Saturday, July 14, 2012

More on Samson mosaic at Huqoq

THE VOLUNTEER who discovered the Samson mosaic at Huqoq is interviewed in the Salt Lake Tribune:
BYU grad, prof help discover Samson mosaic as ancient synagogue is unearthed
Israel dig » Mosaic shows biblical hero tying torches to foxes.

By Brian maffly| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published 7 hours ago • Updated 2 hours ago

Bryan Bozung was fresh out of Brigham Young University when he lit out for Israel this summer to volunteer on an excavation of the ancient village of Huqoq on Galilee’s western shore. Hoeing debris that filled what is believed to be a 1,500-year-old synagogue, Bozung’s tool hit what proved to be the synagogue’s floor and an important archaeological discovery.

Looking at the ground, he saw a woman’s face staring up at him. For the team of archaeologists working the Huqoq dig, the striking mosaic was proof they were uncovering a structure that could shed new light on Jewish life and religious worship during the late Roman era.

"It was incredible to be the first to expose this face, this beautiful piece of art," said Bozung, a Highland resident who starts graduate work in religious studies at Yale this fall.

Fortunately, he knew there was a floor to be found and he had a gentle touch with the hoe.

Background here and links.

More on Daf Yomi

RABBI SHMUEL HERZFELD: The Completion of the Talmud is Upon Us. That is, the completion of the seven-and-a-half-year Daf Yomi cycle of Talmud reading.

Background here.

Shalom Paul lectures at SWBTS DSS exhibit

BAPTIST PRESS: Hebrew Univ. scholar praises Dead Sea Scroll exhibition.
FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) -- Hebrew University scholar Shalom Paul praised the Dead Sea Scrolls & the Bible exhibition at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in the opening lecture of a series complementing the six-month event at the Texas campus.

Background on the exhibition is here and links.

More on Origien's Greek Psalms homilies

AN INTERESTING VARIANT in one of those recently rediscovered Greek Psalms homilies of Origen: A Contemporary Reference in Origen’s Homilies on the Psalms.

(Via Alin Suciu on FB.)

Galatians conference

THE CONFERENCE ON PAUL'S LETTER TO THE GALATIANS AND CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY was held here at St. Andrews over the last few days. I'm in my last few weeks of research leave, finishing a book, so I wasn't able to attend. But I'm hearing from those who did that it was an outstanding event.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Drugs in the Talmud

IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING after the Iranian First Vice President raised the subject, Dr. Erica Brown has looked into Drugs in the Talmud (St. Louis Jewish Light). You can read it all, but she sums up:
In actual fact, Judaism takes an approach of moderation in regard to mind-altering substances, particularly alcohol, which is discussed at length in the Talmud. Although alcohol was regarded in Psalms as a way to make humans happy, too much happiness was regarded as a spiritual danger. A nazarite refrained from drinking to achieve a higher spiritual state, and priests were not allowed to drink during service. Judges at court were not allowed even the smallest amount of alcohol intake in the event that it would mar their judgment, and a scribe is not permitted to write a divorce document for an inebriated man who demands it. There are even later rabbinic discussions on coffee, tea and tobacco consumption because of their addictive properties.

Rahimi, get thee to a yeshiva. You need a refresher course to brush up on your Talmud. While I respect your Jewish scholarly erudition, you probably should hire a better fact-checker.
That sounds about right, but she herself could be more skeptical about Vendyl Jones and his supposed ancient stash of sacred incense.

Mor Gabriel Monastery news

THE CONTROVERSY OVER THE MOR GABRIEL MONASTERY IN TURKEY has been quiet for some time, but evidently not in a good way. The latest from the Catholic World News:
Ancient monastery in Turkey faces destruction in anti-Christian lawsuit

The world’s oldest functioning Christian monastery faces a clouded future, after an appeals court in Turkey ruled that the building sits on land not owned by the monks.

The Mor Gabriel monastery, built near the Syrian border, was established in 397 by Syriac Orthodox monks, and has been in continuous use since that time, welcoming up to 20,000 pilgrims each year.
So it's been there since 397 and someone just noticed they don't own the land? Right.
But neighboring villagers brought suit against the monks, charging that they were engaged in “anti-Turkish activities” since they educate young men in the Aramaic language and in the Christian faith. The villagers also claimed ownership of the land on which the monastery was constructed. The court sided with the villagers on that claim.
If you start letting people go around teaching Aramaic, next thing you know they'll be teaching Akkadian or Hittite or something. You have to nip these things in the bud. And let's not even get started about this whole freedom of religion thing.
Syriac Orthodox officials are likely to appeal the decision to the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that the monastery’s title to the property has been established by over 1,500 years of use.

An appeal might also highlight the lightly-veiled anti-Christian message of the villagers’ complaint.
Ya think?
The lawsuit alleged that the Mor Gabriel monastery was built on a site previously used as a mosque, when in fact the monastery was built 170 years before the birth of Mohammed.
Inconvenient, that.

As I've said before, if Turkey is serious about full EU membership, it has to start dealing with things like this on a mature basis. Apparently there is a petition to save the monastery by nationalizing its estates. I'm not sure what I think about that.

Meanwhile the appropriate response to this farce is ridicule. I'm doing my part.

Cross-file under Syriac and Aramaic Watch. Background here with many links.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Conviction in Talmudic-sage-in-back-yard case

THE VERDICT IS IN: Man Who Discovered Rabbi Yehoshua's Grave Convicted (Arutz Sheva).

Background here. And yet more background from 2009, which I hadn't remembered last May, is here and links. It is unclear just whose grave it is.

Reelin' in the years - ancient edition

WIRED.COM: Steely Dan and the Ancient Near East. Why didn't I think of that?

On another note, Roger Pearse has found the solution to the "our father was crucified" mystery.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Review of Walck, The Son of Man in the Parables of Enoch and in Matthew

The Son of Man in the Parables of Enoch and in Matthew
Walck, Leslie W.

New York: T&T Clark, 2011 pp. xiv + 267. $130.00

Series Information
Jewish and Christian Texts in Contexts and Related Studies, 9

Description: This book examines all the relevant passages containing the Term "Son of Man" in both Matthew and the Parables of Enoch. Depictions of the Son of Man in the Gospel of Matthew and in the Parables of Enoch (Par. En.) raise questions about their relationship. The meaning and origin of the term "Son of Man" are discussed, as well as the possible influence of Par. En. on Matthew. Literary, Redaction, Sociological and Narrative criticisms are employed. Introductory questions of date, provenance and social setting are addressed for both Matthew and Par. En. Dates as early as the early second century bce and as late as the late third century ce have been proposed for Par. En., but a consensus seems to be growing for the late first century bce. Therefore Matthew could have known Par. En. Sociological methodologies reveal that the author and audience of Par. En. may have been members of an ousted ruling elite, opposed to the current administration, and yearning for a just reversal of fortunes. Sets of characteristics of the Son of Man in Par. En. and Matthew are developed, and the term is examined briefly in the other Gospels. Then the two sets of characteristics are carefully compared. Similarities in vocabulary as well as in the pattern of relationships prove to be intriguing, showing that Matthew and Par. En., in contrast to other writings, share a unique conception of the judgment scene focussed on the Son of Man as eschatological judge. This suggests quite strongly the shaping of Matthew's concept in the direction of Par. En.

Subjects: Bible, New Testament, Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, Pseudepigrapha, Literature

Review by Donald Senior
Read the Review
Published 7/2/2012
Citation: Donald Senior, review of Leslie W. Walck, The Son of Man in the Parables of Enoch and in Matthew, Review of Biblical Literature [] (2012).
I usually don't mention RBL reviews, since everyone knows about them and they are easy to find. But this book, which gets a positive review here, caught my attention here because I have written on the same subject, much more briefly, and came to pretty much the same conclusion. I'm pleased to see that a much more detailed study of Matthew and the Similitudes confirms my earlier instincts.

My article that deals with the subject is "Of Methodology, Monotheism, and Metatron: Introductory Reflections on Divine Mediators and the Origins of the Worship of Jesus," in The Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism. Papers from the St. Andrews Conference on the Historical Origins of the Worship of Jesus (ed. James R. Davila, Carey C. Newman, and Gladys S. Lewis; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1999), pp. 3-18. An early draft of of the substance of this article can be found at my Divine Mediator Figures website as A Methodology for Studying Divine Mediator Figures and Enoch as Divine Mediator, but the comments on Matthew 25:31-46 are still embryonic. I have collected earlier posts on the Son of Man here and links.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The tombs of the Maccabees again

THE TOMBS OF THE MACCABEES are in the news again. Matti Friedman has one of his characteristically thorough articles on the subject, giving background, previous dead-ends in research, and the possibility, now being explored by archaeologist Amit Reem, that they were at the site of Sheikh el-Gherbawy:
Is the Maccabees’ ancient mystery close to solution?

New impetus in the 150-year search for the spectacular tomb of the famed Judean rebels

By Matti Friedman July 9, 2012, 11:34 am The Times of Israel

Few ancient sites in the Holy Land have ignited the imagination like the lost tombs of the Maccabees, the family that led a Jewish rebel army to victory against Seleucid religious repression in the second century BCE.

Beginning more than 140 years ago, travelers, clergymen and enthusiastic scholars of varying levels of religious fervor and competence have been looking for the tomb site – described in contemporary sources as a magnificent Hellenistic monument that included pyramids and ships of carved stone and could be seen by sailors on the Mediterranean Sea, 18 miles away. The complex was one of the greatest man-made landmarks in ancient Judea.

No trace of it has ever been found.

For the early archaeologists who arrived in Ottoman Palestine with shovels, Bibles, and a thirst for the physical traces of the events described in Scripture, the tombs were a tantalizing mystery. More than a century later, so they remain.

Today, archaeologists have their eyes on a site that might — just might — provide an answer.
I'll skip down to the end of the article, which summarizes the main issues.
All of which has led Reem and other modern scholars back to the same site that drew the interest of the French diggers all those years ago.

Though Clermont-Ganneau conclusively established that the structure at Sheikh el-Gherbawy was Christian – the mosaic cross left no doubt about it – his finding might actually strengthen the possibility that the tombs are there, Reem said.

Early Christians saw the Maccabees as martyrs and would certainly have venerated their graves, he believes: In this version, the structure could have been constructed atop the lost tombs to mark their place.

In 2009, Reem made an effort to clean and investigate the site. Many of the remains the Frenchmen had seen all those years before had been long since looted, but the team used radar to peer under the ground and detected massive walls and subterranean chambers of considerable size.

The site, he noted, has remains of monumental construction; proximity to al-Midiya, which has the best claim to be ancient Modi’in; and a clear sightline to the sea. In other words, it would seem to match the criteria from the ancient writings.

Since then, Reem has been trying, without success, to drum up funding that would allow the site to be properly excavated for the first time.

“Neither I nor my colleagues are saying that this is the site of the tombs, but it’s the leading candidate,” he said. “Only a large, methodical excavation would prove or disprove the idea and solve the riddle of this place.”
Clermont-Ganneau was pretty much the Indiana Jones of the nineteenth century and seems to have been involved with practically every interesting Bible-related find of the period.

An earlier article on this site is noted here and a related one on the possible site of Modi'in is noted here.

The Sabars and Kurdish Aramaic-speaking Jewry

Building a bridge back to the Bible

By Jessica Elgot, July 5, 2012 (The Jewish Chronicle)

Professor Yona Sabar is one of the last Jews on the planet who could have a conversation with Jesus, in his mother tongue.

When Professor Sabar arrived in Israel from northern Iraq in 1951, he imagined the language he grew up speaking was Kurdish - until a Hebrew University academic identified it as Aramaic.

Now an LA-based academic who has devoted his life to the study of the language, Professor Sabar believes he is now one of the last speakers of the language, and has embarked on a project to find other speakers of Aramaic, which has more than 100 dialects, before the language is lost forever.

The professor and his son Ariel spoke last week at the Royal Geographical Society in London about his experiences growing up in Zakho, Iraqi Kurdistan, documented in his son's book, My Father's Paradise.

Background on Ariel Sabar's book is here.

The article concludes with this tidbit:
Since moving to the US to study, Professor Sabar has contributed lines of Aramaic to many Hollywood films and shows, including George Burns' Oh God!, The X-Files and Curb Your Enthusiasm, although not The Passion of the Christ:

"Mel Gibson wanted a Christian to do it," Professor Sabar revealed.
Some recent posts on Mel Gibson and his—now evidently defunct—Maccabees movie project are here and links.

Monday, July 09, 2012

MOTP volume one is ...

Old Testament Pseudepigrapha
More Noncanonical Scriptures, vol 1

Richard Bauckham
James R. Davila
Alexander Panayotov
HARDCOVER; Coming Soon: 9/30/2012
ISBN: 978-0-8028-2739-5

Available for Backorder
Price: $ 90.00

Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (OTP) (Volume 1) stands among the most important publications in biblical studies over the past twenty-five years.

Intended to complement James Charlesworth's Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, this new two-volume collection adds a great many previously unpublished or newly translated texts. Providing the reader with virtually all known surviving pseudepigrapha written before the rise of Islam, OTP presents the sacred legends and spiritual reflections of numerous works that were lost, neglected, or suppressed for many centuries, with authoritative yet accessible introductions to each text.
The end of September may be a little optimistic, but safely this autumn. Background here and links.

More on the Huqoq synagogue and mosaic

THE RECENTLY DISCOVERED SYNAGOGUE and mosaic floor at the site of Huqoq is covered from the perspective of an excavation staff member and a volunteer in two articles. This one interviews Prof. Chad Spigel of Trinity University: Pair from Trinity help uncover ancient mosaic. He and one of his students worked at the site. Some interesting information on the mosaic:
One portion of the mosaic depicts a biblical scene: Samson exacting fiery revenge against the Philistines for giving away his wife. The other showcases what appear to be two female faces with an inscription that is likely in ancient Aramaic, Spigel said.


The portion of the mosaic with two women's faces contains a sentence fragment with a word that could mean either “commandment” or “good deed” and another word that refers to “labors,” Spigel said. The phrase might deal with the rewards for following the commandments, though researchers will compare it with inscriptions at other ancient synagogues and texts from the period to fill in the blanks.

The second image is believed to depict a passage from the Old Testament book of Judges in which Samson ties the tails of foxes together and places a torch between them to light the Philistines' crop fields on fire, an act of revenge after his wife was given away to his companion.

“There's another synagogue a few miles away that also has a scene from the Samson stories. So this is the second example we have of a mosaic with a Samson story from the general time period,” said Spigel, adding that they are now looking into this discovery's significance.
The second article interviews volunteer Sarah Nevling: Of biblical proportions: BHS grad goes on dig of ancient village of Huqoq. She made some discoveries of her own, which have not gotten quite the same press as the mosaic, but are still doubtless of interest for the big picture:
During her dig, Nevling found several ancient, dime-sized coins that turned green after years of corrosion. Once Nevling and her fellow volunteers found the coins, they immediately stopped hoeing and started sifting through the dirt so they could find more.

"We couldn't touch those with our bare hands because of the oil on our hands," Nevling said. "We had to pick them up with trowels and put them in baggies, and they were sent off to be studied in a lab in Jerusalem."
Background here.

DSS going to Cincinnati

THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBITION currently in Philadelphia is moving to Cincinnati, Ohio, in November: Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit unites manuscripts with Cincinnati history. Excerpt:
HUC's Glueck helped save scrolls
HUC’s interest in the preservation, transcription and scholarship of the Dead Sea Scrolls started shortly after their discovery in 1948, when Jerusalem’s Hebrew University contacted HUC’s president, Nelson Glueck, for help in trying to purchase them.

Glueck, who was HUC president until his death in 1971, was an archeologist who did much work in the Mideast.

That was the start of a connection that has made HUC a center for Dead Sea Scroll scholarship to this day. In 1969, Glueck contributed $10,000 to create and store on campus a photographic security copy of the scrolls, in case anything happened to the originals while access was still limited.

So significant has been HUC’s involvement, in fact, that it actually has a professor on staff – Jason Kalman – whose specialty is studying the history of HUC’s role in Dead Sea Scroll scholarship. HUC is planning to loan items from its collection to the Museum Center. Another professor, Nili Fox, is handling that.

The Museum Center has been after a Dead Sea Scrolls show since major ones began appearing in the United States early last decade. There has been increased international interest in the subject ever since transcriptions and photographs started to become more widely available in the 1990s.

“We thought it was a significant historical and scientific exhibit, and whenever there is one, we try to bring it to the people of Cincinnati,” said David Duszynski, Museum Center’s vice president for Featured Experiences & Customer Services. “Especially when we see how popular it was in other cities, we thought we really should be after this exhibit.”
There's also a slide show of artifacts in the exhibition. And here's another, much briefer article with a photo and a video tour: Dead Sea Scrolls headline newest Museum Center exhibit.

Background on the Philadelphia exhibition is here and links.

“our father was crucified?”

A VERY ODD STORY from Arutz Sheva:
Shocking ‘Land of Israel' Exam Shows Christian Crosses
High school “Land of Israel” exam features Christian crosses. Is the Education Ministry trying to undermine students with Christianity?

By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 7/8/2012, 8:58 AM

High school students last week were shocked by a matriculation exam in “Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology” that showed Christian crosses and referred to a place where “our father was crucified.”

Any exam with that title ought to include some questions on Christian, Islamic, and pagan archaeology, although obviously this should be done with sympathy for cultural sensitivities all around, which does not seem to have been the case here. But I'm really scratching my head over this:
The exam included a quote from a Christian pilgrim who visited Jerusalem and wrote in a dairy about "the little hill of Golgotha ​​where our father was crucified.”
It would be very unusual for a Christian pilgrim, or any other kind of Christian, to refer to Jesus as "our father." Either this pilgrim had some confused ideas about the Trinity or Arutz Sheva has made a mistake. I would like to know more about the source of this quotation.

UPDATE (12 July): Roger Pearse has located the quotation: Hunting the wild misquotation – “our Father was crucified”. Guess what? It was the journalist's mistake, not the pilgrim's. Also, barring an unusual mental picture for the pilgrim's writing workspace, the journalist needs to learn how to spell "diary."