtado have comments. Sounds like an interesting experiment.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Happy St. George's Day

IT'S ST. GEORGE'S DAY again, and here is why it is commemorated by PaleoJudaica.

Jesus Discovery/Talpiot tombs latest

CRAIG EVANS is not convinced of much of anything concerning The So-Called Jesus Discovery (Huffington Post). Excerpt:
Jacobovici and his team construct a remarkable thesis from these two ossuaries. The documentary declares that the Patio Tomb provides "dramatic evidence that the tomb 200 feet away ... is the Jesus family tomb" and then concludes by saying that "it is now up to scholars to weigh the evidence." Have no doubt; they will.

ABC News assured viewers that the Patio Tomb "will be debated for the next 2,000 years." I shall be quite surprised if anyone is talking about it in two years.
(Sent in by various people.)

Background here and links.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Edinburgh event on the Great Revolt

STEVE MASON, recently arrived at the University of Aberdeen, will be leading an "event" in Edinburgh in June:
The Centre for the Study of Christian Origins at the University of Edinburgh is pleased to announce a 2-day event on the Judaean-Roman War, presented by Prof. Steve Mason (University of Aberdeen).

Prof. Mason is an internationally acclaimed authority on first century Judaea and is currently completing a history of the war of 66-74 CE for Cambridge University Press.

The event will take place on June 12-13 in the Martin Hall, New College, Mound Place, Edinburgh. A poster is attached, and a provisional programme is as follows:

Tuesday 12 June
1.30-3 I: Why would Judaea go to war against Rome? Realism and History.
3-3.30 Coffee
3.30-5 II: The Flavian war in Galilee: Less than meets the Eye.
5-5.30 Wine Reception

Wed 13 June
9.30-11 III: Jerusalem's Chances? and Destruction.
11-11.30 Coffee
11.30-1 IV: What's a Masada without a Machaerus? Desert Fortresses in Judaea and Roman Strategy.
1 - 2.15 Lunch
2.15-3.30 V: The Impact of the War on Rome and Early Christianity

If you plan to come, please contact Dr Helen Bond ( so that we have an idea of numbers. Any alterations to the above outline will be highlighted on our website, All
are welcome!
From the BNTS list. No poster was attached, but I take it that this announcement has the basic information. I hope I can make it to this, but it depends on how my own research is going in June. It's great to have Steve Mason so nearby now. His website is here. Some past PaleoJudaica posts involving him are here, here, here, and here.