Saturday, November 10, 2012

van Ruiten, Abraham in the Book of Jubilees

NEW BOOK from Brill:
Abraham in the Book of Jubilees
The Rewriting of Genesis 11:26-25:10 in the Book of Jubilees 11:14-23:8

Jacques T.A.G.M van Ruiten, University of Groningen

In Abraham in the Book of Jubilees, Jacques van Ruiten offers a systematic analysis of one of the most important and extensive Second Temple Jewish treatments of the figure of Abraham (Jub. 11:14-23:8). Given the importance of representations and reinterpretations of Abraham within Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, a careful analysis of this early source is an important contribution to research both on the evolving images of biblical patriarchs and on the history of biblical interpretation.

There are many references to Jubilees in articles and books on images of Abraham. They are chosen for exegetical motifs, with little attention for its own literary and narrative dynamics, or for the specific writing and reading practices that it embodies and attests. Van Ruiten’s careful analysis thus provides important context and corrective.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Cross memorial session

THE SBL MEMORIAL SESSION FOR FRANK MOORE CROSS now has a date, time, and venue: 5:00-6:00 pm on Saturday, 17 November in room W183a at the McCormick Place Convention Center. Again, see you there!

Diverse translational Aramaica

ARAMAIC/SYRIAC WATCH: Translations from and into Aramaic figure in some recent stories.

First, A translation of the Syriac New Testament into Arabic:
First Translation of New Testament From Jesus' Primary Language Into Arabic

Posted GMT 11-9-2012 1:29:9 (AINA)

WACO, Texas -- A former monk/civil engineer/business manager, who now teaches Arabic at Baylor University, has translated the New Testament for the first time into Arabic -- one of the fastest-growing languages on Twitter -- directly from what most scholars believe was Jesus' primary language.

Arabic is the world's fifth most common language, according to Wikipedia, and enrollment in its study has soared at U.S. colleges and universities, according to the Modern Language Association.

Abdul-Massih Saadi, Ph.D., a lecturer in Arabic in Baylor's College of Arts & Sciences, said his 12-year undertaking has been "a good struggle" to translate the text into two versions -- Modern Standard Arabic as well as a colloquial Arabic dialect -- in the volume.

Saadi's 800-page project meant not only poring over original texts rather than the English of the King James Version or the New International Version, but also holding the colloquial Arabic version up for scrutiny by people ranging from educated to illiterate to be certain it meshed with the language they speak and understand -- including idioms.

"Our translation is the first Arabic Bible based on Eastern Bible tradition, namely the Syriac," said Saadi, who is from Aleppo, Syria. "Most unique in this project is the Colloquial Arabic Version, with the colloquial is known as Mardini."

The term Syriac refers to one Aramaic dialect in which Christian literature was written. Evidence from the second century A.D. indicates Aramaic-speaking Christians undertook translating the Hebrew Bible and the Greek New Testament into Syriac, he said.

Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic and so is technically the language of Jesus, but he would have spoken a first-century Galilean dialect, whereas Syriac originated as the somewhat later Anatolian dialect spoken in the city of Edessa.

Second, some of the Syriac poetry of Ephrem the Syrian has been translated into Turkish:
Turkish Ministry Collects Poems in Assyrian in a New Book

Posted GMT 11-6-2012 1:41:11 (AINA)

Syriac [Assyrian] poems have been translated into Turkish by the Mardin Kırklar Church high priest Gabriel Akyüz, at the request of the Culture and Arts Ministry.

"These poems are an important part of Syriac culture and literature," Akyüz said. The translated works include poems by one of the most important names in Syriac literature, Mor Efem. The poems were written during the fourth century using a seven-syllabic meter, Akyüz said.

The book consists of 400 pages and includes additional information on Mor Erem's life.

There are many PaleoJudaica posts on Ephrem, including here, here, here, here, here, here (sort of), here, and here.

Finally, over at the Aramaic Blog, Steve Caruso has posted a retroversion of the Lord's Prayer into first-century Galilean Aramaic: The Lord's Prayer Reconstructed in Galilean Aramaic Posted!

Job in Jewish Studies/Abrahamic Religions

JOB AT THE UNIVERSITY OF EXETER: Lecturer in Jewish Studies/Abrahamic Religions (Education and Research).
The successful applicant will hold a PhD in Jewish Studies, study of Abrahamic religions, or an area related to the study of religion with a particular focus on, or with special expertise in, Judaism, and have an independent, internationally-recognised research programme in an active field of research related or complementary to existing Exeter strengths. He/she will be able to demonstrate the following qualities and characteristics: a strong record in attracting research funding or demonstrable potential to attract such funding, teamwork skills to work in collaboration with existing group members, an active and supportive approach to inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary research that will help to foster interactions and links both within the University and externally, the attitude and ability to engage in continuous professional development, the aptitude to develop familiarity with a variety of strategies to promote and assess learning and enthusiasm for delivering undergraduate programmes.
Follow the link for details.

Via Francesca Stavrakopoulou on Facebook.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

In support of Christopher Rollston

ROBERT CARGILL has posted a Call for Letters in Support of Christopher Rollston.

Background here and links.

DSS miscellany

STEPHEN GORANSON sends in links to some current stories on the Dead Sea Scrolls:

First, at the Scrolls exhibition at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, a lecture by Weston Fields:
Tuesday, December 04 - Dr. Weston Fields [+]

“100 New Dead Sea Scrolls Fragments From Qumran Cave 4: How Did It Happen?”
Weston Fields

Director, Dead Sea Scrolls Foundation

Weston W. Fields has traveled across the Middle East, Europe and the United States to interview every person he could find who was involved in the original excavation and examination of the Dead Sea Scrolls. He has amassed a large collection of papers and archives related to the first scrolls scholars, especially the famous Qumran Cave 4 Team.

Over the past two decades, Dr. Fields has worked closely with the editors of the official publication of the scrolls, “Discoveries in the Judaean Desert,” and has himself published “The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Full History, Volume 1” and “The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Short History.” He earned his doctorate at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Then, a new book from OUP by Prof. Joan Taylor of Kings College London:
The Essenes, the Scrolls, and the Dead Sea
Joan E. Taylor
448 pages | 56 figures, colour plate section | 234x156mm
978-0-19-955448-5 | Hardback | 15 November 2012
Price: £30.00

Presents a solution to the mystery of the Dead Sea Scrolls
Clearly sets out the history and archaeology of Qumran
Offers a new understanding of the Essenes (and New Testament 'Herodians') in ancient Judaism, from the surviving literary sources
Explores the rich history of ancient medicine and pharmacology, and the uses of the Dead Sea in antiquity
Carefully illustrated with maps, illustrations, and colour photographs

Ever since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in caves near the site of Qumran in 1947, this mysterious cache of manuscripts has been associated with the Essenes, a 'sect' configured as marginal and isolated. Scholarly consensus has held that an Essene library was hidden ahead of the Roman advance in 68 CE, when Qumran was partly destroyed. With much doubt now expressed about aspects of this view, the Essenes, the Scrolls and the Dead Sea systematically reviews the surviving historical sources, and supports an understanding of the Essenes as an influential legal society, at the centre of Judaean religious life, held in much esteem by many and protected by the Herodian dynasty, thus appearing as 'Herodians' in the Gospels.

Opposed to the Hasmoneans, the Essenes combined sophisticated legal expertise and autonomy with an austere regimen of practical work, including a specialisation in medicine and pharmacology. Their presence along the north-western Dead Sea is strongly indicated by two independent sources, Dio Chrysostom and Pliny the Elder, and coheres with the archaeology. The Dead Sea Scrolls represent not an isolated library, quickly hidden, but burials of manuscripts from numerous Essene collections, placed in jars in caves for long-term preservation. The historical context of the Dead Sea area itself, and its extraordinary natural resources, as well as the archaeology of Qumran, confirm the Essenes' patronage by Herod, and indicate that they harnessed the medicinal material the Dead Sea zone provides to this day.

Readership: Students and scholars of Qumran studies; of biblical archaeology; of Jewish studies; of biblical studies; of ancient history. General readers interested in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Third, a story of Scrolls skullduggery which we should take with a grain of salt, pending further coverage:
Dead Sea Manuscripts

Swiss detectives are trying to work out how a previously unknown dead sea scroll worth up to 30 million GBP ended up in the suitcase of a Romanian tourist stopped during a random search by customs officials.


A police spokesman said: "The man had a full set of documentation proving the authenticity of the scroll including an estimate of its value, which was around 40 million Swiss Francs (27 million GBP)."

Police say that because of the remote location of the site where the original scrolls were found many had been looted and sold on the black market, and they suspect that if proven to be genuine - the current scroll was probably worth the money that the Romanian man's paperwork suggested.
It is rumored that there are still Dead Sea Scroll fragments on the antiquities market which have an asking price of millions of dollars (which is probably why they remain on the market). If there really is something out there worth 27 million British Pounds ($43 million), it must be very special indeed. Count me skeptical.

Also, a recent review of the SWBTS exhibition is here. And there's lots of background on the exhibition here and links.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Qumran and the DSS

OWEN JARUS at LiveScience: Qumran & the Dead Sea Scrolls. This is a nice summary of the current state of the question and is generally accurate, even in details. That said, a lot of scholars are skeptical of de Vaux's scriptorium and there are closer to 1200 graves in the cemetery.

Standing on one foot

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN by Adam Kirsch in Tablet: Standing on One Foot: The origin of a famous anecdote shines light on the compromises of Conservative and Reform Judaism.
It is only when you encounter Hillel’s saying in the context of the Talmud that it becomes clear just how nonsensical our modern interpretation of his words would have seemed to him.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Ancient cedar beams burnt on Temple Mount?

Video: Arabs Burning 'First Temple Cedars of Lebanon'
Arabs are burning ancient beams of wood that had apparently been used during the period of the Holy Temple.

By David Lev (Arutz Sheva)
First Publish: 11/4/2012, 4:14 PM

A group of Jews that ascended the Temple Mount Sunday were shocked to see that ancient beams of wood that had apparently been used during the period of the Holy Temple were being used as firewood by Arabs on the Mount, and off it. Archaeologists have dated the wood as far back as the First Temple period, and appear to be among the celebrated “Cedars of Lebanon” mentioned in the Tanach.

If this report is accurate, it's not good.

Masada and the Qumran scrolls

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Ancient Scribe Links Qumran Scrolls to Masada: Sidnie White Crawford discusses handwriting discoveries by Ada Yardeni.

Some interesting reflections on a 2007 article by Yardeni. Unfortunately, most of the BAR article by White Crawford is behind a subscription wall.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Philip Davies again on the Jordan Codices

FAKE METAL CODICES WATCH: Philip Davies has another editorial in the Palestine Exploration Quarterly on the codices: Codices from Jordan: the Mystery Remains. (His earlier editorial in the same journal on the same subject is noted here). He sums up the current situation and calls for those who think they are genuine and those who think they are fake to maintain an open mind.

I have explained in detail already, repeatedly (see here with many links), why I think that, although at least in some cases it looks as though ancient lead was used to make them, the codices were manufactured in modern times. I hold this position with considerable confidence because the evidence that they are fake is substantial. Could I be wrong? Sure. But the best working hypothesis by far is that they are fake and I see no reason to keep agonizing over the remote possibility that they are ancient productions. I have called repeatedly over the last year and a half for some significant evidence for their ancient manufacture, and the silence grows more deafening with each passing month. Should tests and analyses that have some bearing on the question ever actually be produced, I will be happy to look at the results, and especially at peer review of the tests and their results by experts in the area. Meanwhile, I think we all have more important things to think about.

Do keep in mind that there are no scholars who are arguing, either in peer-review articles or even in blog posts, that the codices are genuine. Philip Davies has been their most positive proponent and he thinks that we should leave the possibility open, but even he has not tried to make a convincing positive case.

A few specific comments on Professor Davies's latest essay.
The letters used are not consistent in form: they are from various old Semitic scripts used for dialects of Aramaic, with the odd letter inverted and some letters perhaps from Coptic.
This in itself is certainly not inconsistent with forgery. It is true that there are ancient cryptic scripts that mix up different alphabets, but these are used as simple substitution ciphers to encode texts that make sense. No such sensible text can be found in the metal codices.

Philip notes that Steve Caruso and Tom Verenna (among others) have advanced parallels with ancient objects to demonstrate forgery and he responds:
Do these parallels not prove that the codices are modern? Not quite: we need an image from the recent past to prove that. The eclectic choice of script is consistent with a deliberately created similitude of an ancient artifact, i.e. a ‘modern forgery’. But it’s not proof. Other explanations are possible.
First, one of the images on the codices bears a very suspicious resemblance to a coin that is itself a modern fake (see no. 4 here). Second, other explanations are doubtless possible, but how probable are they? What ancient analogies are there for such an eclectic choice of script combined with nonsense text?
However, as made clear in the Editorial, among the items found with the codices are some that are clearly fakes—one made of copper, for example and shown as fig. 3 in the editorial. Again, this proves nothing. Ancient relics might well be seeded with modern creations.
Of course this is possible, but it is farfetched. Why would anyone who had found a real cache of ancient artifacts want to go to the huge amount of effort required to make fake versions of those artifacts to mix in with them? The danger of getting caught and casting doubt on the whole collection (which is what actually happened) would surely outweigh the possibility of some marginal gain in selling them.
This brings us to the next question. Why would these books would have been produced in antiquity? Why would they would have been manufactured recently? The books are numerous (at least 50), probably mass-produced, apparently stored in a rural cave, not an urban warehouse, and manufactured with some care but designed with no meaningful text and an apparently random proliferation of letters and images. They are unlikely products, whether ancient or modern. If ancient, it seems to be likely that they had some kind of magical or ritual use.
I do not see that assigning to them a "magical" or "ritual" (what does the latter mean?) use is of any great explanatory value. We have quite a few ancient magical texts and objects spanning from the earliest literate ancient Near East up through the Middle Ages (and beyond). What specifically about the codices flags them as magical? It is true that nonsense words and apparently meaningless strings of letters are often characteristic of magical and mystical texts from late antiquity on, but these appear as incantations within reasonably coherent texts. Which genuine magical artifacts and texts from antiquity are informative parallels to the codices? I know of none, and this is an area I work in quite a bit. Unless such parallels are advanced, the best explanation for the nonsense letters and words in the codices are that the codices are crude fakes.
If modern, they were presumably designed to make money by selling to gullible customers who would not bother asking what they were supposed to be. So, if they are modern, the problem does not, in my view, stop there. There is more that needs finding out.
I agree that it is worthwhile for someone to try to track down how, where, and when the codices were made. If Philip wants to spend his time doing this, more power to him. But I doubt very much that this will lead to significant evidence that they are ancient productions.
To add some spice to this enigma, there have been images circulating of sheets that look just like these lead books, but in much better condition. A few sceptics have pointed to these as further proof that the collection is not genuinely ancient. But they are so clearly modern copies (see figs 5 and 6). Fakes of fakes? Whatever shall we encounter next?
Yes, a new lot of fake fake metal codices has recently made an appearance. I have seen photos of some of them. For comments on an earlier lot of such, see here. This has no particular bearing on the genuineness or not of the original lot of codices, except that it demonstrates that one or more production facility for such artifacts exists and is in active use at present.
The majority of scholars I have consulted, many of whom have seen one of these codices, have been impressed enough to regard their ancient origin as a possibility.
I have not yet seen one of the objects directly (that may change soon), but that hardly has any bearing on anything. What features could they have that could not be described or shown in a photograph which would amount to compelling evidence for their being genuine?
If, as I believe, we shall at some point be in a position to establish whether they are modern forgeries, or genuine antiquities, or ancient forgeries (if ancient enough, do they become genuine antiquities?), why commit oneself? It’s fine to have an opinion, but a little room for doubt should be left by those committed to either view. At least those who think they are genuinely old are trying their best to establish whether they are right or wrong.
I call 'em as I see 'em. The current evidence does not seem ambiguous to me. If someone wants a different call from me, give me new evidence that makes me reconsider my position.
Let me end with a silence, The silence from Amman. The dog that has not yet barked. Although these items, if genuinely old, would be of value to the Jordanian Department of Antiquities and the Kingdom, ever since its erstwhile Director, Ziad al-Sa’ad made his opinion known there has been complete silence from Amman. Earlier this year, a group of biblical scholars from the UK’s Society for the Study of the Old Testament wrote a letter to the Times asking the Jordanian authorities to make an announcement.

At the time of writing, we are still waiting. Without an initiative from Amman we may never know for sure what these are. Listen out!
Yes, the silence from Amman also grows more deafening as time passes. Remember back in April of 2011 when we were supposed to have tests results in three weeks? I have speculated on possible reasons for this silence here.

Bottom line: such evidence as we now have, which is not inconsiderable, indicates that the Jordan metal codices are fakes. I am prepared to consider any new, reputable (especially peer-reviewed) evidence to the contrary, but failing that, I see no reason for scholars to be concerned about them.

My most recent post bearing on the fake metal codices is here and it leads to many, many links going back to the first announcement in March of 2011.