Saturday, August 24, 2013


PHILOLOGOS in The Forward: Cracking the Ugaritic Code: Hebrew and Sister Tongue Grew From Ancient Semitic Language.

The treatment is pretty accurate, but a few comments are in order. First, it is not quite true that the Ugaritic alphabet does not indicate vowels at all. The letter Aleph comes in three forms, each of which attaches a different vowel to the consonant (a, i, or u). Second, it is not clear to me that Yamm or Sea is the same being as Lotan/Leviathan. Yamm is the god of the sea, whereas Leviathan is a sea monster. Third, it should be noted that the Ugaritic phrase quoted in the article appears in Hebrew in almost the same consonantal form in Isaiah 27:1. Finally, Ugaritic does "predate" Hebrew in the sense that it is older than the Hebrew we have in the Hebrew Bible, which (possibly with a rare earlier exception here or there) dates to the Iron Age II (c. 1000-586/7 BCE) and later. But Philologos is correct that Hebrew does not descend from Ugaritic; they are independent branches of Northwest Semitic. Still, whatever ancestor of Hebrew existed in the time of Ugaritic would be rather different from the Hebrew we know from the Bible and it would be a stretch to call it "Hebrew."

Friday, August 23, 2013

Job in Classical Judaism

AT THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON - SEATTLE: Call for Applications: Assistant Professor in Classical Judaism.
The Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington invites applications for a tenure-track assistant professorship in classical Judaism. Possible areas of specialization include rabbinics, medieval commentarial literature, medieval philosophy, Jewish mysticism or Jewish law. The ideal candidate will study the Jewish religious and textual tradition within a broader cultural and comparative context. We expect this hire to play an integral role in the Samuel and Althea Stroum Jewish Studies Program, a nationally renowned program whose mission includes community engagement, outstanding scholarship, and exploring the integration of Jewish Studies and digital technologies. In addition, the successful candidate will be expected to contribute to the Comparative Religion program and to the interdisciplinary curriculum of the Jackson School.
Follow the link for details.

HT Carla Sulzbach on Facebook.

Review of Lapin, Rabbis as Romans

MARGINALIA: Ishay Rosen-Zvi on Rabbis as Romans, by Hayim Lapin: In what sense were the rabbis Roman?.

In 2012 I noted the book as forthcoming here.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Israel Forgery Trial aftermath continues

THE LATEST NEWS arising from the Israel Forgery Trial has been out for a while and I'm just catching up. This Fox News article by Sasha Bogursky seems to cover the basics: Forgery of the century? Israel in decade-long war over biblical artifacts. The key point of interest is this:
The state now maintains that the inscription on the limestone box and the tablet are forged -- but the stones themselves are ancient and therefore belong to the state.

For its part, the IAA declined to comment after several days of repeated efforts by

"The IAA does not give interviews on that issue," the agency said.
I think the text of the Joash Inscription (Jehoash Inscription) is a modern fake, for reasons given quite a while ago here. I have the impression that at least most philologists agree on this. More to the point, I am still unaware of any peer-review publication that has argued for the authenticity of the Joash inscription or the full text of the James Ossuary inscription (see below), although I haven't been following the discussion closely and it's possible I have missed something. I am unqualified to have any opinion on whether the stone on which the Joash inscription is written is "ancient" (presumably meaning it is an ancient human-produced artifact, since stones by nature are pretty old). The James Ossuary itself is an ancient artifact, but there is a great deal of debate on whether all or part of the inscription is a modern (or at least later than first century) forgery.

Background on the Israel Forgery Trial is here with many, many links.

Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopia?

THE ETHIOPIAN TRADITION that the Ark of the Covenant is kept in a special sanctuary in Aksum is explored by Paul Raffaele for The Smithsonian: Keepers of the Lost Ark? Christians in Ethiopia have long claimed to have the ark of the covenant. Our reporter investigated. He got to see the guardian of the Ark, but alas, not the Ark itself.

This is one of a number of less than convincing claims to account for the whereabouts (or at least fate) of the Ark of the Covenant, about which PaleoJudaica has posted many times. Start here and follow the many links back.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The DSS in the Netherlands

A DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBITION is being run by Kossmann.dejong in Assen, the Netherlands: Kossmann.dejong: An Exhibition Takes Visitors 2000 Years Back in Time.

HT Mladen Popovic.

BNTC update

THE BRITISH NEW TESTAMENT CONFERENCE meets here in St. Andrews starting a week from tomorrow (29-31 August). For those attending, the conference program and some travel advice have been posted on the website. Just follow the link and scroll down to "Conference Details."

Local Jewish customs, plus miracles, in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Good Jewish Fences Once Made Good Jewish Neighbors. Do They Still? One of many ancient local customs analyzed in this week’s Talmud study is the habit of separating Jews from gentiles. Excerpt:
I wonder, however, whether the rabbis were also motivated by their general tendency to discourage Jews from mingling too much with non-Jews. In Tractate Eruvin, we saw how the rabbis strongly advised a Jew not to live on his own in a non-Jewish neighborhood, lest he end up getting murdered. In an age when the non-Jew was seldom encountered except as an enemy, the rabbis may have thought it wiser for Jews not to do any business with their non-Jewish neighbors. Happily, I learned from the Schottenstein Talmud’s notes that this ban, like many Talmudic provisions, is no longer in force; so if you have an ox to sell, feel free to put it on Craigslist.
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Textus archive

THE HEBREW UNIVERSITY now has a full archive online of the textual criticism journal Textus: Studies of the Hebrew University Bible Project.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Mystery word solved in the Apostrophe to Zion?

IT'S NICE when philology gets some attention from the media: Baffling Dead Sea Scrolls text gets new interpretation. A single phrase in the Psalms Scroll bewildered scholars for decades. Then two students had an epiphany. (Ran Shapira, Haaretz). Excerpt:
The verse with the word titbaech appears in a poem called (in English at least) “Apostrophe to Zion” — which appears in the so-called “Psalms Scroll”, together with other poems very much like the biblical Psalms.

Most of the Psalms Scroll had been satisfactorily deciphered and published in distinguished scientific journals. But the mystery verse with titbaech remained obscure.

There were interpretations, to be sure. They just didn’t make much sense.

And then Hanan Ariel and Alexey Yuditsky, doctoral students working on a project at the Hebrew Language Academy, had an epiphany.


Meanwhile, Ariel and Yuditsky realized - in Arabic, which is as close to Hebrew as say French is to English – the root taph-bet-ayin means “to go after,” “follow,” “overtake.”

Aha, thought the students: what if the mystery verb titbaech bore a rare meaning, not commonly known – not “seek” or “demand,” but “follow,” overtake”?
It's an interesting proposal, but I have reservations about new meanings derived primarily from Arabic cognates. When you start looking for cognates for a Hebrew word in Lane's Arabic English Lexicon, you tend to find a lot of them, and with a wide range of meanings. I wouldn't bet too heavily on any one of them unless there is substantial additional supporting evidence. Perhaps there is here, but we should wait for a full peer-review publication to evaluate the argument fully.

Meanwhile though, as I said, it's nice to find a user-friendly media discussion of a technical philological proposal.

Review of Labendz, Socratic Torah

MARGINALIA: Eva Kiesele on Socratic Torah, by Jenny Labendz: Plato, Bakhtin, and the Rabbis meet again.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Iron Age II Hebrew-inscribed bowl excavated in Jerusalem

THIS IAA PRESS RELEASE came out this weekend:
2700 Year-Old Inscription Found in Archaeological Excavations in the City of David

Archaeological excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the area of the Gihon Spring in the City of David, in the Walls around Jerusalem National Park, have unearthed a layer of rich finds including thousands of broken pottery shards, clay lamps and figurines. Most intriguing is the recent discovery of a ceramic bowl with a partially preserved inscription in ancient Hebrew. While not complete, the inscription presents us with the name of a seventh century BCE figure, which resembles other names known to us from both the Biblical and archaeological record (see examples below) and providing us with a connection to the people living in Jerusalem at the end of the First Temple period. This fascinating find will be presented at Megalim's Annual Archaeological Conference which will take place on Thursday, August 29th in the City of David.
The most similar name to our inscription is Zechariah the son of Benaiah, the father of the Prophet Jahaziel. The name Zechariah the son of Benaiah appears in 2 Chronicles 20:14 where it states that Jahaziel, son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, prophesized before the Biblical King Jehoshaphat before the nation went off to war against the ancient kingdoms of Ammon and Moab.
Israel Antiquity Authority archaeologists Dr. Joe Uziel and Nahshon Zanton, who discovered the bowl while excavating remains associated with the First Temple period destruction, explained that the letters inscribed on the shard likely date to the 8-7th centuries BCE, placing the production of the bowl sometime between the reign of Hezekiah and the destruction of Jerusalem under King Zedekiah. The archaeologists also explained that the inscription was engraved on the bowl prior to firing, indicating that the inscription originally adorned the rim of the bowl in its entirety, and was not written on a shard after the vessel was broken.
While the purpose of the inscription on the bowl is unclear, archaeologists have posited that the bowl may have contained an offering, likely given by the individual whose name was inscribed on the bowl, or alternatively given to him.
Inscription Analysis
The first letter of the ceramic bowl’s partially preserved inscription in ancient Hebrew script is broken and is therefore difficult to read, but appears to be the letter ר. The next three letters יהו constitute the theophoric suffix (the component in which the name of the deity appears as part of the first name, such as Yirme-yahu and Eli-yahu, etc). These letters are followed by בנ (the son of) after which appears the patronymic name composed of the three letters בנה. According to archaeologists Uziel and Zanton, “If we consider the possibility that we are dealing with an unvowelized or ‘defective’ spelling of the name בניה (Benaiah), then what we have before us is the name "...ריהו בן בניה"

Many of the first names mentioned in the Bible contained the theophoric component יהו, as is the case of this inscription from the City of David. Besides the biblical references, other examples of this have also been found in archaeological excavations, written on a variety of objects such as seals, bullae, pottery vessels or even carved on rock. Noteworthy among the many names that end with the theophoric suffix יהו are several prominent examples that were previously discovered in City of David by Professor Yigal Shiloh, such as Gemar-yahu the son of Shaphan, Bena-yahu the son of Hoshayahu, etc. which were also found in the destruction layer and the ruins of the Babylonian conquest.

For information on the Megalim-City of David Annual Archaeological Conference please call *6033 or visit

Click here to download high resolution pictures:
1. Pottery Sherd of a Bowl from the end of the First Temple Period, bearing the inscription "ryhu bn bnh". Photo: Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority
2. Various finds from the fill layer of the end of First Temple period: oil lamps, LMLKstamped handles and female figurines. Photo: Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority

For more details contact Meyrav Shay, Public Information, Israel Antiquities Authority at 052-4284408,
Photo number 1 above. Click on the image for a larger view.
HT Joseph I. Lauer.

Iraqi Jewish Archive update

REPORT: Iraqi Jewish Archives to be housed in the Iraqi National Library and Archives.

HT Dorothy Lobel King. Background here and many, many links.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Jewish palm reading

ERIC KWAKKEL: Medieval palm reading.

This image with Hebrew annotations is from the 13th century, but Jewish chiromancy (palm reading) is considerably older, and Jewish physiognomy (determining character by a person's physical characteristics) goes all the way back to the Qumran Library. See the Jewish Virtual Library article linked to in Kwakkel's post. I also discuss these matters in my article The Hekhalot Literature and Shamanism and at greater length in chapter 3 of my book Descenders to the Chariot: The People Behind the Hekhalot Literature.