Saturday, May 25, 2013

Vermes funeral

PROFESSOR JOAN TAYLOR posted the following report yesterday on Facebook (now slightly updated) regarding the funeral of Geza Vermes. I reproduce it here with her kind permission.
On Thursday, 23 May Geza Vermes was buried in the cemetery of St. Leonard’s church in Sunningwell, close to his home in Oxfordshire, on a fresh spring day. An exceptionally lovely service combined Jewish and Christian traditions, and was led by Rector Revd Pam McKellan, with a homily from Father Nicholas King SJ and with Nicholas de Lange's beautiful reading of Psalm 23 in Hebrew and the Mourner’s Kaddish in Aramaic. This rich blending created a truly appropriate farewell to Geza and his special vision. I hope it lives on.
Background here and links.

Cedar beams from the Temple?

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Herod’s Temple Mount Revealed in Al-Aqsa Mosque Restoration: Wooden beams from the time of Herod’s Temple Mount in secondary use in the Al-Aqsa Mosque. I remember seeing this story a while ago, but I don't think I ended up posting it. The actual BAR article is behind a subscription wall, but the BHD introduction summarizes it. Excerpt:
Recent carbon-14 tests on the beams confirm their antiquity. Some predate Herod’s Temple Mount: One beam dates to the ninth century B.C.E.—the First Temple period! The exact history of the beams is hard to pin down. They were likely used in two or more different constructions, and poor storage has led to the ever-quickening degradation of the beams.
And just as I was finishing this post I found this Times of Israel article by Matti Friedman, which has much more information: Did ancient beams discarded in Old City come from first and second temples? A collection of neglected wooden beams from the Al-Aqsa mosque offer a glimpse at ancient Jerusalem — and possibly at the biblical temples themselves. Excerpt:
In 1984, a scholar from Tel Aviv University, Nili Liphschitz, published a brief scientific paper looking at 140 of the beams in a Hebrew journal, Eretz Yisrael, along with two other scholars.

Liphschitz, a dendochronologist — a specialist in determining the age of trees — found that most of the beams she examined were of Turkish oak, with a smaller number of Lebanese cedars. There were also beams of cypress and several other types of wood.

By analyzing the tree rings and using carbon-14 dating, she found, unsurprisingly, that some of the wood was from the early Muslim period. One of the cedars, for example, was about 1,340 years old, or roughly the same age as Al-Aqsa. (The margin of error for the rather inexact dating process was 250 years.)

But others were older, dating to Byzantine times, and still others dated to Roman times, around the era of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

Even more striking were her findings regarding one of the cypress beams. The age of the beam “was found to be 2,600 years,” she wrote, with a margin of error of 180 years. That placed it near 630 B.C.E. — around 50 years before the destruction of the First Temple.

And one of the oak beams was even older: 2,860 years. That meant the tree had been cut down around 880 B.C.E, early in the First Temple period.
Some of the beams are also inscribed in Greek or Arabic.

Friday, May 24, 2013

"An idolator of reason"

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Who Can Follow These Rules? This week’s Talmud reading prompts strikingly contemporary questions about observance and belief.
In reading the Talmud, I have been especially interested in the glimpses it offers of how its complex rules were, or were not, actually observed in real life. It’s hard to imagine the average Jew in fifth-century-C.E. Babylonia—a farmer, soldier, or merchant—mastering the knowledge required to make judgments on every aspect of Jewish law. The question then becomes, did the majority of Jews consult experts frequently, or did they proceed by custom and rule of thumb, or did they simply ignore the law altogether? Was strict observance the exception, as it is among American Jews today, or the rule?

Cairo Geniza radio series

BBC RADIO 3 is running a series on the Cairo Geniza next week: Life in Fragments: Stories from the Cairo Genizah. More details here at the H-JUDAIC list.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Lag B'Omer, Bar Kokhba, and ... Gondor?

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: The (Biblical) Beacons of Gondor … Did Tolkien Know?

Mor Gabriel Monastery latest

(MODERN) SYRIAC WATCH: Funds allocated for new road to Mor Gabriel Monastery (Today's Zaman).
“As the local governor [of the Midyat district of Mardin], I pursue a policy of affirmative action towards Aramean [Syriac] citizens so that they do not feel alienated,” said [Oğuzhan] Bingöl, who added that Mor Gabriel Monastery is one of the most important treasures of the region. “I was ashamed of the conditions of the road to the monastery,” the local governor added, as he mentioned the demands of the Aramean community for the construction of a proper road.
Well good.

Much background on the Mor Gabriel Monastery in Turkey and the political tempest surrounding it is here with many links.

Vermes obit in Times Higher

ANOTHER OBITUARY FOR GEZA VERMES, this one by Matthew Reisz in Times Higher Education: Geza Vermes, 1924-2013.

Background here and here and links.


TWO CORRECTIONS to recent posts:

First, Stephen Goranson has posted a correction to N. Y. Times obit for Geza Vermes at the biblicalist.

Background here.

Second, you may have noticed that a post from a few days ago about an article on Petra has been taken down. The author of the original article, Dr. Lucy Wadeson of Oxford University, has kindly sent me a link to a pdf file of her article: Petra: Behind the monumental facades. Current World Archaeology 57.1: 18–24 (2013).

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


BUSY WITH END-OF-TERM MARKING. I hope to be back tomorrow.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Jewish sites in Egypt

THE ART NEWSPAPER: Fight to preserve Egypt’s ancient Jewish sites:
New leader wants the government to recognise that “Jewish temples are like the pyramids and the Sphinx”— an important part of the country’s history
(Lauren Gelfond Feldinger).
The new elected head of Cairo’s declining Jewish community, Magda Haroun, said she will campaign to save Egypt’s Jewish synagogues and other historic sites—but according to reports, she will reject offers of help from Israel, because she wants the Egyptian government to recognise that the sites are an important part of their history. “Jewish temples are like the pyramids and the Sphinx,” she told the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram. “They are part of Egypt’s history that cannot be ignored.”

Haroun’s election, following the death last month of 84-year-old Carmen Weinstein, is a good sign for Egyptian heritage, an Egyptian filmmaker told The Art Newspaper. Amir Ramses, whose documentary “Jews of Egypt” was released on 27 March, spent four years researching the country’s Jewish communities and heritage sites. Haroun, a 60-year-old-lawyer, “gets what she wants”, Ramses said. “She is very keen to protect Jewish heritage and keep it a part of Egyptian culture and history, just as [with] any other religious historical heritage.”

Officials have alienated Egyptians from the Jewish part of their historical legacy over the years because of the Israeli-Arab conflict, the secular Christian filmmaker said. Haroun will fight to make the Jewish heritage sites more accessible to the Egyptian public “for the first time…in years”, Ramses said, adding that only the Ben Ezra synagogue in a tourist district is accessible. “It is the Egyptian government’s duty to handle the Jewish history in equality to Muslim and Christian,” he said.


Jewish archaeological discoveries

NBC NEWS: 8 Jewish archaeological discoveries: From Dead Sea Scroll fragments to a ‘miracle pool’. Fine, but two are missing. The six that are there will be familiar to regular readers of PaleoJudaica.

Review of Weeks, Ecclesiastes and Skepticisim

BOOK REVIEW: Stuart Weeks, Ecclesiastes and Scepticism, by Larisa Levicheva in Reviews of Biblical and Early Christian Studies. Excerpt:
This book consists of five chapters with an introduction, a chapter with concluding remarks and an appendix which presents an in-depth study of the name “Qoheleth.” The Introduction outlines the following chapters and lays down the assumptions which guide Weeks’ study. Weeks offers a different reading of the book of Ecclesiastes which presents Qoheleth’s thoughts as personal grievance over the impotence of intellectual accomplishments and over the complete lack of control of one’s material gain. While such representation of human life may be accepted with strong criticism, the readers find themselves sympathetic to Qoheleth’s conclusion (1).