Saturday, May 18, 2013

Olson, A New Reading of the Animal Apocalypse of 1 Enoch

A New Reading of the Animal Apocalypse of 1 Enoch
"All Nations Shall be Blessed" / With a New Translation and Commentary

By Daniel C. Olson, St. Mary’s College, Moraga (CA)

A New Reading of the Animal Apocalypse of 1 Enoch is the most comprehensive theological commentary on this important second-century BCE Jewish apocalypse to date, laying out the purpose and methodology of this Enochic allegory and using this as the basis for a new commentary on the whole text, presented here in a fresh translation. Against other interpretations that focus on Israel and its institutions, Daniel Olson argues that the promise of universal blessing in the Abrahamic covenant is presented in the Animal Apocalypse as the governing dynamic in a sacred history that begins and ends with humanity in general. The authentic Jacob/Israel will appear in the end times and be the catalyst of universal salvation.

Friday, May 17, 2013

DSS Symposium at Brandeis

UPCOMING: Dead Sea Scrolls: Life in Ancient Times: Graduate Symposium. Brandeis University, October 6, 2013.
Join us for an interdisciplinary symposium on the Dead Sea Scrolls, archaeology, ancient Israel, and politics of their use presented by graduate students from throughout the Northeast. Explore topics such as history, science, archaeology, and ancient life. View an exhibit from Brandeis University’s collection of first century artifacts.

This symposium coincides with the Dead Sea Scrolls: Life in Ancient Times exhibition hosted by the Museum of Science, with Brandeis University as its educational partner.
Follow the link for more information. More on the Brandeis exhibition here and links.

Vermes in The Economist

AN OBITUARY FOR GEZA VERMES IN THE ECONOMIST: Geza Vermes. A bit snooty, tries too hard to sound hip, and anonymous. Somewhat disappointing for The Economist, but not unprecedented.

This one was already note by (of course) Mark Goodacre. I don't entirely agree with Mark that it is "superbly written."

X-ray microtomography and scrolls

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Reading the unreadable: Pioneering X-ray technology is making it possible to read fragile rolled-up historical documents for the first time in centuries.
In a completely innovative approach to the problem, the technique works by scanning parchment with X-rays in order to detect the presence of iron contained in 'iron gall ink' – the most commonly used ink in Europe between the 12th and 19th centuries.

Using a method called microtomography, a 3-dimensional 'map' showing the ink's exact location is built up by creating images made from a series of X-ray 'slices' taken through the parchment.

Advanced software specially developed by the Cardiff project team combines the data obtained with information about the way the parchment is rolled or folded up and calculates exactly where the ink sits on the parchment. An image of the document as it would appear unrolled or unfolded can then be produced.

The key difference between the new method and other techniques previously developed to read un-openable historical documents is the unprecedentedly high contrast resolution it provides to distinguish between ink and parchment. This means the ink shows up very well against the parchment and is genuinely readable.
There's a video too. This technique may, for example, give us better access to some Old Testament pseudepigrapha, many of which survive only in medieval manuscripts. Some technological projects with similar goals are noted here, here, here, and links.

Bit by bit, a letter at a time, whatever it takes. Until we're done.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

DSS seminar at Yeshiva U

LAWRENCE SCHIFFMAN: Yeshiva University Dead Sea Scrolls Seminar. Taking place this Sunday, May 19, 2013 – 1:30-4:30 PM. Follow the link for details. (HT Joseph I. Lauer.)

Hugoye Preview Drafts

HUGOYE: JOURNAL OF SYRIAC STUDIES is now pre-publishing drafts of the articles that will appear in its bi-annual volumes: Hugoye Preview Drafts. One article has already been posted.

Goodacre on Nag Hammadi

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: "How reliable is the Story of the Nag Hammadi Discovery?" New article in JSNT (Mark Goodacre). Well the canonical story does seem a bit romantic.

More Vermes obits

MARK GOODACRE notes two more obituaries for Geza Vermes: Geza Vermes -- LA Times and Forward.

Background here and links.

UPDATE: Mark has another one: Geza Vermes - New York Times Obituary

Mary Magdalene: The Opera

THE GOSPEL OF MARY MAGDALENE is a new opera soon to be performed in San Francisco:
Sue Gilmore: Mary Magdalene is the subject of San Francisco Opera's latest commission; let the talking points take off

By Sue Gilmore

Contra Costa Times
Posted: 05/15/2013 12:00:00 PM PDT

San Francisco Opera is getting ready to start the conversation about what could prove to be its most controversial offering in years -- perhaps decades. On Sunday night in the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco's Kanbar Hall, the two principals and the composer/librettist of a brand-new opera that will roll out at War Memorial Opera House on June 19 will be on a panel to discuss its origins and perform some musical excerpts. The composer is New York's Mark Adamo, the performers are American baritone Nathan Gunn and mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, and the subject at hand is one of the New Testament's most substantial female figures.

"The Gospel of Mary Magdalene," the third work S.F. Opera general director David Gockley has commissioned from Adamo, has been five years in the making and culls its content not just from the Bible, but also from the ancient Gnostic texts unearthed in Egypt in the mid-20th century. It's safe to say that the woman who has been misinterpreted, misidentified and mired in ill repute down through the ages is likely to emerge in a whole new light under Adamo's reimagining of her.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Vermes tributes galore

MARGINALIA has invited many of Geza Vermes's colleagues to publish brief tributes to him at a dedicated web page on their site. A number of them are already up, mine included: Tributes to Geza Vermes, June 22, 1924-May 8, 2013. Many thanks to T. Michael Law for organizing this.

By the way, I count about 60 references to Professor Vermes in a decade's worth of PaleoJudaica archives. Many are in passing and of little interest, but some of the substantive ones are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Background here and links.

Carpe diem Talmudic style

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: The Irrelevance of Pleasure: As the rabbis remind us again this week, the law is the law—whether it pleases you or not. Excerpt:
Last week, I discussed the Talmud’s declaration that “the world is a wedding,” a brief celebration that should be enjoyed to the full while it lasts. But what kind of enjoyment are the rabbis talking about? The passage in question mentions food and drink; but as we learned in this week’s Daf Yomi reading, the supreme earthly pleasure for the rabbis is always Torah study. This becomes clear in Eruvin 65a, when we hear about the study habits of Rav Chisda, whose daughter once asked him: “Does the master not need to doze a little?” Chisda replied with the Talmudic equivalent of “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”: “Soon [that is, in the grave], there will come days that are long [for the purpose of sleeping] and short [for the purpose of Torah study], and we will sleep very much.”
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Dan Brown

QUITE RIGHT: Don’t make fun of renowned Dan Brown. Who could disagree with respected journalist Michael Deacon in this Telegraph newspaper article about renowned author Dan Brown?

Past posts on renowned author Dan Brown's controversial but bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code and his also controversial but hit movie based on the bestselling novel are here and here.

Women at the Wall

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: I haven't been covering the movement to allow women to pray at the Western Wall and the attending controversy, since I didn't see a direct archaeological angle. But now Nir Hasson explores this aspect in Haaretz.
Sharansky's solution for the Wall will ruin the country's archaeological treasure, Israeli scholars fear
The 'Sharansky plan’ for a new worship space, near Robinson’s Arch, has raised the ire of local archaeologists and blurred the definition of 'sacred.’

By Nir Hasson | May.14, 2013 | 1:02 PM

The Jerusalem Archaeological Park and Davidson Center, located south of the Western Wall, is widely considered the most important archaeological site in the country − the site which perhaps best embodies the destruction of the Temple. Enormous stones that formed the upper tiers of this wall prior to the destruction lie on top of each other in a tall heap. Above them are remnants of Robinson’s Arch, the largest stone overpass in the ancient world, which led to the Temple Mount. Not far from there are the remnants of the Umayyad palaces, immense structures built by the rulers of that dynasty in the early Muslim period, some 1,300 years ago.

This park area has now come under threat due to Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky’s plan to create an additional prayer area there for the Western Wall. According to details that Haaretz has obtained, the plan calls for the erection of an enormous wooden deck that would cover 500 square meters and be suspended seven to eight meters off the ground by steel beams to create an additional space for worship.

A long article discussing many aspects of a complicated issue. I'm sure this will not be the last word on it.

More Vermes obits


By Professor Emeritus Philip Alexander (Manchester) in the Guardian. Excerpt:
Geza Vermes, who has died aged 88, was one of the world's leading authorities on the origins of Christianity. In the early 1950s he completed the first-ever doctorate on the Dead Sea Scrolls – a risky topic to choose. In 1947, an Arab shepherd had chanced upon the first scrolls – texts written in ancient Hebrew and its sister language Aramaic – in a cave in the cliffs along the north-west shore of the Dead Sea. These were published rapidly, but reports kept circulating that more caves containing more manuscripts were being found. No scholarly consensus had yet emerged as to when the scrolls were written, or by whom. Wildly fluctuating dates were assigned to them, some even claiming that they had been copied in the middle ages.

From careful analysis of the published material, Vermes argued that the Jewish sect behind the scrolls originated at the time of the Maccabean crisis in the middle of the second century BCE. It was a brilliant hypothesis which gained many adherents and became academic orthodoxy. Vermes himself never saw grounds for modifying it throughout his career.
And another, brief one in the Washington Post: Geza Vermes, religious scholar. More like "scholar of religion," but maybe the difference is too subtle for the media.

Background here and links.


HAPPY SHAVUOT (Festival of Weeks) to all those celebrating! The festival began last night at sundown.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

More Vermes links

MARK GOODACRE: Geza Vermes: Obituaries, tributes and more.

Background here and links.

Aramaic and angels

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: Do the Angels Pray in Aramaic?

As the letter notes, the Talmud (b. Sotah 33a and b. Shabbat 12b [not 12a]) claims that the attending angels do not know Aramaic. In the Hekhalot Zutarti (§§346, 348) there is a passage in which R. Akiva ascends to heaven and is confronted by angels of violence, but these are told to stand down by God. Then a bat qol (heavenly voice) reveals some now unclear information about a vestibule in the firmament. The voice speaks in Aramaic, perhaps to keep the angels from learning the secret.

You can read the whole thing when my translation of the Hekhalot literature comes out this summer.

Cross-file under "Aramaic Watch."

Manuscript archiving in Germany

THIS IMPORTANT PROJECT involves "archiving" in the sense of cataloging. So far it is a print publication, not available digitally. The bold emphasis below is mine.
Mammoth project to archive manuscripts

May 14 2013 at 09:19am
By ANDREAS HUMMEL (iol scitech)

Jena, Germany - After more than 50 years of meticulous work, German specialists say the end is in sight for efforts to make previously unregistered manuscripts in scripts and languages of Asia, the Middle East and Africa accessible through printed catalogues.

If all goes well and continued financing can be secured, the mammoth project may be completed in 2022.

Extensive collections of what are termed “oriental” manuscripts can be found in German libraries. Many books in the Arab world were laboriously copied by hand until the 20th century, when printing had long been established elsewhere.

The Berlin State Library owns the largest collection of oriental manuscripts and blockprints in Germany: about 42 000 items in all.

Proposed by German orientalists in 1957, the Union Catalogue of Oriental Manuscripts in German Collections (known by its German abbreviation, KOHD) has been a research project of the Goettingen Academy of Sciences since 1990.

KOHD has so far published more than 140 volumes of catalogues as well as studies dealing with specific manuscripts.

Researchers at the University of Jena in eastern Germany specialise in Arabic manuscripts.

At other German universities, Old Turkic, Coptic, Ethiopic, Egyptian, Sanskrit, Sinhalese, Persian, Uigur, Indian, Hebrew, Chinese, Tibetan and Burmese manuscripts and the like are being studied.


Due to copyright restrictions, digitising the catalogues originally published in book form has not yet been possible, which “hinders their availability via the Internet,” she said.

So as to catalogue all of the multitudinous manuscripts, only key information is briefly noted for about 90 per cent of them.

“People who want to know more have to go to the respective library or order digital images,” Seidensticker said. “Texts that especially stand out are described in more detail.”


Monday, May 13, 2013

More Vermes tributes

Geza Vermes, renowned Jesus scholar, dies at 88 (Robert Barr, AP)

Professor Geza Vermes (The Telegraph)

Obituary: ‘Top Jesus scholar’ has died at 88 (The Oxford Mail)
Background here and links.

Dura Europos synagogue at risk

ADAM BLITZ: Jealous Gods: the Fate of the Dura Europos Synagogue Frescoes (The Times of Israel).
"If the frescoes can survive mortar fire, which must be far more developed than in previous wars, there still remains another risk which lurks around the corner. Should the regime fall, as seems quite probable, the fate of the frescoes might very well lie in the hands of the Salafists."
Which means something like this could happen. Related story and commentary here.

Background on Dura Europos and its synagogue frescoes is here with many links.

Mosaic at Kibbutz Bet Qama

A Spectacular 1,500 Year Old Mosiac was Exposed in the Fields of Kibbutz Bet Qama in the South of the Country (May 2013)

A spectacular colorful mosaic dating to the Byzantine period (4th–6th centuries CE) was exposed in recent weeks in the fields of Kibbutz Bet Qama, in the B’nei Shimon regional council

A spectacular colorful mosaic dating to the Byzantine period (4th–6th centuries CE) was exposed in recent weeks in the fields of Kibbutz Bet Qama, in the B’nei Shimon regional council. The mosaic was discovered within the framework of an archaeological excavation the Israel Antiquities Authority is carrying out prior to the construction of an interchange between Ma’ahaz and Devira Junction, undertaken and funded by the Cross-Israel Highway Company.

Remains of a settlement that extends across more than six dunams were uncovered in the excavation being conducted on the kibbutz’s farmland and directed by Dr. Rina Avner of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The main building at the site was a large hall 12 meters long by 8.5 meters wide and its ceiling was apparently covered with roof tiles. The hall’s impressive opening and the breathtaking mosaic that adorns its floor suggest that the structure was a public building.
The well-preserved mosaic is decorated with geometric patterns and its corners are enhanced with amphorae (jars used to transport wine), a pair of peacocks, and a pair of doves pecking at grapes on a tendril. These are common designs that are known from this period; however, what makes this mosaic unique is the large number of motifs that were incorporated in one carpet.

Pools and a system of channels and pipes between them used to convey water were discovered in front of the building. Steps were exposed in one of the pools and its walls were treated with colored plaster (fresco).

Archaeologists in the Antiquities Authority are still trying to determine the purpose of the impressive public building and the pools whose construction required considerable economic resources.

The site, which was located along an ancient road that ran north from Be’er Sheva, seems to have consisted of a large estate that included a church, residential buildings and storerooms, a large cistern, a public building and pools surrounded by farmland. Presumably one of the structures served as an inn for travelers who visited the place.

During the Byzantine period Jewish and Christian settlements in the region were located next to each other. Two of the nearby Jewish settlements are Horbat Rimon, where a synagogue and ritual bath (miqwe) were exposed, and the Nahal Shoval antiquities site, recently excavated prior to the construction of the Cross-Israel Highway, where ritual baths were uncovered. Noteworthy among the Christian settlements are the churches at Abu Hof in Lahav Forest and the monastery at Givot Bar.

The Israel Antiquities Authority and the Cross-Israel Highway Company will open the excavation to the visiting public, free of charge, Thursday May 16 (the day after Shavuot) between the hours 9:00–12:00. Tours will be conducted every hour on the hour. The last tour will depart at 12:00.

Visitors arriving for the tour must register in advance by email:
For inquiries kindly contact Orit: 052-4284406 or Meyrav 052-4284408

Photo Credits: Yael Yolovitch

(HT Joseph I. Lauer. Also covered in many media articles based on this press release.)

Sunday, May 12, 2013