Saturday, October 12, 2013

More on the York Christian Apocrypha Symposium


Sarah Veale: Behind the Ivory Curtain: Working on the York Christian Apocrypha Symposium. With links to symposium posts by organizer Tony Burke and by Mark Bilby. Student conference assistants are invaluable.

Background here and here and links.

Hurtado on "Covert Christianity"

WHAT HAVE THE ROMANS DONE FOR US? Now there's some guy saying they invented Jesus. Larry Hurtado replies: FlimFlam of the Month: “Covert Christianity.”

Friday, October 11, 2013

"Not our egomaniac"

HAARETZ: Archaeological stunner: Not Herod's Tomb after all?
While attention is focused on a blockbuster exhibition purporting to display the tomb of Herod the Great, two archaeologists claim there's no way the egomaniac king was interred there.
Now, two archaeologists, Prof. Joseph Patrich and Benjamin Arubas, both from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, are raising serious questions about the identification of the structure as the burial site of the king. They contend that there is no possibility that the mausoleum Netzer and his students uncovered could actually be the royal tomb in which Herod was interred after his death, in 4 B.C.E.

The structure is not in keeping with Herod’s other construction projects or his personality, they say.

“I feel like the boy in ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes,’” says Patrich. “It's so obvious that it is surprising people can’t see it.”

The pair presented their main reservations yesterday at the seventh annual “Innovations in Archaeology in Jerusalem and the Surrounding Area” conference, organized by the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University.
There have always been doubts about the identification of the site as Herod's tomb, so it is not that much of a stunner. I have been putting caveats in my posts about the site for a long time, most recently here (leading to many links on the subject). But it is interesting to have archaeologists now actively offering a rebuttal.

UPDATE: Bad link now fixed. Sorry about that!

New blog on manuscripts

ASSIMILATED TO THE BLOGOSPHERE: Religion - Manuscripts - Media Culture (Liv Ingeborg Lied).

"I once promised myself that I would never start blogging."

Masada in the news


An American in King Herod's Court

Published: October 9, 2013

MASADA, Israel — This ancient fortress, towering above the lunar landscape on the shores of the Dead Sea, is many things to many people: natural treasure, archaeological wonder, national icon. For Eitan Campbell, Masada is all that and more — it is home.

Mr. Campbell started working at the site when he was 17 and never left. Forty-one years later, he is the director, after holding almost every job available — including sitting at the cashier’s window and driving an ambulance for tourists felled by the desert heat.

Second: Dr. Jodi Magness to Present ‘Masada: Last Stronghold of the Jewish Resistance Against Rome.’ At the University of North Carolina, today.

Did Melchizedek go Green?

PHILIP JENKINS: THE GREEN MAN AND THE KING OF SALEM. Is al-Khidr in the Qur'an a late reflex of the patriarch Melchizedek? Maybe. I have argued for something similar in the Hekhalot traditions about the Youth. See my "Melchizedek, the Youth, and Jesus" in The Dead Sea Scrolls as Background to Postbiblical Judaism and Early Christianity: Papers from a Conference at St. Andrews in 2001 (STDJ 46; Leiden: Brill, 2003) , 248-74.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

More on the Syriac Manichaean fragments

ALIN SUCIU: Guest Post: Nils Arne Pedersen & John Møller Larsen – Syriac-Manichaean fragments.

Background here and here. Related post on non-Syriac Manichaean (Manichean) manuscripts here.

Wecker, The Golem and the Jinni

BOOK REVIEW: New fantasy novel draws on that old Jewish black magic.
When a female Golem from 19th century Poland and Jinni from Ancient Syria accidentally meet one another, all sorts of mayhem ensues
(Renee Ghert-Zand, The Times of Israel).

I don't think golem creation would count as black magic, but I imagine the reviewer didn't write the headline. A couple of small excerpts:
Critics and the reading public alike have been captivated by Wecker’s creative narrative, which has two supernatural creatures from different historical eras and parts of the world arriving separately (the Golem by ship and the Jinni by copper flask) in New York in 1899. Eventually, the Golem from 19th century Poland and the Jinni from Ancient Syria accidentally meet one another. They bond and then separate after a terrifying incident, only to later reunite to fight a power bent on destroying them both.

While readers may be familiar with the mythic Golem of Jewish lore, a clay figure brought to life by Kabbalistic charms, it is unlikely they have ever encountered one quite like the one in this novel. This is because the Golem conjured by Wecker’s imagination is female, and her name is Chava.


Although her novel’s two protagonists are drawn from myth, the idea for “The Golem and the Jinni” stems from Wecker’s real life. The 38-year-old Jewish author is married to an American man of Syrian descent whom she met in college. However, while most of the characters in Little Syria are Christian, Wecker’s husband’s family is of Muslim background.
Earlier reviews noted here and link. And for many, many additional golem links, go here.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Rabbinic Shabbat dinner etiquette etc.

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: When the Rabbis Got Together for Shabbat Dinner, Drama—and Law—Ensued. In the Talmud, examples of real-life rabbinic behavior and the intensely personal nature of lawmaking.
Even so, most of this week’s reading managed to stay far away from the concrete details of Passover. The mishna on Pesachim 99b begins with a brief sentence about eating on the day of the Seder: “On the eve of Passover, adjacent to mincha time, a person may not eat until dark.” These few words are the springboard for eight full pages of Gemara, in which the rabbis talk primarily not about Passover at all, but about Shabbat. In the process, the text gives several examples of real-life rabbinic behavior, dramatizing the intensely personal nature of Talmudic lawmaking.
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Brooten on ancient Jewish and Christian women

BERNADETTE BROOTEN INTERVIEWED: Documents from Dead Sea Scrolls era show diversity of women’s roles (BrandeisNow).

Related posts at my old Qumranica blog here and here.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

"Methuselah" still going strong

THE DATE PALM grown from an ancient seed excavated at Masada is still alive and well: Ancient Date Palm Tree Flourishes Again (Popular Archaeology). Excerpt:
During excavations by the late Ehud Netzer in 1973 at the site of Herod the Great's fortified mountaintop palace at Masada in Israel, archeologists uncovered a cache of seeds stowed away in a clay jar about 2,000 years ago. For decades, the ancient seeds were stored in a drawer at Tel Aviv's Bar-Ilan University. But in 2005, in collaboration with the Louis L. Borick Natural Medicine Center at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, botanical researcher Elaine Solowey received one of them for an experimental planting.

"When we asked if we could try and grow some of them, they said, 'You're mad,' but they gave us three seeds," she said. "Lotus seeds over 1,000 years old have been sprouted, and I realized that no one had done any similar work with dates, so why not give it our best shot -- and we were rewarded."*

Solowey planted a seed in a pot at Kibbutz Ketura in January, immediately after receiving them. Since then, it has sprouted into a seedling, produced its first blossom in 2011, and now flourishes as a young date palm. It has been nick-named "Methuselah", after the oldest person who ever lived, according to the biblical account.
Background here. Dr Solowey also recently had a similar success with growing the ancient Frankincense plant.

Dead Sea Scrolls concert

IN BOSTON: In the caves of Qumran, with electronics (Jeremy Eichler, The Boston Globe).
... In their day, the scroll texts were most likely chanted out loud, writes the Brandeis scholar Marc Brettler in a program note for Saturday’s Dinosaur Annex concert, though he conceded we don’t have any idea how that chanting might have sounded.

At a guess, probably not much like the modern electro-acoustic soundscapes created by Eric Chasalow for his new work, “Where It Finds Nothing But the Wind,” a setting of selections from the scroll texts that received its premiere on Saturday’s concert. Chasalow, a Brandeis-based composer, freely admits he came to the Scrolls with no previous knowledge about their origins or content. His work also makes no claim to any informed guesswork about the sound world of ancient liturgical traditions. Brettler, who assisted Chasalow on his project, pointed out in a preconcert lecture that even the pronunciation of the texts themselves is speculative since they predate the creation of the system of vowels that inform the speaking of Hebrew and Aramaic today.

So what we have in Chasalow’s new work is a purely contemporary fantasy on these texts, scored for soprano, percussion, guitar, flute, and electronics. The texts used here were culled by Chasalow from across the different scrolls, and include biblical passages, texts from the Qumran Psalms scroll, and even an extraordinary passage from the Book of Enoch that describes “the sons of the sky” siring a race of evil giants with the “daughters of men.” Chasalow’s musical response is an ever-shifting kaleidoscope that moves seamlessly from tonal music to abstract electronic noise and back. ...
The story of Enoch was also the subject of an opera earlier this year.

Background on the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition at the Boston Museum of Science is here and links.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Iraqi Jewish achive latest

THEY WERE ALREADY STOLEN BEFORE THE AMERICANS GOT TO THEM: Iraqi Jewish Treasures Displayed in D.C. Before Being Shipped Back to … Iraq
In the chaos of the 2003 war, remnants of a once-thriving Jewish past were saved (or stolen?) by America. Where do they belong?
(Lisa Leff, Tablet Mgazine).
In this sense, the exhibit sidesteps the question that has made the Iraqi Jewish archive such a hot topic in the Jewish press for the last 10 years: Should the United States honor its agreement to return these things to Iraq, or should they instead be sent to Israel, where most Iraqi Jews fled and many of their descendants still live? While international law may be clear—belligerent troops may not cart away the cultural treasures of a conquered nation—for many Jews, the law doesn’t seem to serve justice in this particular case.

On one level, this is a question of access. If these materials return to Iraq, it’s hard to imagine that Israeli scholars will be able to travel to Iraq to consult them. But this is a practical problem, to which American authorities are offering a technical solution. As part of the restoration process, NARA’s staff will be carefully digitizing every book and every document in the collection that cannot be found elsewhere. NARA’s Doris Hamburg promises that the rare materials will be made available for free on NARA’s website, and they will be word-searchable, with annotations by experts. Ironically, the massive digitization project that is intended to accompany the return of Jewish cultural treasures to Iraq will make the archive more widely and easily available to Jewish scholars from around the world than it would have been if NARA had kept the collection in Washington. Astoundingly, much of the Iraqi Jewish archive—once-secret trove hidden away by a police state, unknown and far from the public’s reach—is about to become one of the most easily accessible collections of Jewish materials in the world.
As the article makes clear, the Iraqi secret police confiscated the manuscripts after the Jewish owners were driven out of Iraq, which rather reduces the moral urgency of Iraq's claims to them.

Be that as it may, one question that is not raised in the article (and seems, as far as I can tell, not to be of much concern to international law), is where the archive will be safest and best cared for. I have been belaboring this concern with reference to this and related stories for a long time. It seems a shame that a political tug-of-war over who should get the archive overshadows that concern.

Background on the Iraqi Jewish archive is here with a decade's worth of links.

I am glad to hear about the digitization. For more such digitization projects, see the immediately preceding post and links.

Digitizing Hebrew manuscripts

INL AND PALATINA: Rare Hebrew manuscripts to go online
Israel's National Library signs agreement with leading Italian collection to digitize about 1,600 documents dating to Middle Ages, including one of oldest existing copies of Mishna

Much more on Hebrew and other manuscript digitization projects here and links.