Saturday, July 07, 2012

New JSIJ articles

JEWISH STUDIES, AN INTERNET JOURNAL has published some new articles. Click on the links to download as PDF files.
1. S Mordechai Sabato and Rabin Shushtri, "Sugyot Which Were Emended Due to the Transition From Oral Study to Written Study" (Heb.)

In this paper, the authors discuss two adjacent pericopae from Sukkah 36b. Each of these passages presents two conflicting versions of a single dictum. By examining the text of these sugyot carefully, the authors seek to demonstrate that the original versions of each of these dicta were identical. The difference between these passages found expression not in their text, but in the intonation used during oral recitation of this material, and perhaps also in the bodily gestures which accompanied such recitation. This stems from the fact that during the period close to the redaction of the Talmud its text was studied orally, so its intonation constituted an integral part of transmission of the sugya. Once the Talmud was committed to writing, its intonation was forgotten, and so was the original sense of these sugyot. Therefore, copyists and scholars emended them in their effort to grasp the meaning that was lost with memory of the intonation.

An appendix to the article discusses the correspondence between the character of the MSS and the textual traditions of tractate Sukkah as manifest in these two passages and in the rest of the tractate.

2. Mordechai Z. Cohen, "A Talmudist's Halakhic Hermeneutics: A New Understanding of Maimonides' Principle of Peshat Primacy"

In his Book of the Commandments Maimonides makes “the peshat of scripture” the sole source of halakhah that carries biblical (de-orayta) authority, relegating laws derived midrashically to the lower, rabbinic (de-rabbanan) status. While seemingly privileging the “way of peshat” championed by his older contemporary Ibn Ezra, this Maimonidean principle has long been a source of perplexity, since Maimonides elsewhere devalues Scripture’s “literal sense.” To resolve this crux, the current study begins by clearing up a confusion created by the Hebrew translations of Maimonides’ works, in which Arabic zahir (lit. “apparent [sense]”) is rendered peshat, whereas he distinguished between the two concepts. In line with his Judeo-Arabic exegetical heritage, he did not privilege the zahir, i.e., the literal (“apparent”) sense, which, in the exegetical tradition founded by Saadia (and endorsed by Ibn Ezra), was to be adjusted in light of reason and tradition. On the other hand, Maimonides used the Hebrew/Aramaic word peshat (left untranslated in his Judeo-Arabic writings) as a technical term connoting the original (and legally authoritative) sense of Scripture—according to the “transmitted interpretation” (“Oral Law”) given at Sinai, which may diverge from the literal sense. Drawing upon hermeneutical concepts from Muslim jurisprudence, Maimonides distinguished between this source of halakhah and further laws that the Rabbis derived from Scripture via midrashic extrapolation, which he likened to qiyas (legal analogy) in Islamic law.

3. "How Does One Create Fine Children: The Views of Rabbi Eliezer and the Sages about Eugenics" (Heb.), by Yitzchak Roness and Aviad Yehiel Hollander.

In Bavli Nedarim 22b, R. Eliezer’s wife, Imma Shalom, describes her husband’s behavior during intercourse, mentioning his practice to “reveal a handbreadth and conceal a handbreadth.” This statement has been understood by most traditional commentators and academic scholars as an expression of extreme modesty, or as an attempt to avoid the experience of physical pleasure, as part of a comprehensive lifestyle governed by the ascetic ideal.

Based on comparison of this text with its counterpart in Tractate Kallah, as well as the analysis of sources attributed to R. Eliezer associating the attributes of a couple’s offspring to the couple’s comport during intercourse, we propose an additional explanation of R. Eliezer’s practice.

We suggest that the ultimate goal of this practice was to ensure the birth of worthy offspring, based on the assumption that achievement of this goal depends in large measure on the woman’s state of arousal during intercourse. Nevertheless, in line with the accepted understanding of the story as depicting the exemplary behavior of an ascetic personality, we suggest that R. Eliezer’s unusual practice be understood in light of other possibilities mentioned in the Talmud which were intended to engender the same result.

Preprint on Coptic Dormition fragments

ALIN SUCIU has published a preprint of his forthcoming article on “Notes Concerning Some Coptic Fragments Related to Mary the Mother of Jesus,” Teologinen Aikakauskirja – Teologisk Tidskrift 117 (2012) 102-105.

Have you seen this papyrus?

LOOTBUSTERS has asked me to post on this missing papyrus:
Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 187
P.Oxy.187, a circa AD 150
business letter of Irene

Missing from Department of
Classical Studies, University
of Melbourne, Parkville,
Australia since 1975
Follow the link for a photo. If you find the papyrus, please contact Dorothy, not me.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Church of Nativity made UNESCO World Heritage Site

THIS STORY has been developing for the last week or so and I've been watching it, but I haven't had a chance to deal with it until now.
Unesco Adds Nativity Church in Bethlehem to Heritage List

Published: June 29, 2012

JERUSALEM — The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, along with the Pilgrimage Route, was added on Friday to Unesco’s World Heritage List, a move that was celebrated by Palestinians who hailed it as a significant political and diplomatic achievement as much as a cultural one.

Hanan Ashrawi, who leads the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Department of Culture and Information, called the 13-to-6 vote of the World Heritage Committee meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, “a welcome recognition by the international community of our historical and cultural rights in this land.”


“This is proof that Unesco is motivated by political considerations and not cultural ones,” the Israeli prime minister’s office said in a statement after the vote. “Instead of taking steps to advance peace,” it added, “the Palestinians are acting unilaterally in ways that only distance it.”

“The world should remember that the Church of the Nativity, which is sacred to Christians, was desecrated in the past by Palestinian terrorists,” the statement said, a reference to Palestinian gunmen occupying the church in 2002 along with clerics and civilians who had taken refuge there as Israeli tanks and troops pushed into Bethlehem. The Israeli military action was part of a broader offensive after months of Palestinian suicide bombings inside Israel. The church remained under siege for 39 days.

The AFP has also covered the story: UNESCO urgently lists Church of Nativity as world heritage. Also Reuters: Palestinians win endangered world heritage status for Bethlehem church.

There have been lots of responses. Here are a few:

U.S. Needs Wiggle Room to Escape Unesco Trap (Bloomberg). Excerpt:
The episode offers a glimpse of the new Unesco, where the U.S. has diminished clout after having announced its intention to stop funding the organization following Palestine’s admission as a member last October. The U.S. purpose presumably was to punish Unesco. Instead, other countries -- notably China and Qatar -- have stepped in to fill the 22 percent hole in Unesco’s $325 million annual budget.

And if the U.S. goes two years without paying dues, it will be ousted from Unesco. Bad idea. Better that the U.S. resume its funding and stay in the organization.
Palestine attempts land grab at World Heritage Committee (Jerusalem Post). Excerpt:
Palestine has also filed a so-called “Tentative List” of a dozen other sites, including Ancient Jericho, Mount Gerizim, the Old City of Nablus (Shchem) and its environs, Old City of Hebron and its environs and Sebastia. The last is within the 1949 Green Line and the Scrolls pertain, we thought irrefutably; to the Jewish people.

Palestinian supercessionism has now moved beyond Jewish sites to those of Christianity, Samaritans and first-century Essenes.
Nuncio cautious about church's designation as World Heritage site (Georgia Bulletin).

UNESCO declares Bethlehem basilica a World Heritage site (Catholic World News). Excerpt:
Church officials in Israel welcomed the UNESCO decision, because it could provide protection for the Nativity basilica, which has been in deteriorating condition because the Christian custodians cannot agree on needed maintenance work. The administration of many shrines in the Holy Land is divided between Catholic and Orthodox custodians, under the terms of an agreement that dates back to the Ottoman Empire. Frequent clashes over territory within the shrines has often prevented cooperation on repairs. Because of the UNESCO decision, Palestinian officials will be able to raise funds for overdue maintenance work at the Nativity basilica.
In 2011 I noted (here and here and links) when the PA was admitted as a full member of UNESCO and talk began about adding the Church of the Nativity etc. as World Heritage Sites under the auspices of the former. Some relevant background on UNESCO and the politics of the region is here and links.

Mount Gerizim excavation reopens

Mt. Gerizim Archaeological Site Reopens After 12 Years

12 years after being closed because of the Oslo War, the archaeological site on Mount Gerizim reopened in a special ceremony.

By Elad Benari & Yoni Kempinski (Arutz Sheva)
First Publish: 7/6/2012, 4:12 AM

The archaeological excavation site on Mount Gerizim, near Shechem, was officially inaugurated in a special ceremony on Thursday.

The ceremony was attended by Environment Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud), Shomon Regional Council head Gershon Mesika, the head of the Nature and Parks Authority Shaul Goldstein, and the Head of the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria, Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz.

Mount Gerizim and nearby Mount Eival are named in the Pentateuch as the place where the Priests and Levites addressed the tribes entering Israel after their sojourn in the desert, blessing them at Mount Gerizim if they kept G-d's commandments and elucidating the punishments they would receive at Mount Eival if they did not. Mount Gerizim is also an important place for the Samaritans, who believe that the preeminent holy spot is on the mountain and whose Temple was built there.

Mount Gerizim was excavated for more than 24 years and Thursday’s ceremony marked the archaeological site’s reopening after being closed for 12 years since the start of the Oslo War, also known as the Second Intifada.

Lots more on Mount Gerizim and the Samaritans here and links.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Woe unto Babylon

THE SITE OF BABYLON has become the victim of an oil pipeline and the dispute over the Iraqi Jewish archive: Oil and politics are ancient Babylon’s new curse (AP).

The oil pipeline seems to be a matter of putting short-term national interests ahead of long-term ones. And if anyone digs through the site of Babylon and doesn't find any artifacts, they aren't looking very hard.

As for the business about the archive, the phrase "cutting off one's nose to spite one's face" comes to mind.

Background on the 2008 British Museum exhibition on ancient Babylon is here and here and links. Background on Babylon in the Saddam era is here and here, and on the unfortunate occupation of the site by the US and Polish Armies in 2005 here, here, and here.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

July 4th

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY to my American readers!

Haaretz and the Temple Institute

Messianic sect allows peek into battle to build third Temple

Messianic right-wing activists offer Haaretz a rare glimpse into efforts to Judaize the Temple Mount - including with a flood of lawsuits.

By Oz Rosenberg | Jul.03, 2012 | 4:16 AM |
The headline to this long, rambling article is misleading on a couple of counts. First of all, to my mind the Temple Mount is already kind of Judaized, it being the site of the Jewish Temple and all. The article uses this language too (some comments on which are here and links) and it isn't particularly helpful for sorting out what is actually going on. And, although it is correct that the long-term goal of the groups in question is to rebuild the Temple (when the Messiah comes), the current issue under discussion is lobbying for the right of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount.

My own view, for what it's worth, is that people should be allowed to pray—peaceably and respectfully—pretty much wherever they want, and if other people don't like it, too bad. If the people who don't like other people praying at a shared holy site want to riot about it, the authorities should deal with the rioters as harshly as becomes necessary to maintain order.

As for the proposed rebuilding of the Temple, I am not a fan of the idea and it is obviously politically impossible for the foreseeable future. Beyond that, any excavation or construction on the Temple Mount should, first, respect and preserve all existing architecture on the site, along with its normal uses. Second, such excavation should be done only under scientifically controlled conditions under the supervision of archaeologists. But I would prefer that archaeological exploration of the site wait a few years until we have non-destructive technologies to do the job. I have commented on the Temple Institute and related matters here. And there's much more on non-invasive and non-destructive technologies at this recent post and links.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Hurtado on Christology

LARRY HURTADO sets matters straight on An “Early High Christology.”

More from Bauckham on the Talpiot Tomb B inscription

RICHARD BAUCKHAM has posted A New Interpretation of the Greek Ossuary Inscription in Talpiyot Tomb B at Mark Goodacre's New Testament Blog. If he is right, the inscription just consists of a couple of names. We'll see what the response is from Greek paleographers, but meanwhile remember a good rule of thumb is that the more banal reading is to be preferred.

Background here and links.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Temple Mount Sifting Project and related

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Here's an article in Israel HaYom on the Temple Mount Sifting Project is the context of much earlier as well as very recent developments:
Second Temple-era mikveh discovered under Al-Aqsa mosque

Al-Aqsa mosque was destroyed in an earthquake in 1927 • As it was being rebuilt, the British archaeologist Robert Hamilton documented the excavation of its foundations • He hid away the findings that the waqf found inconvenient • Today, thousands of findings, including a seal with the inscription “From Gibeon to the king” unearthed by Dr. Gabi Barkai and Zachi Dvira, shed light on the Temple Mount’s Jewish period • A peek back into history.

Nadav Shragai
I didn't know about Hamilton's excavations.
Eighty years later, Hamilton’s hidden findings are providing support for similar findings unearthed by two Israeli archaeologists, Dr. Gabi Barkai and Zachi Dvira. For the past seven years, Barkai and Dvira have been working on a unique project: sifting tons of earth that the waqf removed from the Temple Mount in the dead of night about 13 years ago. This earth is filled with tiny archaeological findings.


Beneath the floor of Al-Aqsa mosque, which had collapsed in the earthquake, Hamilton discovered the remains of a Jewish mikveh [ritual pool used for purification] that dated back to the Second Temple era.

Apparently, Jews immersed in this mikveh before entering the Temple grounds.

Barkai and Dvira found a multitude of small items from the periods of the First and Second Temples. Among these items were fragments of the small columns used in a hypocaust — a space under the floor of a room, used to heat the room above — and tubuli - hollow square bricks through which heated air passed, heating the space. Barkai believes that these are remnants of the heating system that the pilgrims, or perhaps the priests, used after completing the ritual immersion.

About half a meter (1.5 feet) under the floor of the damaged mosque, Hamilton discovered the remains of a Byzantine mosaic. When Dvira saw the photographs of it, he immediately recalled hundreds of thousands of mosaic stones and fragments of column capitals, marble used to cover stalls, and marble used for the grating of a church, all from the Byzantine period (324-638 C.E.) that had been found amid the earth taken from the Temple Mount.
That doesn't sound good.

The report of the inscribed bulla seems to be new:
One of the rare findings discovered recently is a bulla that was found in a First Temple-era trash pit on the southeastern slopes of the Temple Mount. The bulla bore the inscription: “From Gibeon to the king.” Gabi Barkai believes that the bulla, which is about 2,600 years old dating back to the seventh century B.C.E., is evidence of the tax that the inhabitants of Gibeon paid to the king of Judah, who was likely Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah.

“This is the first time that a bulla of this type has been discovered someplace other than the antiques market. It gives validity to 50 other bullae, most of which are in the collection of Joseph Chaim Kaufman of Belgium. Each bulla mentions a city whose name appears in the fifteenth chapter of the biblical Book of Joshua,” says Barkai. “This demonstrates that those cities paid taxes to the central government.”

The bulla that bears the inscription “From Gibeon to the king” was found by accident when the ground was being leveled on the eastern slopes of the Temple Mount in order to prepare for a mass given by the Pope, who visited Israel that year. Zachi Dvira, who was there when the work was going on and watched it, received permission to transfer the earth from there for sifting in Ein Tzurim National Park. This led to the discovery of amazing findings including fragments of earthenware and tools, bones and five other bullae from the First Temple era.
There is plenty more left to sift:
Dr. Gabi Barkai says that to date, about two-thirds of the earth removed from the Temple Mount has been transported to the sifting site, and about half of the total amount has been sifted. “The remaining third, which was not taken to the sifting site, became mixed in large part with other dust and earth, so we let it go. ... We have enough sifting work for another seven years,” he says, and mentions that piles of earth remain on the Temple Mount. In an extraordinary move, he High Court of Justice has ruled that the waqf is forbidden to move them.

“We are willing to allow the waqf to remove the earth from there under certain conditions that will allow us to carry out a better archaeological examination of it, or if they allow us to sift it there. Meanwhile, the waqf refuses to allow either option. Not only that, but it is deliberately mixing this earth with modern-day trash and construction debris in order to reduce our ability to get something out of it in the future,” he says.
That doesn't sound good either.

I noted the 2006 discovery of the inscription mentioning Flavius Silva here.

Finally, there is this:
This week, a rare photograph was taken on the Temple Mount. Taken inside the Dome of the Rock, it shows construction materials and rebar placed on the Foundation Stone, the place where the Holy of Holies and the Ark of the Covenant are believed to have been. While there does not appear to be any archaeological damage, this state of affairs is an expression of the weakness of the Antiquities Authority in the place that is the most important to the Jewish people. This weakness takes the form of the authority’s complete dependence on the police and also of the contempt that the Muslims show toward Jewish archaeological remnants on the Temple Mount.
You can see the photograph here at the Jerusalem Post blog.

The article has a lot of other interesting information, so read it all. Background on the Temple Mount Sifting Project is here with many links.

Synagogue and mosaic floor excavated in Galilee

Monumental synagogue building discovered in excavations in Galilee

A monumental synagogue building dating to the Late Roman period (ca. 4th-5th centuries C.E.) has been discovered in archaeological excavations at Huqoq in Israel's Galilee.

The excavations are being conducted by Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and David Amit and Shua Kisilevitz of the Israel Antiquities Authority, under the sponsorship of UNC, Brigham Young University in Utah, Trinity University in Texas, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Toronto in Canada. Students and staff from UNC and the consortium schools are participating in the dig

Huqoq is an ancient Jewish village located approximately two to three miles west of Capernaum and Migdal (Magdala). Thissecond season of excavations has revealed portions of a stunning mosaic floor decorating the interior of the synagogue building. The mosaic, which is made of tiny colored stone cubes of the highest quality, includes a scene depicting Samson placing torches between the tails of foxes (as related in the book of Judges 15). In another part of the mosaic, two human (apparently female) faces flank a circular medallion with a Hebrew inscription that refersto rewards for those who performgood deeds.

"This discovery is significant because only a small number of ancient (Late Roman) synagogue buildings are decorated with mosaics showing biblical scenes, and only two others have scenes with Samson (one is at another site just a couple of miles from Huqoq)," said Magness, the Kenan Distinguished Professor in the department of religious studies in UNC's College of Arts and Sciences. "Our mosaics are also important because of their high artistic quality and the tiny size of the mosaic cubes. This, together with the monumental size of the stones used to construct the synagogue's walls, suggest a high level of prosperity in this village, as the building clearly was very costly."

Excavations are scheduled to continue in summer 2013.

Click on the link below to download high resolution photographs

Photographic Credit: Jim Haberman

SWBTS DSS exhibit opens

THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBITION IN FORT WORTH (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary), which opened yesterday, is reviewed in the Star-Telegram: Collection of Dead Sea Scroll fragments on display at Southwestern Seminary. That should be Peter Flint, not Peter Finch. There is also a nice photo gallery: Dead Sea Scrolls on Display.

Background here and links.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

More on SWBTS DSS exhibit

THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBITION at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminar is covered by the Christian Post, Singapore edition, and has some information I don't recall seeing before:
Largest Ever Dead Sea Scroll Fragments on Display

Saturday, Jun. 30, 2012 Posted: 9:46:03PM HKT

Visitors at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's exhibition, "Dead Sea Scrolls & the Bible: Ancient Artifacts, Timeless Treasures" in Forth Worth, Texas, will be able to view the largest Dead Sea Scroll fragments to ever be placed on public display starting July 12.

"The chance to view portions of the Dead Sea Scrolls usually requires an overseas trip to a Near East nation, such as Israel or Jordan," said Bruce McCoy, the exhibition director.

The elaborate display will include the Genesis 37-38 fragment, which is owned by the Kando family of Bethlehem and is considered to be the largest Dead Sea Scroll segment held by a private collector. Five other major fragments will also be on display, including Genesis 33, 1 Kings 13:22-22, Isaiah 28:23-29, Amos 7:17- 8:1 and Joel 3:9-10.

These fragments account for only the latest additions to the impressive ancient artifact display – passages from Nehemiah, Ezekiel, and Jonah are all also featured, and with the help of the Green Collection and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Southwestern's total display has reached 21.

In addition, other rare and interesting artifacts that will be present at the MacGorman Performing Arts Center will include the Isaiah scroll, the Habakkuk Commentary, the Manual of Discipline, and the full Copper Scroll, which were all found at the archaeological site in Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.

I think there is something wrong with the last paragraph. Granted, the exhibition website ( is very weak on particulars, but if these superstar scrolls were actually part of it, I would think that would be mentioned somewhere. Not only that, the Copper Scroll was sliced up into a bunch of narrow segments in order to read it and I would be very surprised if all of them were allowed to travel to one exhibition. Moreover, the Copper Scroll is held by Jordan, but there is absolutely nothing on the website about a Jordanian connection.

Not mentioned in the article, but the St. John's Bible and the Gabriel Revelation are also part of the exhibition.

Background here and links.

UPDATE: Reader Theophrastus has e-mailed to point me to the press release on which the article is based and which says clearly that the scrolls I had doubts about are facsimiles.