Saturday, March 02, 2013

Phoenicians in America?

PHILIP BEALE, the captain of the Good Ship Phoenicia, is profiled in the Daily Mail:
Man's mission to prove Phoenicians discovered the Americas a thousand years before Columbus

Former City fund manager Philip Beale built replica Phoenician vessel
Believes 50-tonne wooden boat could have crossed the Atlantic
Will set sail from Tunisia to try and prove the theory himself

By Steve Robson

PUBLISHED: 08:45, 1 March 2013 | UPDATED: 18:39, 1 March 2013

Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas in 1492 is one of the great stories of modern history.

But five centuries after his momentous achievement, a British explorer wants to prove that Columbus was actually beaten to it by another seafaring nation 1,000 years earlier.

Philip Beale believes the ancient Phoenicians - a Semitic civilization that prospered between 1500BC and 300BC on the Mediterranean coast - sailed to the Americas first.

All he needs now is £100,000!

Attempts thus far to prove that the Phoenicians made it to the Americas have not been found persuasive by specialists. (If you follow the links at this recent post, you will find discussions of much of the supposed evidence.) It's not impossible, of course, and Beale's dangerous project to prove that a Phoenician vessel could have done it would be interesting in principle as long as he manages to succeed and not get himself killed. But positive evidence is currently lacking and still would be if he succeeds.

On the discovery of America, see the comments at the bottom of this post.

I have blogged a great deal on the voyage of the Phoenicia (see here and links) and whether he is right or wrong, I wish Captain Beale well.

(HT Dorothy Lobel King.)

Friday, March 01, 2013

Tents and Persian fire priests in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET MAGAZINE: Ancient Laws for Modern Times. When is a tent just a tent and not like a bed or a hat? To update Jewish laws, the rabbis reasoned by analogy.
... But the rabbis of the Talmud are not law-makers. They are interpreters of already existing laws, both the written laws of the Torah and the Oral Law handed down over generations. Their job was to close the gaps between ancient laws and modern problems, a task that requires a particular kind of intellectual creativity. This is a creativity that is not, or can’t admit itself to be, originality. The rabbis always insist that the answers to problems are already present in the sources—biblical verses or Tannaitic rulings—and only need to be uncovered. What looks to a modern reader like Talmudic contortions of logic often has to do with the rabbis’ insistence on connecting a new case to an old precedent.
Oh, and rabbinic sages are still here, but there are still some Persian fire priests around too, so I guess we have to call that one a draw.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Los Lunas inscription again

THE LOS LUNAS INSCRIPTION—a modern forgery of the Decalogue on a stone in New Mexico—has come to the attention of Batya Ungar-Sargon in Tablet Magazine: The Mystery Stone: Does a rock in New Mexico show the Ten Commandments in ancient Hebrew? Harvard professor says yes.

Even the headline is disingenuous and the article isn't much better. Yes, a rock in New Mexico shows the poorly forged Ten Commandments in ancient Hebrew. The Harvard Professor—Robert Pfeiffer—died in 1958 and it is not clear from the coverage here that he said "yes" in the sense of thinking that it was possible that it was an ancient inscription.

This article gathers together some entertaining anecdotes and occasionally some interesting information, but ultimately it tries to find a "debate" where there is none. No epigrapher of ancient Hebrew is willing today to defend the authenticity of the inscription. (James Tabor tried once in a popular article, but this article reports that he has changed his mind.) The evaluation by Comanche Ranch manager Martin Abeita seems to me to have some merit:
It’s a pain in my ass is what it is,” he says. “And it’s a fake. It’s a money-maker for the state.
As usual, if a trained specialist wants to publish an article in a peer-review journal which argues that the stone is really an ancient inscription that shows the presence of pre-Columbian Jews in New Mexico, I would be willing to listen to the argument. But in the meantime, it's a fake.

Earlier posts involving the Los Lunas inscription (including a link to Tabor's article mentioned above) are here, here, here, and here.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

"Genetic" dating of the Illiad

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Not of direct relevance to PaleoJudaica, but possibly of interest.
Geneticists Estimate Publication Date Of The 'Iliad'

Rights information:
Public Domain |

Genomes and language provide clues on the origin of Homer's classic.
Originally published:
Feb 26 2013 - 4:30pm
Joel N. Shurkin, ISNS [Inside Science News Service] Contributor

(ISNS) -- Scientists who decode the genetic history of humans by tracking how genes mutate have applied the same technique to one of the Western world's most ancient and celebrated texts to uncover the date it was first written.

The text is Homer's "Iliad," and Homer -- if there was such a person -- probably wrote it in 762 B.C., give or take 50 years, the researchers found. The "Iliad" tells the story of the Trojan War -- if there was such a war -- with Greeks battling Trojans.

The researchers accept the received orthodoxy that a war happened and someone named Homer wrote about it, said Mark Pagel, an evolutionary theorist at the University of Reading in England. His collaborators include Eric Altschuler, a geneticist at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, in Newark, and Andreea S. Calude, a linguist also at Reading and the Sante Fe Institute in New Mexico. They worked from the standard text of the epic poem.

The date they came up with fits the time most scholars think the "Iliad" was compiled, so the paper, published in the journal Bioessays, won't have classicists in a snit. The study mostly affirms what they have been saying, that it was written around the eighth century B.C.

The story is also covered by ScienceDaily: Homeric Epics Were Written in 762 BCE, Give or Take, New Study Suggests.

Although this project told us nothing new, the method did give the same date as had been reached independently by other means. That may mean that it can be applied usefully in cases where we don't know the date of a text. But there are many questions that are not answered in these popular articles and the assumptions behind the method would need to be tested very carefully by linguists. But still, it may turn out to be a useful development, one potentially applicable to biblical texts etc.

Boston DSS exhibit

MORE ON THE UPCOMING DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBITION IN BOSTON: Museum of Science, Together with the Israel Antiquities Authority, Presents Dead Sea Scrolls: Life in Ancient Times
—New England Premiere: May 19, 2013 – October 14, 2013—
Brings to Life the Greatest Archeological Discovery of the 20th Century Taking Visitors Back 2,000 Years

Background here and links.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Putin on the Schneerson Library

THE PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA has weighed in on the Schneerson Library dispute:
Russia stands firm in Schneerson Library dispute

Tags: Schneersohn library, Russia, Opinion & Analysis, Politics, World

Lyubov Kuryanova

Feb 26, 2013 20:47 Moscow Time

Russia has solid legal reasons to keep the Schneerson Library on its territory, the country’s Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky said. The U.S.-based Hasidic movement has rejected President Putin’s initiative to place the collection of books and religious documents in the European Tolerance Center in Moscow.


In January, the US District of Columbia Court ruled that Russia should pay $50,000 per day in fine unless it returns the collection. In response, President Putin suggested placing the archive in the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Centre in Moscow. He also expressed his regret over the dispute reaching the point of confrontation, adding that the library does not belong to a particular Jewish community.

“If we agree that this national asset goes to anyone, we will open Pandora`s Box. If we start meeting their demands, we will see such kind of lawsuits streaming in”, Mr. Putin said.

Background here and links.

New novel series on the Nephilim

THE NEPHILIM IN HARLEQUIN ROMANCE MODE: Age of Eve: Return of the Nephilim Is a New Romance Novel from BroadLit with a Paranormal Twist.
Fallen angels, voodoo magic, and intense passion combine in the first paranormal romance novel from Quantum Leap co-creator D. M. Pratt. BroadLit, a company introducing a new slant on romance, is publishing the first novel in award-winning D. M. Pratt’s new romantic thriller series Age of Eve: Return of the Nephilim. The series introduces readers to a passion of mythological proportions that will captivate the reader’s body, mind and soul.
The scary thing is that it will probably sell well.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Review of Law and Salvesen (ed), Greek Scripture and the Rabbis

MARGINALIA: Nicholas de Lange on Greek Scripture and the Rabbis, Edited by T.M. Law and A. Salvesen. Did the Jews abandon the Greek Bible to the early Christians? Excerpt:
Greek Scripture and the Rabbis is a valuable contribution to Greek bible studies. Its eleven chapters represent the cutting edge of scholarship in this area. Even if few of them engage directly with rabbinic studies, taken together they draw attention to important questions, both methodological and substantial, in the study of the Jewish reception and use of Greek bible translations.

Jubilees meets the synagogue

OLD TESTAMENT PSEUDEPIGRAPHA WATCH: The Book of Jubilees features in Jewish adult education in Boulder: Midrash Before the Rabbis: Stories of Parents and Children.
Rabbis have retold the stories of the Torah in radical ways as Midrash. But, as explained by Dr. Naomi Susan Schwartz Jacobs, an internationally recognized teacher and scholar of the Hebrew Bible and ancient Judaism, that process began hundreds of years earlier.

The Book of Jubilees, found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, retells a large section of the Torah with numerous and dramatic changes. In this session we will examine how Jubilees retells stories of parents and children. ...

Monday, February 25, 2013

E-book: Patmore, Adam, Satan, and the King of Tyre

Adam, Satan, and the King of Tyre
The Interpretation of Ezekiel 28:11-19 in Late Antiquity

Author: Hector M. Patmore
Subjects: Jewish Studies
Publication Year : 2012
DOI: 10.1163/9789004208803
E - ISBN : 9789004208803
Imprint: Brill
Collections: Biblical Studies, Ancient Near East and Early Christianity E-Books Online, Collection 2012
You can buy access to the whole thing for a set price, or buy single chapters for a proportionately higher price.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Jewish descendants (etc.) in Timbuktu

MORE ON JEWISH MANUSCRIPTS AND DESCENDANTS OF JEWS IN TIMBUKTU: After Islamist Threat Repelled, Spotlight Hits ‘Jews’ of Fabled Timbuktu:Ancient Saharan City Is Home to 1,000 Jewish Descendants (Nathan Guttman, The Forward).
Timbuktu, the remote and ancient Sahara Desert city that was until recently controlled by Al Qaeda-affiliated groups, is not often thought of as an outpost of Jewish life. Yet this West African town of some 55,000, in northern Mali, is still home to an estimated 1,000 descendants of Jews who converted to Islam centuries ago.

In three villages near the city, local residents still refer to these descendants as “the Jews,” but visitors and activists report that Malians of Jewish ancestry did not suffer any form of discrimination, even with the infiltration of violent Islamist extremists to the region. It also appears that the ancient documents that serve as proof of Jewish life in Timbuktu survived the recent attacks on the city’s historic library.

Interest in this Jewish history peaked two decades ago, when a local scholar, armed with ancient trade documents containing Hebrew script, launched a research project that documented the Jewish roots of some local residents. This ignited a search for identity among some of these individuals, and brought a degree of international attention to their existence. But mutual disappointment followed amid disputes over financial aid from Jews overseas. Activists on both sides have since given up on reconnecting residents of Timbuktu to their Jewish roots.


The documents establishing the Jewish connection to Timbuktu are believed to be safe. The fire set to the library by rebels destroyed many Muslim manuscripts, but most were spirited to safety beforehand and hidden by local families devoted to their preservation over many generations. The documents relating to Jewish activity in the region are believed to be safe in the hands of Haidara or in possession of these villagers.

Related: How Timbuktu’s heritage was saved in rice sacks and canoes (Alice Fordham , The National)
"We are very proud of what we did," said Khalif Al Hadji, an archivist. "We did it for three reasons. The first, is that if we lose these manuscripts, we won't find them again. Two, we work in the library. Three, we are all Malians and we know exactly how valuable these manuscripts are to us."

Mr Cisse added proudly that the rich archive of thousands of books belie the myth that Africa relies on oral tradition as opposed to written history and scholarship. "It's enormous," he said. "The culture, the history."

Even as the men spoke, in a courtyard of the new building, ashy fragments of burnt manuscripts eddied in the breeze. Just before a French-led intervention had pushed the militants out of town, some of the rebels pulled around 1,000 manuscripts off the shelves and built a bonfire. The charred scripts are still discernible, but the treasures are lost.

French soldiers have now left Timbuktu, and there are fears that the militant Islamists could creep back, and a similar fate could await any of the manuscripts returned to the institute. Under the circumstances, the manuscripts are unlikely to go home for some time, said Shamil Jeppie, head of the Tombouctou Manuscripts Project at the University of Cape Town.

Background here and links. Still hoping for some word on ancient literary texts such as Old Testament pseudepigrapha somewhere among those Timbuktu manuscripts.

New BBC series on Judaism

SIMON SCHAMA writes in the Financial Times about his upcoming BBC series, "The Story of the Jews": Wandering star. The first section describes a visit to Elephantine Island and has a good discussion of the Judean community that lived there in the fifth century BCE. The Dura Europos synagogue also comes up in the article, as do the Jews of Chochin in India.

Cyrus Cylinder and modern politics

FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF WISHFUL-THINKING HEADLINES, brought to you by Ian Black in the Guardian: Can a text from ancient Persia break down mistrust between enemies?

Fortunately, the essay itself pretty much (and correctly) answers the question "no." See also the linked essay by Jacob Wright: The Cyrus Cylinder And A Dream For The Middle East. I have some similar comments here. More background here and many links.


HAPPY PURIM to all those celebrating! The festival began last night at sundown and concludes today at sundown.