Saturday, May 12, 2012


I'M IN SAN DIEGO. More tomorrow.

Tony Burke's NT Apocrypha course

TONY BURKE is teaching a course on the New Testament Apocrypha. And here's a report on the first week: New Testament Apocrypha Course: Week 1

Birmingham conference on reception history

ETC: Birmingham Conference: "Biblical Texts and Reception History".

An army of epigraphers?

DAVID MEADOWS is trying a experiment in epigraphic crowdsourcing over at Rogue Classicism: Crowdsourcing a Greek Inscription Reading. The inscription in question is one from one of the Talpiot Tombs (the inscription that everyone agrees is an inscription, although its readings are debated; see here and links).

(More "An Army of" posts here, here, here, and links.)

Off to San Diego

I'M OFF TO SAN DIEGO this morning. I'm pre-posting some things for later today (and Sunday too, in case of flight delays), so do keep visiting. I expect to arrive sometime this evening and will check in once I'm in and settled. I shall be very busy on this trip, but I will try to keep the blogging up pretty much as usual.

Friday, May 11, 2012

More on Friedman on the Aleppo Codex

MATTI FRIEDMAN'S NEW BOOK on the Aleppo Codex is generating some controversy:
Revealed: The scandalous history of Judaism’s most precious book

Theft, espionage, corruption and a cover-up lasting decades — a new book by a Times of Israel reporter exposes the extraordinary saga of the uniquely revered, 1,100-year-old Aleppo Codex

By Times of Israel staff May 10, 2012, 3:52 pm 4

A new book by a Times of Israel reporter reveals dramatic new information about the fate of a manuscript many consider Judaism’s most important book — the 1,100-year-old Aleppo Codex.


“I did not imagine,” author Matti Friedman writes of his first encounter with the codex at the museum, “that there could be much new to say about something so old, and it certainly did not occur to me that the true story of the manuscript had never been told at all.”

Publication of the book in Hebrew on May 1, and an extensive article on the investigation in Israel’s biggest daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, several days later, have revived interest in the codex in Israel and have drawn angry responses from some involved or implicated in the story.


According to the known story of the codex, the manuscript was damaged around the time of the fire, and it was then that the pages — including the most important part of the manuscript, the Five Books of Moses – went missing, never to be recovered. In 1957, the chief rabbis of Aleppo smuggled it to Israel and presented it to the president of the new state, Itzhak Ben-Zvi, who was also a scholar of Middle Eastern Jewish communities. The academic institution the president founded, the Ben-Zvi Institute, remains the official custodian of the codex today.

According to the new book’s findings, that version of the manuscript’s travels is mostly false, serving in large part to conceal the actions of government officials and academic scholars in Israel.

Background on the book, the author, and the Aleppo Codex is here with many links.

UPDATE: The Times of Israel also has an interview with Matti Friedman, with video: Four years on the trail of the codex: Matti Friedman, author of ‘The Aleppo Codex,’ explains how he got drawn into a search for the truth about the most revered version of the Hebrew Bible.

Lectures by Daniel Matt

DANIEL MATT is lecturing in Baltimore:
Reform Temples Hosting Top Kaballah [Sic! Sigh.] Scholar

Bernie Hodkin (Baltimore Jewish Times)

In the past decade, kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, has experienced a massive surge in popularity, largely owing to an interest by mega-celebrities such as Madonna. But with such spotlights often comes a dilution of the original tradition and intent of its creators.

That’s where Dr. Daniel Matt, a famed scholar of kabbalah and translator into English of its foundational central work — the “Zohar” — comes in. He will give four lectures in the next three days at area Reform temples as the Hoffberger Foundation’s scholar-in-residence.

His passion, he tells the Baltimore Jewish Times, “is the attempt to re-imagine God. The “Zohar” really offers an alternate approach to the nature of God.”

An interesting inteview that, unusually, moves into devotional territory. Background on Dr. Matt's work on the Zohar is here with a great many links.

Philadelphia DSS slide show

THE EXHIBITION STARTS TOMORROW: Dead Sea Scrolls at Franklin Institute: Slideshow.

Background here and links.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Philly DSS exhibit opens Saturday

COMING SOON: Dead Sea Scrolls come to the Franklin Institute.
Known today as the Dead Sea Scrolls, the 972 parchments and papyrus fragments in this and other nearby caves contained some of the oldest surviving examples of Jewish scripture. Likely hidden from Roman authorities by the small, pious community that lived nearby, the scrolls had survived 2,000 years in the arid desert climate to provide scholars — and the world — with an extraordinary glimpse at the Bible and Judaism around the time of Christ.

And now the Philadelphia area may gaze onto that world as well. On Saturday, the Franklin Institute will open the doors on a remarkable exhibition, “Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Ancient Times.”

The collection consists of more than 600 figurines, altars, coins, pottery, menorahs, bone boxes, and incense burners, and a giant stone from the Western Wall of the great temple of Jerusalem. The exhibition was created in cooperation with the Israeli Antiquities Authority, the Discovery Museum, and the Franklin Institute. It will be open seven days a week through mid-October.
Background here and links.

UPDATE: tangentially related: Gallery: Lost Treasures of the World (News24). Er, someone tell them that the Dead Sea Scrolls have been found.

Miracle stone discovered, maybe

Possible site of Sixth Century church building miracle discovered in Jerusalem

Israeli archeologists says site may be quarry described by Byzantine historian where 'God revealed a natural supply of stone perfectly suited to this purpose in the nearby hills.'

By Nir Hasson (Haaretz)
Tags: Jerusalem Israel archeology

An Israeli archaeologist says he has found the site of a Sixth Century miracle documented by the Byzantine historian Procopius of Caesarea.

In his book The Buildings of Justinian in which the historian recounts the many building projects erected during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian the Great, in the mid-Sixth Century. Describing the construction of Nea Ekklesia of the Theotokos, a church near Jerusalem, Procopius says that God miraculously provided giant red stones near the construction site.

"God revealed a natural supply of stone perfectly suited to this purpose in the nearby hills, one which had either lain there in concealment previously, or was created at that moment…So the church is supported on all sides by a number of huge columns from that place, which in color resemble flames of fire… Two of these columns stand before the door of the church, exceptionally large and probably second to no column in the whole world," He wrote.

Okay, maybe this doesn't exactly prove the miracle, but the stone still sounds kind of cool.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Jews or Judeans?

PHILIP ESLER has published an essay at Bible and Interpretation arguing that we should refer to first-century Jews as "Judeans, not "Jews": Identity Matters: Judean Ethnic Identity In The First Century CE

This is an interesting argument, which Philip and Josephus-scholar Steve Mason have been making in technical publications for some time. I have to say that so far I am not convinced. It is true that Ioudaios in the first century refers to an ethnic/geographic and religious identity, just as other names of peoples did in that area in that period. But in modern usage "Jew" and "Judaism" likewise mean both an ethnic identity and a religious one, and this identity remains tied to a particular geographic origin. Certainly there are differences between the modern words and the ancient one, but these are nuances that are best left to explanation in introductions and footnotes rather than a wholesale change in terminology.

The proposed change starts from the misapprehension that the modern terms "Jew" and "Judaism" refer only to a religious identity like "Christian" and "Buddhist." But the solution is to make clear that, unlike many other religions, Judaism also involves and always has involved an ethnic identity and even a recognition of a particular geographical origin. In other words, correct the misunderstanding of the modern terms, don't drop them because of it.

There is also the unintended consequence that calling first-century Jews "Judeans" implies a qualitative distinction between them and modern Jews, even though the close genetic and cultural continuity between them is undisputed. The opportunities this implied erroneous distinction raises for abuse in modern political discourse are obvious and disquieting.

But the political implications are a side issue. If I thought the change in terminology had a solid intellectual payoff, I would not be worried about them. But calling Jews in the Second Temple period only "Judeans" is problematic in itself. It is overkill and at best it reminds us what the traditional terminology really means, if we need reminding. As I said, I am not at all persuaded that it is helpful.

I would like to say more on this at some point, and I have some notes put aside, but I'm out of time for now. (It doesn't help that a version of this post accidentally got eaten by Blogger yesterday and was irrecoverable.) Meanwhile, my earlier comments (here and here) on Jonathan Z. Smith's "polythetic" approach applied to Judaism are relevant and may clarify my position. The links to my 2002 conference paper have rotted, but you can read it here: "Jewish Pseudepigrapha and Christian Apocrypha: (How) Can We Tell Them Apart?"

More on the Tel Qeiyafa shrines

MORE RESPONSES to that press release on the recent finds at Tel Qeiyafa have been coming out.

First, some pushback from other archaeologists. In The Times of Israel: 3,000-year-old artifacts fuel Biblical archaeology debate (Matti Friedman).
Other scholars have urged caution in reaching conclusions based on the findings from Qeiyafa.

Model shrines of the type presented Tuesday have been found at many other sites belonging to other local cultures, and their similarity to Temple architecture as described in the Bible has already been noted, said Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University, who leads a dig at the ruins of the nearby Philistine city of Gath. And the existence of lions and birds on the clay model undermine the claim that no figures of people or animals have been found at Qeiyafa, he said.

Qeiyafa indeed appears to have been inhabited by Israelites, Maeir said, but the cultural lines among the various peoples of the Land of Israel at that time, he said, were “fuzzier than the way they are often described.”

The new finds do not prove conclusively who residents were or provide dramatic new evidence for any side in the ongoing dispute among biblical archaeologists, he said.

“There’s no question that this is a very important site, but what exactly it was — there is still disagreement about that,” Maeir said.
From Haaretz: Archaeological find stirs debate on David's kingdom (Asaf Shtull-Trauring).
However, Prof. Nadav Na'aman, a historian and archaeologist at Tel Aviv University, discounts Garfinkel and Ganor's conclusions. "These are beautiful finds but they are not special in that similar ones have been found in various places, and they should therefore not be connected in any way to the ark," nor to the Temple in Jerusalem, says Na'aman.

He says believers made models of shrines out of various materials as an act of devotion. "There was no such thing as making a model that represented a temple in another place."

He said he found the combination on one of the items of lions and doves very interesting. "The dove is connected to a fertility goddess, and this combination hints that the model belonged to a cultic site of a fertility goddess. I think Qeiyafa was a Canaanite site that had no connection to Jerusalem," he added.

In invoking Canaanites, Na'aman has touched on the heart of the scholarly debate. For Qeiyafa to play a role in disproving the claims of the minimalists about the meager nature of David's kingdom, Garfinkel has to show that it was neither a Canaanite nor Philistine site.

Garfinkel and Ganor say the shrine models they have found differ from those known so far and that their design underscores a Judean connection.

But Garfinkel says he does not need the shrines to prove that Qeiyafa was Judean - other discoveries at the site do it for him. For example, out of thousands of animal bones unearthed there, none were pig bones, and no figurines were found - two elements some see as alluding to biblical prohibitions. An inscribed potsherd was also found there whose writing some archaeologists identify as ancient Hebrew.

Na'aman has a different explanation for the lack of pig bones: "The Canaanites also did not eat pork. Only the Philistines ate a great deal of pork at this time." As for figurines, Na'aman says places elsewhere in Judea "were full of figurines."

Minimalists also discount the inscribed potsherd, saying it is impossible to differentiate its letters from other languages at that time.
Second, some commentary at the Serving the Word blog: Khirbet Qeiyafa: Possible Unintended Consequences. Notes from a conversation between Seth Sanders, Matthew Suriano and Jacqueline Vayntrub.

This story is on the borderline of my usual interests. I will keep an eye on it, but, unless more epigraphic material turns up, I will not aim for anything like exhaustive coverage.

For more on previous discoveries at Kirbet Qeiyafa and their implications, go here and follow the links.

UPDATE: James McGrath produces one of his thorough roundups in the midst of marking: Khirbet Qeiyafa’s Model Shrines and the Accuracy of the Bible

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Cultic installations from the time of King David

TODAY IS MAY 8TH, and here is the promised announcement that reveals the mystery:

Hebrew University archaeologist finds the first evidence of a cult in Judah at the time of King David, with implications for Solomon’s Temple

Jerusalem, May 8, 2012—Prof. Yosef Garfinkel, the Yigal Yadin Professor of Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, announced today the discovery of objects that for the first time shed light on how a cult was organized in Judah at the time of King David. During recent archaeological excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa, a fortified city in Judah adjacent to the Valley of Elah, Garfinkel and colleagues uncovered rich assemblages of pottery, stone and metal tools, and many art and cult objects. These include three large rooms that served as cultic shrines, which in their architecture and finds correspond to the biblical description of a cult at the time of King David.

This discovery is extraordinary as it is the first time that shrines from the time of early biblical kings were uncovered. Because these shrines pre-date the construction of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem by 30 to 40 years, they provide the first physical evidence of a cult in the time of King David, with significant implications for the fields of archaeology, history, biblical and religion studies.

The expedition to Khirbet Qeiyafa has excavated the site for six weeks each summer since 2007, with co-director Saar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The revolutionary results of five years of work are presented today in a new book, Footsteps of King David in the Valley of Elah, published by Yedioth Ahronoth.

Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Prof. Yosef Garfinkel with a stone shrine model found at Khirbet Qeiyafa (Credit: Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Images of the new discoveries can be downloaded from Images must be credited to The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Located approximately 30 km. southwest of Jerusalem in the valley of Elah, Khirbet Qeiyafa was a border city of the Kingdom of Judah opposite the Philistine city of Gath. The city, which was dated by 10 radiometric measurements (14C) done at Oxford University on burned olive pits, existed for a short period of time between ca. 1020 to 980 BCE, and was violently destroyed.

The biblical tradition presents the people of Israel as conducting a cult different from all other nations of the ancient Near East by being monotheistic and an-iconic (banning human or animal figures). However, it is not clear when these practices were formulated, if indeed during the time of the monarchy (10-6th centuries BC), or only later, in the Persian or Hellenistic eras.

The absence of cultic images of humans or animals in the three shrines provides evidence that the inhabitants of the place practiced a different cult than that of the Canaanites or the Philistines, observing a ban on graven images.

The findings at Khirbet Qeiyafa also indicate that an elaborate architectural style had developed as early as the time of King David. Such construction is typical of royal activities, thus indicating that state formation, the establishment of an elite, social level and urbanism in the region existed in the days of the early kings of Israel. These finds strengthen the historicity of the biblical tradition and its architectural description of the Palace and Temple of Solomon.

According to Prof. Garfinkel, “This is the first time that archaeologists uncovered a fortified city in Judah from the time of King David. Even in Jerusalem we do not have a clear fortified city from his period. Thus, various suggestions that completely deny the biblical tradition regarding King David and argue that he was a mythological figure, or just a leader of a small tribe, are now shown to be wrong.” Garfinkel continued, “Over the years, thousands of animal bones were found, including sheep, goats and cattle, but no pigs. Now we uncovered three cultic rooms, with various cultic paraphernalia, but not even one human or animal figurine was found. This suggests that the population of Khirbet Qeiyafa observed two biblical bans—on pork and on graven images—and thus practiced a different cult than that of the Canaanites or the Philistines.”

Description of the findings and their significance

The three shrines are part of larger building complexes. In this respect they are different from Canaanite or Philistine cults, which were practiced in temples—separate buildings dedicated only to rituals. The biblical tradition described this phenomenon in the time of King David: “He brought the ark of God from a private house in Kyriat Yearim and put it in Jerusalem in a private house” (2 Samuel 6).

The cult objects include five standing stones (Massebot), two basalt altars, two pottery libation vessels and two portable shrines. No human or animal figurines were found, suggesting the people of Khirbet Qeiyafa observed the biblical ban on graven images.

Two portable shrines (or “shrine models”) were found, one made of pottery (ca. 20 cm high) and the other of stone (35 cm high). These are boxes in the shape of temples, and could be closed by doors.

The clay shrine is decorated with an elaborate façade, including two guardian lions, two pillars, a main door, beams of the roof, folded textile and three birds standing on the roof. Two of these elements are described in Solomon’s Temple: the two pillars (Yachin and Boaz) and the textile (Parochet).

The stone shrine is made of soft limestone and painted red. Its façade is decorated by two elements. The first are seven groups of roof-beams, three planks in each. This architectural element, the "triglyph," is known in Greek classical temples, like the Parthenon in Athens. Its appearance at Khirbet Qeiyafa is the earliest known example carved in stone, a landmark in world architecture.

The second decorative element is the recessed door. This type of doors or windows is known in the architecture of temples, palaces and royal graves in the ancient Near East. This was a typical symbol of divinity and royalty at the time.

The stone model helps us to understand obscure technical terms in the description of Solomon’s palace as described in 1 Kings 7, 1-6. The text uses the term “Slaot,” which were mistakenly understood as pillars and can now be understood as triglyphs. The text also uses the term “Sequfim”, which was usually understood as nine windows in the palace, and can now be understood as "triple recessed doorway.”

Similar triglyphs and recessed doors can be found in the description of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6, Verses 5, 31-33, and in the description of a temple by the prophet Ezekiel (41:6). These biblical texts are replete with obscure technical terms that have lost their original meaning over the millennia. Now, with the help of the stone model uncovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa, the biblical text is clarified. For the first time in history we have actual objects from the time of David, which can be related to monuments described in the Bible.

About the Hebrew University of Jerusalem:

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem was founded in 1918 by visionaries including Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Martin Buber and Chaim Weizmann. Opened in 1925, the Hebrew University is located on three campuses in Jerusalem and a fourth in Rehovot. One of the world’s leading academic and research institutions, the Hebrew University serves more than 23,000 students from over 65 countries, and is consistently ranked among the top academic and research institutions worldwide. Forty percent of Israel’s civilian research emerges from the Hebrew University, which has been ranked 12th worldwide in biotechnology patent filings and commercial development. Faculty and alumni of the Hebrew University have won seven Nobel Prizes in the last decade.


Dov Smith, Hebrew University Foreign Press Liaison
02-5881641 / 054-8820860 (+972-54-8820860)

Orit Sulitzeanu, Hebrew University Spokesperson
02-5882910 / 054-8820016

Via Joseph I. Lauer.

UPDATE: Some biblioblogospheric commentary already from George Athas, The Ark of God found at Khirbet Qeiyafa? (the answer is no), and Tom Verenna, The Qeiyafa Discovery and King David: The Da Vinci Connection (well, not so much, but perhaps a connection with Asherah). I agree that it seems premature to bring King David into the conversation.

Court case over Talmudic sage in back yard

HAVING A TALMUDIC SAGE BURIED IN YOUR BACK YARD may be more trouble than its worth:
Owner of Israeli bed and breakfast under fire for damaging rabbi's burial site

IAA sues U.S.-born resident of the Galilee for damaging antiquities in a burial cave he found in his backyard; inscription reads 'This is the burial place of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi Hakapar.'

By Nir Hasson (Haaretz)

An American-born resident of the Galilee is on trial for damaging antiquities in a burial cave on his property, even though he says he has been working to preserve the site.

The trial of Mitch Pilcer, 54, a resident of Tzippori, opened on Sunday in Nazareth Magistrate's Court. He says he discovered the grave of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi, an amora (rabbi quoted in the Talmud ) who lived in the early third century, while working three years ago to add a bungalow to his property, where he has been running a bed-and-breakfast since 1997.

Arieh O’Sullivan at The Media Line also has more details on the case: Ancient Tomb Meets Modern Courtroom.

Monday, May 07, 2012

DNA and Jewish identity

BOOK REVIEW in Haaretz:
DNA links prove Jews are a ‘race’, says genetics expert

Conjuring fear of Nazism and anti-Semitism, Jews recoil from the thought that Judaism might be a race, but medical geneticist Harry Ostrer insists the 'biological basis of Jewishness' cannot be ignored.

By Jon Entine
Tags: Jewish World Jewish Diaspora

In his new book, “Legacy: A Genetic History of the Jewish People,” Harry Ostrer, a medical geneticist and professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, claims that Jews are different, and the differences are not just skin deep. Jews exhibit, he writes, a distinctive genetic signature. Considering that the Nazis tried to exterminate Jews based on their supposed racial distinctiveness, such a conclusion might be a cause for concern. But Ostrer sees it as central to Jewish identity.

“Who is a Jew?” has been a poignant question for Jews throughout our history. It evokes a complex tapestry of Jewish identity made up of different strains of religious beliefs, cultural practices and blood ties to ancient Palestine and modern Israel. But the question, with its echoes of genetic determinism, also has a dark side.

Long, interesting article that I don't have time to excerpt. Speaking of time, I am getting ready for an international trip this week and I have a lot of other things going on as well. Blogging may be sparse and perfunctory for a while.

UPDATE: Joseph Lauer e-mails to note that this article was originally published in The Forward (here). He also points to coverage in The Chronicle of Higher Education here and here. And I see in the archives that I have noted Dr. Ostrer's work earlier here and here.