Saturday, February 02, 2013

Hugoye 16.1

HUGOYE: JOURNAL OF SYRIAC STUDIES has published a new issue: Volume 16.1 (Winter 2013). Follow the link for the TOC and for links to the articles, reviews, etc., all online for free.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

More on the Golb case

THE RESULTS OF THE RAPHAEL GOLB APPEAL in the Dead Sea Scrolls identity theft case has received some media attention:

NY appeals court reaches mixed ruling in Dead Sea Scrolls harassment case of historian’s son (AP). "Mixed" as in 29 of the original 30 convictions were upheld.

Also, Hershel Shanks in Bible History Daily: Dead Sea Scrolls Scholar’s Son Off to Jail. Golb is not off to jail immediately, though, and he seems to be planning another appeal.

Background here and links.

1 Enoch—the opera

AN OPERA BASED ON THE BOOK OF 1 ENOCH is being performed in New York: Taconic Opera: World Premiere of New Oratorio - Enoch (Angela Usobiaga, RivertownsPatch).
Dan Montez’s Enoch is based on the life of the Old Testament prophet, Enoch, the father of Methuselah, who mysteriously disappeared from the Book of Genesis without explanation. Over 100 chapters of the Book of Enoch, lost for almost 2000 years, were discovered recently and translated from Hebrew, Aramaic and Ethiopian (Geez).
Sort of. Quotations of a Greek translation were known to Byzantine authors, but the complete Ethiopic text was recovered in in the West in the eighteen century. Fragments in Aramaic were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1940s. No Hebrew fragments of 1 Enoch survive.
Christian and Jewish scholars were surprised to find quotes from the Book of Enoch as many as 128 times in the Old Testament, more than any other book, and consider it to be scripture.
Uh, no. Completely wrong. But there is one quotation from 1 Enoch in the New Testament in Jude 14-15. I suspect that the Parable of the Sheep and Goats in Matthew 25:31-46 also shows some familiarity with the book.
The story is the antithesis of the Sodom story inasmuch as a city becomes so righteous that is taken up into heaven.
No, no ascending cities in 1 Enoch.
Enoch is called as the first scribe of heaven and first author of scripture. With a little help from Montez, the newly-discovered Enoch will now have his very own oratorio. The work will feature the Taconic Opera chorus, professional lead singers and full orchestra. Performances will be conducted under the baton of Dan Montez himself who is delighted to debut the second of his oratorical compositions in Westchester County. Enoch will be sung in English and its musical influences include Fauré, Ravel and Poulenc. Those who come to the world premiere of the piece will have the opportunity to take part in the making of music history.
Should be interesting.

Cross-file under "Pseudepigrapha Watch."

Avdat restored

Ancient Site Restored after Modern Vandalism
Nabatean King Obodas, revered as a deity, built the southern Negev city of Avdat 2000 years ago. Vandals tried to destroy it three years ago. Now it has been restored.

By: Tzvi Ben-Gedalyahu
(The Jewish Press)
Published: January 30th, 2013

Six different Israeli ministries invested nearly $2 million to repair damage, much of it irreversible, after unknown vandals in October 2009 assaulted the site, designated by UNESCO (United Nations Science and Culture Organization) as a world’s cultural heritage.


[District official Raviv] Shapiro is pleased that the site now has been re-opened for visitors after massive rehabilitation efforts have actually made the site “look a lot better than it was before the vandalism.”

However, the archaeological value of many fragile artifacts has been lost forever, adds Nature Authority official Orit Bortnik.


The Nabatean city of Avdat, named after King Obodas who was known in Arabic as Abdah, is located in Avdat National Park, which includes hiking trails, springs, groves and wildlife. The city is on the “Spice Route” along which merchants traveled with perfumes and spices from East Africa and Arabia.

Background on the vandalism inflicted on Avdat in 2009 is here and links.

Latest on Timbuktu Manuscripts

MOST OF THE TIMBUKTU MANUSCRIPTS that were reported burned earlier this week seem to safe after all. The news accounts remain confused and uncertain, but it seems that some 2000 manuscripts remain unaccounted for, which is not good.
Bulk of Timbuktu manuscripts safe, unharmed: experts

By Pascal Fletcher | Reuters – 20 hrs ago

DAKAR (Reuters) - The vast majority of Timbuktu's ancient manuscripts in state and private collections appear to be unharmed after the Malian Saharan city's 10-month occupation by Islamist rebel fighters, who burnt some of the scripts, experts said on Wednesday.

The news, based on information from persons directly involved with the conservation of the historic texts, came as a relief to the world's cultural community which had been dismayed by varying media reports of widespread destruction of the priceless manuscripts.

After French and Malian troops on Sunday retook Timbuktu, a UNESCO World Heritage site and ancient seat of Islamic learning, from Islamist insurgent occupiers, the city's mayor reported the fleeing rebels had set fire to a major manuscript library.

But experts said that while up to 2,000 manuscripts may have been lost at the South African-funded Ahmed Baba Institute ransacked by the rebels, the bulk of the around 300,000 texts existing in Timbuktu and its surrounding region were believed to be safe.

"I can say that the vast majority of the collections appear from our reports not to have been destroyed, damaged or harmed in any way," Cape Town University's Professor Shamil Jeppie, an expert on the Saharan city's manuscripts, told Reuters.

A Malian source also directly involved with the conservation of the Timbuktu manuscripts told Reuters 95 percent of the total documents were "safe and sound".

Additional confirmation comes from the Tombouctou Manuscript Project blog: Timbuktu Update:
Since the start of this week there are reports about the destruction of library buildings and book collections in Timbuktu. It sounds as if the written heritage of the town went up in flames. According to our information this is not the case at all. The custodians of the libraries worked quietly throughout the rebel occupation of Timbuktu to ensure the safety of their materials. A limited number of items have been damaged or stolen, the infrastructure neglected and furnishings in the Ahmad Baba Institute library looted but from all our local sources – all intimately connected with the public and private collections in the town - there was no malicious destruction of any library or collection.

I think of 2000 manuscripts as rather more than "a limited number," but for now let's take that as a sign that perhaps the situation is still better than it currently looks.

The Telegraph adds that:
UNESCO, the UN's cultural organisation, is to send a mission as soon as possible to assess the damage done to the ancient cultural sites.
Hopefully we will learn more when they report.

Background here and links.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Golb convictions upheld

RAPHAEL GOLB'S convictions in the Dead Sea Scrolls identity theft case have been almost entirely upheld on appeal. Robert Cargill has the story: NY Court of Appeals Upholds Raphael Golb’s Conviction on 29 of 30 Counts.

Background here with many links.

McGrath on Mandaean

ARAMAIC WATCH: James McGrath collects some links on Mandaean (Mandean) texts and language: The Mandaean Good Shepherd.

On being a Talmudic sage

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN by Adam Kirsch: Rabbinic Mind Games: Lionizing those who perform feats of memory and logic, who reason strictly from premise to conclusion.
Here, then, is part of what it takes to be a great Torah scholar: the ability to perform feats of memory and logic, to reason strictly from premise to conclusion. Two things strike me about this sacralization of the intellect. The first is that, for the rabbis, this kind of thinking is not just impressive; it is itself the supreme expression of piety, since Torah study is the highest Jewish obligation. We please God most not by feeling or even praying, but by thinking. The second is how very unusual this value system is, historically speaking. Working in the midst of empires—Rome and Persia—which were built on hierarchies of birth, wealth, and force, the rabbis evolved their own aristocracy of mind. Many things have changed since the Talmud was written, but I think it’s still possible to see the ethical and intellectual legacy of this value system in Jewish life today.

But intellect is only part of what is required from the Torah sage. In addition to being a great thinker, he is also the leader of his community and its public face, which means that his bearing must be dignified and impressive. ...
Kirsch's earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Timbuktu manuscripts safe?

NOTE THE IMPORTANT UPDATE to today's earlier post, One of the burned Timbuktu manuscripts was in Hebrew. There are conflicting reports that the libraries were not burned or that at least some manuscripts were saved.

UPDATE (30 January): This from Lila Azam Zanganeh, Has the Great Library of Timbuktu Been Lost?, in The New Yorker:
Jean-Michel Djian, a French writer who specializes in West African culture, and is author of a recent book, “The Manuscripts of Timbuktu,” confirmed by phone last night that parts of the various collections were safe. “The great majority of the manuscripts, about fifty thousand, are actually housed in the thirty-two family libraries of the ‘City of 333 Saints,’ ” he said. “Those are to this day protected.” Djian also revealed that Abdel Kader Haidara, the owner of his family’s “Mamma Haidara” library, had transported, two months ago, more than fifteen thousand of its manuscripts to the capital city in order to protect them. Djian said that the same was true of the several thousand manuscripts of the Kati Foundation in Timbuktu. “The rest,” he added with a crack in his voice, “is unknown.”

One of the burned Timbuktu manuscripts was in Hebrew

AS I FEARED: Ancient Timbuktu Manuscripts, 1 in Hebrew, Torched by Islamists (Arutz Sheva).
At least one of the manuscripts, buried beneath the sand or in cave for centuries in wooden trunks and boxes, was written in Hebrew. Another was written in Turkish, according to Seydo Traore, a researcher at the institute where the manuscripts were kept.

Most were written in Arabic, and some were written in African languages. They covered women’s rights, medicine, music, poetry, geography, history, religion and even astronomy, dating as far back as the year 1204. Researchers had managed to digitize only a small percentage of the manuscripts.
This is a manifold desecration and a great loss for human history.

Background here.

UPDATE: This just in. There are now conflicting reports that either the insurgents took some or most of the manuscripts with them or at least some of the manuscripts were removed for safe keeping by locals some time ago, well before any library buildings were burned, if any were. Time Magazine: Mali: Timbuktu Locals Saved Some of City’s Ancient Manuscripts from Islamists.
In interviews with TIME on Monday, preservationists said that in a large-scale rescue operation early last year, shortly before the militants seized control of Timbuktu, thousands of manuscripts were hauled out of the Ahmed Baba Institute to a safe house elsewhere. Realizing that the documents might be prime targets for pillaging or vindictive attacks from Islamic extremists, staff left behind just a small portion of them, perhaps out of haste, but also to conceal the fact that the center had been deliberately emptied. “The documents which had been there are safe, they were not burned,” said Mahmoud Zouber, Mali’s presidential aide on Islamic affairs, a title he retains despite the overthrow of the former President, his boss, in a military coup a year ago; preserving Timbuktu’s manuscripts was a key project of his office. By phone from Bamako on Monday night, Zouber told TIME, “They were put in a very safe place. I can guarantee you. The manuscripts are in total security.”

In a second interview from Bamako, a preservationist who did not want to be named confirmed that the center’s collection had been hidden out of reach from the militants. Neither of those interviewed wanted the location of the manuscripts named in print, for fear that remnants of the al-Qaeda occupiers might return to destroy them.

That was confirmed too by Shamil Jeppie, director of the Timbuktu Manuscripts Project at the University of Cape Town, who told TIME on Monday night that “there were a few items in the Ahmed Baba library, but the rest were kept away.” The center, financed by the South African government as a favored project by then President Thabo Mbeki, who championed reviving Africa’s historical culture, housed state-of-the-art equipment to preserve and photograph hundreds of thousands of pages, some of which had gold illumination, astrological charts and sophisticated mathematical formulas. Jeppie said he had been enraged by the television footage on Monday of the building trashed, and blamed in part Mali’s government, which he said had done little to ensure the center’s security. “It is really sad and disturbing,” he said.
But the mayor of Timbuktu says that not all of the manuscripts were saved.

The Globe and Mail: Priceless manuscripts missing in Timbuktu .
When hundreds of French soldiers rolled into the remote desert city in northern Mali on Monday, cheered by thousands of residents who were ecstatic that the Islamist rebels had fled, one of the biggest fears was the fate of Timbuktu’s ornately crafted manuscripts, as precious to world history as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The city’s mayor, exiled far away in Mali’s capital, alleged that the Islamist extremists had torched the manuscript libraries, burning them to the ground. This was quickly disproved by a Sky TV crew embedded with the French soldiers, who found the main library intact, alleviating the worst fears of many scholars.

Inside the library, television reports showed a few small piles of ash, along with dozens of empty boxes. Up to 10,000 manuscripts were gone. The immediate assumption was that the Islamist militia groups had stolen or destroyed them – although subsequent reports suggested that many of them had been hidden and saved.


In fact, the most alarming reports were unfounded. The main library, a new headquarters built in 2009 with South African funds, was still intact when the French arrived. Televised images showed dozens of empty cardboard boxes scattered around a courtyard. But each box holds just one manuscript, so the number of burned manuscripts may be relatively small.

The new library contained about 10,000 manuscripts last year when the rebels captured the city, Mr. Diagayete said. But the basement vaults were empty when the French troops arrived on Monday.

The fate of a second library, an older building where a further 29,000 manuscripts were held, was still unknown.
(Both stories via a Facebook friend of Brent Landau.)

It would be wonderful if the story of the burned library turned out to be a false alarm. But I remain very concerned for the manuscripts and antiquities of Timbuktu in the current atmosphere in Mali.

UPDATE (30 January): More here.

Jacobovici vs. Zias

COURT CASE: A Feud Between Biblical Archaeologists Goes to Court (Time Magazine). Simcha Jacobovici is not a "biblical archaeologist" (a phrase that implies formal specialist training), and Nina Burleigh should know better than to call him one. He is a filmmaker who is involved in archaeology and biblical studies as an amateur, and some of his ideas are pretty goofy (see, for example, here, here, here, and here). It is for the judge to rule on the court case, but the journalists should still at least exert minimal effort to get the basic facts right.

Tomb-robbing arrests

Arabs Caught Red Handed Robbing Ancient Grave
Three suspects were caught inside 1st century cave near Kibbutz Metzer.

By Gil Ronen (Arutz Sheva)
First Publish: 1/29/2013, 10:36 AM

A protracted surveillance operation led to the capture of three suspects who were caught red handed robbing an ancient grave near Kibbutz Metzer.

Inspectors for the Unit for Prevention of Theft in the Antiquities Authority caught the suspects inside a burial cave dating from the 1st century CE.

The suspects are Arabs from the town of Baka el Gharbiya and the village of Zamer. They were in possession of numerous digging tools.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Jewish amulet exhibition

Moriah Galleries Presents Exhibit of Ancient Jewish Amulets

Thursday, 24 January 2013 06:23 By JV Staff (The Jewish Voice)

In its 54th year of specializing in the world’s finest antique Judaica, Moriah Galleries is now presenting a most exquisite exhibition of Jewish amulets that is on view through February at its Manhattan gallery, at 230 Fifth Avenue, Suite 1311.

The extensive collection that has been developed over the last 20 years is comprised of amulets made of various materials including silver, paper and parchment. The vast array of amulets were culled from the length and breadth of the Jewish world; most specifically from Syria, North Africa and Persia and include a number of rare European examples with some never before seen.


On exhibit at the Moriah gallery are some of the most important and spectacular examples of Jewish amulets and talismans comprising the ancient and old (from cca. 400 to 1900 C.E.) Many of these exude a unique charm and flavor with special meanings and “Hashivut” (importance).

More on such amulets here and on some modern jewelery inspired by such here. Another exhibition on Jewish magic was noted here.

Meanwhile, Dan Levene's 1998 BAR article on skulls inscribed with incantations gets some attention in The Examiner: Occult news: Babylonian mystery religions, the Talmud and magick skulls. More on the BAR article here and here

Manuscripts destroyed in Timbuktu

Mali rebels fleeing Timbuktu burn library full of ancient manuscripts
Town's mayor says Islamist insurgents torched two buildings containing priceless books as French-led troops approached

Luke Harding in Sévaré, Monday 28 January 2013 11.40 GMT
Jump to comments (91)

Islamist insurgents retreating from the ancient Saharan city of Timbuktu have set fire to a library containing thousands of priceless ancient manuscripts, some dating back to the 13th century, in what the town's mayor described as a "devastating blow" to world heritage.

Hallé Ousmani Cissé told the Guardian that al-Qaida-allied fighters on Saturday torched two buildings where the manuscripts were being kept. They also burned down the town hall and governor's office, and shot dead a man who was celebrating the arrival of the French military.

French troops and the Malian army reached the gates of Timbuktu on Saturday and secured the town's airport. But they appear to have got there too late to save the leather-bound manuscripts, which were a unique record of sub-Saharan Africa's medieval history.

Background on the Timbuktu manuscripts is here with many links. Note also the last two links here, at which I reflected on what might have been found in manuscripts such as these. Now we will never know.

UPDATE (29 January): Maybe not. See the important update to this post.

Sabar on preserving Aramaic

ARAMAIC WATCH: Ariel Sabar has an article in Smithsonian on a project to preserve nearly-extinct Neo-Aramaic dialects:
How to Save a Dying Language
Geoffrey Khan is racing to document Aramaic, the language of Jesus, before its native speakers vanish

By Ariel Sabar
Smithsonian magazine, February 2013, Subscribe

It was a sunny morning in May, and I was in a car with a linguist and a tax preparer trolling the suburbs of Chicago for native speakers of Aramaic, the 3,000-year-old language of Jesus.

The linguist, Geoffrey Khan of the University of Cambridge, was nominally in town to give a speech at Northwestern University, in Evanston. But he had another agenda: Chicago’s northern suburbs are home to tens of thousands of Assyrians, Aramaic-speaking Christians driven from their Middle Eastern homelands by persecution and war. The Windy City is a heady place for one of the world’s foremost scholars of modern Aramaic, a man bent on documenting all of its dialects before the language—once the tongue of empires—follows its last speakers to the grave.

Ariel Sabar is known for his book My Father's Paradise, about his father, the Aramaic scholar and speaker, Yona Sabar. Background here and links.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Latest on Mussolini's catacombs

MORE DELAYS in the restoration of the Jewish catacombs under Mussolini's villa. In fact, the latest coverage mentions the catacombs but then discusses only the building of the associated Holocaust Museum. I hope the catacombs are still on the agenda.
Bureaucracy stalls construction of Italy’s first Holocaust museum

By Ruth Ellen Gruber · January 22, 2013

ROME (JTA) -- If all goes according to plan, a starkly modern, $30 million Holocaust museum will soon rise on the site of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini’s Rome residence.

The site, also the location of ancient Jewish catacombs and now a city park, will be home to a museum first proposed in 2005 but held up repeatedly by financial and bureaucratic problems.

“I hope construction begins this summer,” Leone Paserman, the president of the Museum of the Shoah Foundation, told JTA. “Of course in Italy, it is always hard to say.”


The new museum will be built on the grounds of Villa Torlonia, an elegant 19th century mansion that Mussolini used as his residence from 1925 to 1943. Jewish catacombs dating back to ancient times were discovered by chance beneath the surface of its extensive gardens in 1919.

“It is surely one of the ironies of history that for nearly two decades Mussolini resided on top of a catacomb complex constructed by those whose descendants -- being the main victims of his racial policies -- were the ones he forcefully tried to eliminate from the very fabric of Italian society,” Leonard Rutgers, a Dutch expert on the catacombs, told JTA.

Contra this article, the project has been in the works since at least 2004. Background here and links.

DSS move to Boston

Museum of Science collaborates with Brandeis on Dead Sea Scrolls

By Connor Novy (The Brandeis Hoot)
January 24, 2013
Section: Front Page, News

The Museum of Science has announced an exhibit centered around the Dead Sea Scrolls. Brandeis has been collaborating with the museum since August and will be providing opportunities for students to become involved with the exhibit once it opens.

“It’s really quite incredible that we are the one university the museum is working with for the project,” Professor Marc Brettler (NEJS), chair of the museum committee said. While the Museum of Science has relationships with many of the universities in the Boston area, Brandeis is the only school with which they are communicating on the Dead Sea Scroll exhibit. The Israeli Artifact Association, as the institution lending the scrolls, has also been in negotiations. While many of the plans are still tentative, Brandeis’ participation has already greatly influenced the exhibit. “A number of us at Brandeis have worked with the museum, advising them concerning various aspects of the exhibit,” Brettler said.

“The museum had some role in choosing which Dead Sea Scrolls would actually be available for the public to see. I and some others advised the museum concerning that,” Brettler said.

The exhibit will feature 20 scrolls and fragments of scrolls total, as well as many artifacts from ancient Israel. “One of the areas we pushed, especially since they’re a museum of science, and I know which scrolls have more scientific material in them, I pushed them in that direction, so the exhibit would fit with museum’s goal,” he said.

“There are astronomical texts, or texts that deal with astronomy among the scrolls,” one of which will be featured in the exhibit. “So that’s science in antiquity,” said Brettler. The exhibit will also highlight the science of the scrolls itself—the technology of archaeological preservation has made huge advances since the scrolls were initially discovered in 1947.

There is additional information at Brandeis Now: Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit to create opportunities: Brandeis and Museum of Science collaborating on programming. The latter reports that this is the exhibition that has already appeared at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and Discovery Times Square in New York City.

Peter conference reminder

LIKE THE TITLE SAYS: Peter Conference in Edinburgh: A Reminder (Larry Hurtado). New College Edinburgh, 4-6 July 2013.