Friday, June 08, 2012

The 2nd St Andrews Graduate Conference for Biblical and Early Christian Studies

HERE TODAY: The 2nd St Andrews Graduate Conference for Biblical and Early Christian Studies: Manuscripts and their Texts: Perspectives on Textual Criticism - 8-9 June 2012.

Lots of good papers lined up.

Iraqi Jewish archive latest

THE IRAQI JEWISH ARCHIVE is back in the news, after nearly a year of quiet. To recap: a lot of Jewish documents in Hebrew and Aramaic (sorry, slip of the keyboard, should be Arabic) were found rotting in the flooded basement of the Iraqi Intelligence headquarters during the Iraq war in 2003. In a few weeks these were frozen to preserve them and they were later shipped to the United States for conservation, which is still ongoing. Meanwhile, Iraq has been asking for them back.

The latest coverage is in Al Arabiya News: Israel suspected of seeking to ‘steal’ ancient Iraqi manuscripts transferred to U.S., with the Times of Israel then picking up the story: Iraq to the United States: Give us back our Torahs and Talmuds. Baghdad officials claim the US took away thousands of ancient Babylonian artifacts in 2006.

The Al Arabiya article is riddled with errors:
The Iraqi minister of culture has said that the United States is delaying the return of original copies of ancient manuscripts that were illegally smuggled out of Iraq and reportedly sold to Israel.

The manuscripts are part of the Jewish archive that was found in the basement of the Iraqi intelligence building following the 2003 American invasion.

The archive was reportedly transferred to the United States for “maintenance purposes” provided that it would be returned to the Iraqi government by mid-2006. The archive, however, has not yet been transferred back to the Iraqi Archeology and Heritage Association.
The archive was sent to the United States for conservation purposes. The manuscripts were soaked with water, infested with mold, and then frozen. The expertise and resources needed to conserve them are enormous and they were sent to the best place to get this done, and it is taking as long as it takes to do the job right.
Iraqi media reports suggest that Israel was behind the stalling of the
delivery of the archives and that the Jewish state was planning to obtain the historic manuscripts from its ally the United States. Arab League Deputy Secretary General Ahmed ben Helli has confirmed attempts by Israel to steal ancient Iraqi archives.

“Iraq has been subjected to the biggest theft of its manuscripts and historic treasures,” he said. “Israel is accomplice to this.”

According to archeologists, the Iraqi Jewish archive contains almost 3,000 documents and 1,700 antiques that chronicle the eras in which Jews were enslaved in Iraq during the first and second eras of Babylonian captivity. The collection also comprises belongings of Jews who lived in Iraq.

Among the most important items in the collection are the oldest copies of the Talmud and the Old Testament. That is why, experts argue, the former Iraqi regime kept the collection guarded in the intelligence building.
All I can say is, if only. The Iraqi Jewish Archive Preservation Report from 2003 has a description of the archive as follows:
Description of the Iraqi Jewish Archive

The Iraqi Jewish Archive contains 16th-20th century Jewish rare books, correspondence and document files, pamphlets, modern books, audio tape and parchment scrolls. Languages represented in the Archive include Hebrew, Judeo-Arabic, Arabic and English (a few items).

The following descriptive information, provided by Hebraic and Arabic area study specialists at the Library of Congress, was gleaned from the photographs taken of the frozen materials in the open trunks. Once the materials are dried and have had the mold remediated it will be possible to provide a clearer and more detailed assessment of the contents.

Hebraic materials. The Hebraica includes an eclectic mix of materials, ranging from holiday and daily prayer books, Bibles and commentaries, sections from a damaged Torah scroll, books on Jewish law, as well as children's Hebrew language and Bible primers. The printed books were published in a variety of places, including Baghdad, Warsaw, Livorno, and Venice, and most are from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Rare works include:

∑ the 'Ketubim' volume of the monumental Third Rabbinic Bible that was published in Venice by Giovanni di Gara in 1568; and

∑ what appears to be Abraham Brudo's 'Birkat Avraham,' which was published in Venice in 1696.

Arabic materials. The Arabic materials include both hand-written and printed items pertaining to the Jewish community of Iraq, some produced by the Jewish community and others from official governmental sources. In addition, there are items that do not appear to have any connection to the Jewish community at all. The materials include:

∑ a handwritten document, dated September 5, 1966, which appears to be a request for names for a board of directors of the Jewish community;

∑ a school roster Madrasat Furnak (second part unclear) with both male and female names, which dates primarily to August-September 1966-67;

∑ a collection that includes the law of the Jewish community #77 for 1931 and the organization of the Jewish community #36 of 1931, published by the Jewish Charitable Organization in 1932;

∑ an official Iraqi report to the Minister of Interior (and various directorates) reporting on important events, dated 16/2/2000.
This was written in 2003, and there have been no updates since which give any indication of earlier material in the archive.

Now there is a lot of important, interesting, and cool stuff here, but nothing copied or printed before early modernity. It is ridiculous to claim that ancient copies of the Talmud or the Hebrew Bible were included. Had this been true it would have been worked out early on, and specialists would have been all over the collection. It is true that there were early reports of a seventh-century Talmud in the collection, but these were debunked by the beginnning of 2004.

Back to the Al Arabiya article:
Experts add that Israel is keen on obtaining the manuscripts in order to prove their claim that the Jews had built the Tower of Babel as part of its attempt to distort the history of the Middle East for its own interests.
Because the controversy over who built the Tower of Babel is central to the geopolitics of 2012.

Now bah to Jawad Al-Tattab for writing such ignorant propaganda and to Al Arabiya for publishing it. But double bah to Elhanan Miller and The Times of Israel for falling for it and propagating it. Their research seems to have consisted of reading the Al Arabiya article, then calling some Iraqi government officials and the IAA, with this result:
Saad Bashir Iskandar, director general of the books and documents department of the Iraqi ministry, said the Americans insisted on removing the artifacts from Iraq. The items were stored in no less than 48,000 boxes and containers, he said.

“Our ongoing negotiations with the Americans always run up against barriers of procrastination,” Taher Hamoud, director general of the Culture Ministry told Al-Arabiya. He added that the documents contained within the archive in question are 70% in Hebrew, 25% in Arabic and 5% in other languages.

A spokeswoman for Israel’s Antiquities Authority told The Times of Israel she had no information on the Iraqi allegations.
The factual information from the Iraqi officials is of mixed quality: notably, we're talking about 27 metal trunks of manuscripts, which would not hold 48,000 boxes. (Didn't that number sound at all implausible to anyone?) As for the delay, the challenge of carrying out the massive conservation project (and raising the money for it) adequately explains the "procrastination." And I don't blame the IAA for wanting to stay out of the whole thing.

I would have thought that the stuff about the Tower of Babel would have hinted to pretty much anyone that there were problems with the Al Arabiya piece. And had anyone at The Times of Israel bothered to Google "Iraqi Jewish Archive," they would have found the Iraqi Jewish Archive Preservation Report on the first results page, which would have cleared up much of the nonsense. It is disappointing that the recent example of shoe-leather reporting by their own Matti Friedman did not inspire them to do some real research.

Anyone who wants the full story of the Iraqi Jewish Archive from its discovery in 2003 to the present can follow the PaleoJudaica links here (AP link has rotted) and here all the way back to the original story.

As for who gets the archive, after its treatment of its own Jewish community in the 20th century, I think Iraq's claim is tenuous at best. But the real issue is what is best for the archive itself, as part of the historical heritage not only of Iraqi Judaism, but of humanity. I have commented on this at greater length here and here and links.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

New book: Schnieder, The Appearance of the High Priest

NEW BOOK from Cherub Press:
The Appearance of the High Priest – Theophany, Apotheosis and Binitarian Theology: From Priestly Tradition of the Second Temple Period through Ancient Jewish Mysticism, by Michael Schneider, מראה כהן: תיאופניה, אפותיאוזה, ותיאולוגיה בינארית – בין ההגות הכהנית בתקופת הבית השני לבין המיסטיקה היהודית הקדומה (Sources and Studies in the Literature of Jewish Mysticism 30; 2012, 384 pages, ISBN 1-933379-25-1, $42, in Hebrew). This volume is the first of three volumes in a major scholarly reassessment of mystical traditions in the Second Temple period, which explores the variety of early religious traditions across diverse bodies of literature and in various languages. The symbolic, mythic and mystical features of these traditions, their transmission and migration histories and their reappearance in some medieval texts is further investigated. At the heart of this volume is the concept of the encounter and communion between the high priest and God, which implies an anthropomorphic theophany (the appearance of the God in human form) and the apotheosis (deification) of the high priest. This phenomenon is understood in the framework of a binitarian theology that distinguishes the hidden God from His visible appearance. These concepts appear as sources for many latter mystical traditions.

Treasure-hoard press release

THE IAA PRESS RELEASE about that treasure hoard from the Bar Kokhba period has been published by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs: 2,000 year-old gold and silver hoard uncovered. It has more photos.

Background here.

Another decipherment of the Qeiyafa inscription

A DECIPHERMENT OF THE QEIYAFA INSCRIPTION has reportedly been published in the journal Semitica by Prof. Reinhard Achenbach of Münster University. I say reportedly because I have not seen the article itself, only the notice of it in The Local:
German translates oldest known Hebrew

Published: 6 Jun 12 07:44 CET

The oldest known written ancient Hebrew other than the Bible has emerged as laws to protect slaves, widows, orphans and foreigners, according to the German theologian who translated the script.
Here's the summary of the article:
"The language seems to be ancient Hebrew, but it is closely related to other west-semitic canaanite languages," the Old Testament expert told The Local in an email.

The tablet’s significance lay in its instructions to take care of the disadvantaged of ancient Israeli society.

This is visible in the second and third lines which read: “Give rights to slaves and to widows! Give rights to orphans and foreigners! Protect the rights of the poor and protect the rights of minors!”

These were likely to be some of the first laws implemented, he said, adding that the tablet was probably a copied version made by a royal official given the task to learn the laws.
The proposed translation is very similar to the one produced by Prof. Gershon Galil of the University of Haifa in 2010. As far as I know—and I haven't been paying close attention, so correct me if I'm wrong—this is the first decipherment of the inscription actually published in a peer-review journal. That and the fact that two specialists now read the text in the same way means that we have to take this interpretation seriously. But the real test will be the response from other scholars and the viability of this reading against any other readings that may be published in the coming years.

I hope Professors Galil and Achenbach are right. If we actually have an early Hebrew(ish) ostracon with such interesting and biblically relevant content, that would be very exciting. But let's wait and see what other interpretations are published. In the scheme of things it is much more likely to be something utterly banal, like a list of loan defalters or a tax receipt. (I'm not proposing either, thy are only examples.) But maybe we just got really lucky on this one.

Much more on the various discoveries at Khirbet Qeiyafa in recent years here and links.

Betar and the security fence

THE SITE OF BETAR, the place of Bar Kokhba's last stand, is involved in a controversy over the Israeli security fence:
Beitar's Legacy

by Benny Morris Jun 5, 2012 11:45 AM EDT (The Daily Beast)

In an effort to obstruct the construction of a section of Israel’s security fence—commonly called by Israel’s detractors the "Wall" or "Apartheid Wall," though less than ten per cent is actually a reinforced concrete wall; the rest is a razor-wire fence with sensors—Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas last week petitioned UNESCO to recognize the West Bank village of Battir, and particularly its terraced agricultural plots and water channels linking them, as a world heritage site. The Palestinians hope that such recognition will prevent Israel from completing this section of the fence.

A deep irony underlies the petition. The village sits on the site of the Judean fortress town of Beitar (or Bethar), where Shimon Bar-Kochba, the leader of the second Jewish revolt against Rome (132-135 AD), made his last stand and died. In the 1980s, Israeli archeologists identified the remains of the citadel and found some Bar-Kochba coins on the hillock called by the local Arabs "Khirbet al-Yahud" (the Jewish ruins) three hundred yards west of the village center, and found the remains of the Roman siege wall and two of the besiegers’ camps. A rock next to one of Battir’s springs has an etched inscription (“Leg V Mac et XI Cl”) identifying the legions, the Fifth Macedonica and Eleventh Claudia, that took part in the siege of Beitar. Presumably Battir’s terraces and water canals were first built by the Jewish inhabitants of the land more than two millennia ago.

The issue is currently before the Israeli courts, which must rule whether the planned route of the fence, just north of the village, which lies three miles west of Bethlehem, will do irreparable harm to the ancient system of terraces and canals that irrigate the village’s olive trees and vegetable gardens on the slopes. This is one of the few places in the West Bank where the ancient terrace-canal system has survived.


Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Review of Portier-Young, Apocalypse Against Empire

BOOK REVIEW: Saturday Book Review: Anathea Portier-Young, Apocalypse Against Empire: Theologies of Resistance in Early Judaism ( Drew J. Strait, Jesus Creed). Excerpt:
Apocalypse Against Empire sets a new high water mark for anti-imperial readings. Simply put: it is theoretically and historically sophisticated. John Collins goes so far as to say in the foreward that “not since the early work of Martin Hengel have we seen such a thick description of Seleucid history and politics in the context of biblical scholarship” (xii). And I agree. I found Part Two to be the most valuable part of the book. But perhaps the greatest contribution of this study is its clearly argued thesis that the terror and domination of the Seleucid empire contributed to the emergence of apocalyptic. By carefully reconstructing the political, economic and hegemonic stressors that dominated and terrorized the Judeans, Portier-Young achieves what many anti-imperial interpreters do not: namely, a reading that is not historically embellished. Still, the degree with which the apocalypses are targeting empire alone will need to be further assessed by experts in early Judaism. For example, what other stressors contributed to the emergence of apocalyptic? I am especially wondering here how intra-Jewish conflicts may have contributed to the anxiety of life in Judea. Moreover, how does Portier-Young’s thesis hold up in light of other extant apocalypses written after the Seleucid empire? This study is sure to inspire many fascinating questions for future doctoral students to pursue.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Bar Kokhba-era treasure

MORE ANCIENT BLING AND TREASURE has been discovered in Israel: Archeologists uncover 2,000-year-old coins, jewelry. The jewelry, believed to date back to the Bar Kokhba revolts, was likely hidden by a wealthy woman during the rebellion. (Jerusalem Post).

And that looks to me like yet another gold earring.

Much more ancient bling here and links.

UPDATE (7 June): More here.

Slavonic photo exhibition

SLAVONIC EXHIBITION: Slavonic compares with Greek, Latin and Jewish. A photo exhibition to mark the Day of Slavonic Letters and Culture was organised at Russian Centre of Science and Culture recently (Deccan Herald).

By "Jewish" the article seems to mean Hebrew. The Day of Slavonic Letters and Culture is 24 May. Background on the day and on ancient literature preserved in Church Slavonic is here and links.

Haredi protests at a salvage excavation

PROTESTS: 25 Arrested at Archaeological Dig (Arutz Sheva.
Police arrested 25 Hareidi Jews on Monday during a protest against the disturbing of graves at a building site in Yehud. ...

Happy 20th anniversary to Kfar Kedem

KFAR KEDEM: Recreated Ancient Galilean Village Celebrates 20 Years (Arutz Sheva).

I noted this site way back in 2003. It seems still to be going strong.

The fate of the James Ossuary and Jehoash inscription

A SOLOMONIC JUDGMENT on the James Ossuary and the Jehoash tablet?
Judge to decide fate of ossuary, Jehoash tablet

By MATTHEW KALMAN (Jerusalem Post)

Scholars say items should be preserved; J'lem judge could order items destroy under "ruling of Solomon."

A Jerusalem judge will announce on Wednesday whether he has decided to order the destruction of a burial box that could have held the bones of the brother of Jesus and an inscribed tablet that could have come from the First Temple.

At a Jerusalem District Court hearing in April, Judge Aharon Farkash said he might exercise “the judgement of Solomon” and order both items to be destroyed.


On Wednesday, Judge Farkash will pass sentence on the defendant, Oded Golan, who was acquitted on 41 charges of forgery, fraud and other serious crimes, but found guilty of three minor misdemeanors of trading in antiquities without a license and handling goods suspected of being stolen.

At a hearing in April, the prosecution demanded a tough sentence including jail time and said that the ossuary, the tablet and many other items should be confiscated by the court, even though Golan had been acquitted of all charges related to them.

“Maybe I’ll order them to be destroyed and neither side will have them,” said Farkash in comments that were not recorded in the official court transcript.

It would be “the judgement of Solomon,” said Judge Farkash.

“Neither of you will have the ossuary or the Jehoash tablet. They broke once already; they can be broken again. Just destroy them,” he said.

The ossuary cracked into two pieces in 2002 while it was being shipped to an exhibition in Canada and was repaired by restorers at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. The Jehoash tablet broke along an existing crack in 2003 while it was being handled by investigators at the Israel Police forensic laboratory.

The judge also suggested that the items might be put on display for the public.

“Maybe they should be exhibited at the Israel Museum as items from this trial suspected of being fakes,” he said.

Experts who gave evidence for both sides last night urged Judge Farkash not to destroy the items.

Destroying the objects would be a terrible idea and I wonder if the judge's words are being quoted accurately and, if so, whether he was speaking tongue in cheek. The James Ossuary is itself an ancient artifact, whether or not part of the inscription is forged. Would it even be legal to order it destroyed?

I think the Jehoash/Joash inscription is a forgery, but it should be kept and at least studied to learn more about the techniques of modern forgers.

May I respectfully remind the judge that Solomon did not actually carry out that particular judgment.

Much background on the Israel forgery trial is here and links.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Romanian DSS smuggler?

MYSTERY: A Romanian Smuggler of Dead Sea Scrolls? (Exploring Our Matrix).

Classical Hebrew post at TAU

From Hezy Mutzafi (

Tel Aviv University
The Lester and Sally Entin Faculty of Humanities
Department of Hebrew Culture Studies

Position in Classical Hebrew Studies

The Department of Hebrew Culture Studies at Tel Aviv University invites applicants holding a PhD degree for a tenured or tenure-track position in the field of classical Hebrew, to be effective as of October 2013.

The position requires competence in using Hebrew as a language of instruction and the ability to conduct independent research and scholarly projects in classical Hebrew and its affinity to cognate Semitic languages, as well as teaching courses which are affiliated with the study programs of Hebrew Language, Semitic Linguistics, Bible, Jewish Philosophy and Talmud at the Department of Hebrew
Culture Studies.

Salary and conditions will conform to Israeli University regulations. Appointment procedures will be carried out according to the rules and regulations of Tel-Aviv University and are subject to the approval of University authorities.

Applicants should send their Curriculum Vitae, samples of publications and/or other written work. Three letters of recommendation from senior scholars should be sent independently to Prof. Moshe Florentin, the Head of the Department of Hebrew Culture Studies, Faculty of Humanities, Tel-Aviv University, Tel-Aviv 69978, Israel

Applications should be received no later than July 15, 2012.

The position is open for candidates without any discrimination as to gender, nationality or ethnic origins. The appointment will be based solely on candidate qualifications and the department’s needs. The department, the faculty or Tel-Aviv University are not obligated to appoint any of the candidates who apply for the position.
From the Agade list.

KCL Biblical Studies and Jewish Studies Joint Day Conference

King's College London: Biblical Studies and Jewish Studies Joint Day
Conference with Professor Philip Esler, Principal of St Mary's
University College, London, June 8th

Room K0.16, King's Building

10.30 Arrivals: tea and coffee

11.00 Introduction and welcome: Revd Professor Richard Burridge

11.05 Reading Old Testament/Hebrew Bible Narrative: Why's and
Professor Philip Esler
Chaired by Dr Andrea Schatz

12.30 Lunch (own arrangements)

14.00 Judean Ethnic Identity and the Origin of the Christ Movement:
Meaning of Matthew and Hebrews
Professor Philip Esler
Chaired by Dr Edward Adams

15.15 Formal Responses: Prof. Joan Taylor and Dr Adam Silverstein

16.00 Refreshments

No attendance charge, but please RSVP to

Dr Edward Adams
Senior Lecturer in New Testament Studies
Department of Theology and Religious Studies
King's College London
Strand, London
Tel: 0207 848 2502
From the BNTS list.

Court ruling on gold cuneiform tablet

Nazi Victim’s Family Told to Return Artifact

Published: June 1, 2012

A state appellate court in Brooklyn has ordered the family of a Holocaust survivor to return an ancient gold tablet to a German museum.


Raymond J. Dowd, the lawyer who represented the museum and who has represented the families of Holocaust victims trying to recover lost art, called the decision historically significant.

“The principle that property taken unlawfully should be returned is consistent with the rights of Holocaust victims,” he said. “This precedent will help those seeking return of stolen works that are museums not only in the U.S. but throughout Europe.”

But a lawyer for the family, Seth A. Presser, said the decision had “caused a remarkably inequitable result” and that it would be appealed.

“We believe that the court has misapprehended certain facts and, as a result, misapplied New York law,” he said.

Via the Agade list. Background here.

Scholarships for TAU MA program in Jewish Studies

From Emilie Levy:

Dear All,
I would like to inform you that few scholarships are still available for the 2012-2013 MA program in Jewish Studies at Tel Aviv University.

The program is the world's only one-year intensive MA in Jewish Studies taught in English in a Hebrew speaking environment and offers a series of comprehensive encounters with the classical texts of Jewish cultures. In addition, few more spots are still open for the Summer School in Rabbinic Literature, which aims to enhance textual, linguistic and philological skills for advanced students of Jewish and Religious studies interested in acquiring reading skills in Talmud and Midrash.

Both of the programs will expose the students to relevant historical sites, current scholarship, and leading Israeli experts in the field, as a well as meeting with international students.

For more details about our programs, visit our website or download our brochure I would be very grateful if you could forward this email to any person who may be interested.
Best Regards,

Emilie Levy
Program Coordinator
International MA in Jewish Studies
Tel Aviv University
TAU International

+972(0)3 640 65 03
From the SOTS List.

Review of Schäfer, The Origins of Jewish Mysticism

Peter Schäfer. The Origins of Jewish Mysticism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009. xv + 398 pp. $35.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-691-14215-9.

Reviewed by Mark Verman (Wright State University)
Published on H-Judaic (May, 2012)
Commissioned by Jason Kalman

Early Jewish Mystical Literature

Peter Schäfer’s new monograph The Origins of Jewish Mysticism (hereafter OJM) is a magisterial tour de force. Owing to the breadth of the material that is covered and Schäfer’s consistently lucid, methodical, and incisive analysis, this book is an instant classic and will become the benchmark for all subsequent discussions of the topic. Schäfer’s lengthy and productive career has revolved around his incomparable contribution to the publication and scholarly analysis of that corpus of writings known as Hekhalot (Temples/Palaces) texts. An examination of these particular works constitutes the culmination of his current book. In fact, the basic agenda of OJM is an attempt to discover to what extent the pre-Hekhalot writings, biblical and post-biblical, can be seen as anticipating the mystical experience delineated in the Hekhalot corpus.

I reviewed this book at the 2010 Society of Biblical Literature meeting. A revised version of that review has recently been published in Dead Sea Discoveries (requires paid personal or institutional subscription to access).

Review of Sperber, Greek in Talmudic Palestine

BOOK REVIEW: Daniel Sperber’s Greek in Talmudic Palestine- Review by Yair Furstenberg (the Talmud Blog). Excerpt:
In his latest book, Daniel Sperber contributes to this endeavor by laying out some of the main findings of his two esteemed masters, Krauss and Lieberman, and by commenting on the challenges which, in his eyes, their works hold for future scholarship. Thus, in the first part, “Greek and Latin Words in Rabbinic Literature: Prolegomena to a New Dictionary of Classical Words in Rabbinic Literaute” (a reprint of two of his articles from the seventies), Sperber surveys the problems and methodological concerns which await the compilation of an improved dictionary, more than a century after Krauss. In the second part, “Rabbinic Knowledge of Greek in Talmudic Palestine”, he readdresses the fundamental question posed by Liebermen: “How much knowledge (and we may add, and of what nature) of the world which surrounded them did the builders of Rabbinic Judaism possess?”. To that end, he adds to Lieberman’s exposition some further examples of his own, relating to regional differences, knowledge of pagan ritual, rabbinic acquaintance with Roman legal and military terminology, and the use of Greek in magical texts.