Saturday, July 25, 2015

Birmingham Qur'an fragments update

THE LATEST: Reader Gilles Firmin has e-mailed with several important links regarding the recently announced discovery of what could be very early fragments of the Qur'an found in the Mingana Collection at the University of Birmingham. I quote his full message in French and then unpack it below.
Samedi 25 juillet
Cher Monsieur Davila,

En décryptant les informations données par Wikipedia
on découvre dans les positions de thèse de Mme Fedeli la référence au manuscrit de la BnF auquel elle rattache les "feuillets de Birmingham" (§ 2).

Ce manuscrit (BnF ar. 328 c) a été décrit par François Déroche dans son catalogue des Manuscrits du Coran (t. 1, 1983, n° 4, p. 60-61 [Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France]); FD le cite souvent dans son édition du Codex Parisino-Petropolitanus
auquel les feuillets en question ont été rajoutés lors de la reliure de ce "codex". Il y évoque également la constitution de la collection Asselin de Cherville (début du XIXe siècle), qui a récupéré notamment des manuscrits de Fustat...

On trouve déjà des images en ligne des feuillets

G. F.
First, there is now a Wikipedia article that gives lots of additional information about the manuscript, including script, orthography, layout, and a detailed account of the contents: Birmingham Quran manuscript.

Second, an essay by Alba Fedeli on her research: The Qur’anic Manuscripts of the Mingana Collection and their Electronic Edition.

From these we learn that the two leaves of the recently announced Birmingham manuscript (Mingana 1572a) are from the same manuscript as sixteen of the leaves (= BnF Arabe 328(c)) inserted into the Codex Parisino-petropolitanus now in Paris. The latter codex includes fragments of several other early manuscripts of the Qur'an.

Third, the codex Parisino-petropolitanus is the subject of a book by François Déroche, published by Brill: La transmission écrite du Coran dans les débuts de l'islam: Le codex Parisino-petropolitanus.
The codex Parisino-petropolitanus is one of the earliest witnesses of the handwritten transmission of the Qurʾanic text which has survived to this day. The various fragments which were part of the original manuscript are scattered among various collections; once put together, they provide a unique picture of the state of the text during the 7th century (orthography and textual peculiarities) and of the circumstances in which the canonical version as we know it today took shape physically. The present study, first of its kind, paves the way for a more accurate understanding of the beginning of Islam, based on a significant document, and of the evolution of the Qurʾan during that period.
Fourth, photos of Ms. Paris BnF Arabe 328 (c) are available at the Corpus Coranicum website.

So sixteen more leaves of the same manuscript do survive in Paris, which is a very welcome and exciting development.

I am very grateful to M. Firmin for the additional information.

Background here and links.

Gheiby, Zarathustras Feuer

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: A Cultural History of Zoroastrianism. Notice of a new book: Gheiby, Bijan. 2014. Zarathustras Feuer: Eine Kulturgeschichte des Zoroastrismus. Darmstadt: Philipp von Zabern.

Was Herod's Temple "Roman?"

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: In Honor of Tisha B'Av: Palestinians Say Holy Temple Was Roman. PA calls on Muslims 'all over the world' to stop 'Judaization' of the Temple Mount on day mourning its destruction - by 'all means' (Dalit Halevy, Arutz Sheva). One paragraph of this article calls for some commentary:
Dr. Jamal Amer, defined by the Hamas-backed Palestine newspaper as an expert on Jerusalem affairs, ahistorically claimed that the Temple is actually a Roman place of worship, built by the "Arab" King Herod, and has no connection to the Jews, historically and religiously. Amer also claimed that Jews falsify history due to greed regarding the holy city.
As usual with such things, I do not have access to Dr. Amer's comments directly, so my comments are in reply to the summary in this article.

There are three claims here: (1) the Temple was a Roman place of worship; (2) King Herod was an Arab; and (3) the Temple has no historical or religious connection with the Jews.

I'll start with (2). I have discussed the question of whether Herod was an Arab at length here. The short version is that one can make an argument that he was Arab by genetic background, but he was clearly culturally Jewish. Make of that what you will.

The other two claims go together. Herod's Temple was hardly free of connections with Judaism. It was a renovation of a much older Judean temple (discussion here). Although Herod answered to the Romans for his authority, so presumably they did not oppose the project, it certainly wasn't a "Roman place of worship" in the sense that Romans had any active role in running the worship at the site or that Romans rather than Jews worshipped there (although gentiles were allowed in one court). A Greek inscription was recovered from the Temple Mount in multiple copies which warns that any "foreigner" (ἀλλογενής) was to keep to the Court of the Gentiles and that any attempt to move onto the rest of the site was subject to the death penalty (Greek text here). Josephus knew of and referred to the inscription.

This takes Jewish-Temple denial in a slightly new (to me) direction, which acknowledges the existence of Herod's Temple (which, after all, is pretty difficult to get around), but claims that it had nothing to do with Judaism. This is going even further that Yassar Arafat was willing to go: he at least acknowledged that Herod's Temple was a Jewish Temple.

Ultimately I don't think that claims such as we find here are advanced as serious history. They collapse upon any serious examination and are just aimed at low information readers who will not follow them up. I take the time to respond to them in the hope that some of those readers might find their way here and learn what the evidence actually shows.

Temple Faithful protests

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Activists Call to Rebuild Third Temple on Tisha B'Av. Temple Faithful Movement plans march to demand government 'remove enemies from Temple Mount and rebuild third Temple' (Ari Yashar, Arutz Sheva). It's no secret to regular readers that I condemn the destructive activities of the Waqf on the Temple Mount, but that I am also strongly opposed to any other efforts to excavate or build on it for the foreseeable future. Let's leave it as it is until archaeologists can deploy non-destructive and non-invasive technologies to explore what is buried there. For the present I have no other comments on the politics of the site.

Tisha B'Av 2015

TISHA B'AV (THE NINTH OF AV) begins this evening at sundown. An easy fast to all those observing it.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Wright, Psalms of Solomon

Robert B. Wright, Psalms of Solomon: A Critical Edition of the Greek Text (Jewish and Christian Texts 1; London/New York: T&T Clark, 2007)

The Psalms of Solomon, the most important early psalm book outside the canonical psalter, reflects the turmoil of events in the last pre-Christian century and gives an apparently eyewitness account of the first invasions of the Romans into Jerusalem. The Psalms of Solomon provides the most detailed expectation of the Jewish Messiah before the New Testament. Wright's critical edition is the first complete critical edition of the Greek texts of the Psalms of Solomon.
Sent by the publisher for some work I did for them.

Chair in Jewish Studies at Stanford

SEARCH FOR FULL PROFESSOR: Koshland Chair (Senior Position w/ Tenure) (
The Department of Religious Studies at Stanford University invites applications and nominations in the area of the study of Jewish religion and/or thought for the Daniel E. Koshland Chair in Jewish Religion and Culture. We seek a senior scholar of distinction in the field of Jewish Studies, with an outstanding record of research and scholarship and a demonstrated commitment to excellence in teaching and advising students at both graduate and undergraduate levels. The successful candidate may specialize in any area or period of the study of Jewish religion and/or thought.

The appointment will be at the full professor level, but scholars at the advanced associate level are also encouraged to apply.

The term of appointment would begin September 1, 2016 or as soon as practicable thereafter.
No specific deadline for applications is given in the announcement, but follow the link for application information.

On the origins of the Qur'an - with update on the Birmingham fragments

BACKGROUND: The origins of the Koran: From revelation to holy book (Behnam Sadeghi, BBC). This is a good summary of both the traditional understanding of the early history of the Qur'an and the current scholarly state of the question, which at present are much the same. But it is still pretty early days for the latter.

This discussion is of interest to PaleoJudaica not only because I have been following the recent story of the fragments of a very early Qur'an manuscript found in the Mingana Collection at the University of Birmingham, but also because the Enoch Seminar is now bringing Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scholars (and specialists in the early history of all three areas) into a discussion of Jewish and Christian traditions in late antiquity in relation to the origins of the Qur'an and Islam. This is an exciting development that is likely to result in important advances in the scholarly understanding of all three areas.

UPDATE: Robert Cargill has just posted a link at the Facebook Unofficial SBL/AAR Member Group to the following blog post by R. Joseph Hoffman: THE BBC-BIRMINGHAM “QUR’AN” FACTS FIASCO (The New Oxonian). Read it all, but it concludes:
So to repeat: What we have at Birmingham is the discovery of leaves of parchment, probably recycled and scraped and used by a religious teacher to record bits of memorized narrative from sources that finally make their way into the Qur’an. That there should be some overlap in these extracts and later editions of the Qur’an as copied and printed is not at all surprising. But as there is no prototype, it can hardly be said to be evidence of an unalterable textual tradition. There is no compelling reason to think that this slim discovery proves the inviolability of the Islamic holy book, or vindicates any doctrine. In fact, if treated intelligently and using the methods of western textual criticism, this could shed light on how books like the Qur’an evolved over time to become compendiums of the words of men regarded as the prophets and teachers of their tradition. So far however, we see little evidence that the find will be treated in that way. As Gerd Puin has said, “My idea is that the Koran is a kind of cocktail of texts that were not all understood even at the time of Muhammad. Many of them may even be a hundred years older than Islam itself. Even within the Islamic traditions there is a huge body of contradictory information, including a significant Christian substrate; one can derive a whole Islamic anti-history from them if one wants…” What we have at Birmingham perfectly illustrates that point.
Qur'anic origins is not my area of expertise, but I cannot find any indication that Dr. Hoffman has published anything in the area either. He has, however published the book The Just War and Jihad: Violence in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, (Prometheus Books, January 2, 2006), so he has published about Islam. Most of his work seems to have been on early Christianity. Past PaleoJudaica posts on some of it, mostly in relation to the Jesus Project, are here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Be that as it may, I am not in a position to evaluate his post, but the evidence he cites certainly raises the possibility that specialists in Qur'anic origins may find problems with the early evaluations of the Birmingham fragments.

Inevitably there must be a long period in which the manuscript is published in a critical edition and other specialists have time to digest the evidence and publish their own judgments. This will take years.

But meanwhile, watch this space.

And if any readers come across discussions of the Birmingham fragments by specialists in the origins of the Qur'an, please do point me to them.

UPDATE (25 July): More on the Birmingham fragments here.

DSS Lamentations scroll on display for Tisha B'Av

Dead Sea Copy of Lamentations to Be Displayed for First Time (Arutz Sheva).
A copy of the Book of Lamentations from the Dead Sea Scrolls collection will be put on display at the Bible Lands Museum for the first time. The display will only be up until the end of Tisha B'Av, on Sunday evening.

Apparently it's there now, if you are in Jerusalem and you want to go have a look.

Review of Dorff and Zoloth (eds.), Jews and Genes

BOOK REVIEW: Parsing the Jewish genome (Jonathan Kirsch , Jewish Journal).
Jewish law holds that Jewish identity is traced through the maternal bloodline, but history cautions us against the dangers of linking blood and religion. From the Spanish Inquisition to the Third Reich, the scrutiny of one’s ancestry has been a matter of life and death for Jews and their descendants. To put it another way, what is written in the Jewish genome cannot be erased.

Elliot N. Dorff and Laurie Zoloth, the editors of “Jews and Genes: The Genetic Future in Contemporary Jewish Thought” (Jewish Publication Society/University of Nebraska Press), are mindful of these dangers, but they insist that genetic science holds special meaning and promise for the Jewish people, a theme that is explored in fascinating and often surprising detail by rabbis, physicians, religious scholars, folklorists and bioethicists in the essays that are collected here.

The essays in the book are wide ranging, including not only obvious topics such as whether there is "a single 'Jewish gene'" (doesn't look like it so far), but also the concepts of a human soul and the image of God in the book of Genesis, as well as the concept of magic in the Talmud and the question of where research moves into the realm of sorcery.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Patricia Crone, 1945-2015

REST IN PEACE: Patricia Crone, Questioning Scholar of Islamic History, Dies at 70 (Sam Roberts, NYT).
Patricia Crone, a scholar who explored untapped archaeological records and contemporary Greek and Aramaic sources to challenge conventional views of the roots and evolution of Islam, died on July 11 at her home in Princeton, N.J. She was 70.

The Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where she was a professor from 1997 until her retirement last year, said the cause was cancer.

Fred M. Donner, a professor of Near Eastern history at the University of Chicago, said Professor Crone had “made it clear that historians of early Islam had failed to really behave as historians — that is, had failed to challenge the validity of their sources, but rather had accepted complacently what I call the ‘traditional origins narrative’ created by the Islamic tradition itself.”

Some of Professor Crone's work has been noted by PaleoJudaica here. Cross-file under Aramaic Watch.

More on that "oldest" Qur'an manuscript

THE VERY OLD BIRMINGHAM MANUSCRIPT OF THE QUR'AN has understandably received a great deal of media attention in the last day or so, but most of it has just repeated the same details. But here are two articles that give us a little more.

The Guardian view on Birmingham’s Qur’an: part of a rich and complex intellectual history. This editorial gives some background on Alphonse Mingana, who was an Aramaic-speaking Iraqi Chaldean Christian, and on the Mingana Collection. PaleoJudaica readers who have been paying attention in the last day will be familiar with most of the information.

World's oldest Koran discovered in Birmingham: This really will rejoice Muslim hearts. All we need now is a Dead Sea Scrolls-era Book of Job to surface in Newcastle or Nottingham (Boyd Tonkin, The Independent). Bring it on! Aside from the amusing subheading, the article has some reflections on the implications of the manuscript and some contextual comparisons to the New Testament. Plus, he brings in a surprising connection with Edward Cadbury of Cadbury Chocolate.

Background on the story is here. As far as I can tell, no one has taken up my call to inquire about the records that show that the manuscript has always been a part of the Mingana Collection. I don't really doubt that it has, but something about its history would be good to know. Where did Mingana get it and from whom and under what circumstances?

For that matter, other questions occur to me.

• How secure is the Carbon-14 dating? Has it been done repeatedly to confirm the range of dates? I am no expert on C-14 dating technology, but it does seem to me that fairly often wildly different dates come up in different tests on the same object, usually due to some kind of contamination of the sample. This seems particularly relevant in that the news reports say that this manuscript had been bound with another one.

• What is the likely provenance of the manuscript? Where was it composed? What can we learn about the manuscript from the script?

• I had also been about to ask what the name of the "PhD researcher" who noticed the manuscript was, because the BBC report did not originally give it. But I just checked again and the name is now there: Alba Fedeli is the sharp-eyed researcher who first realized the importance of the manuscript. Kudos to the BBC for noticing the lapse and correcting it.

UPDATE: An informative article has just been published by the New York Times: A Find in Britain: Quran Fragments Perhaps as Old as Islam (DAN BILEFSKY). It has some new information that at least addresses some of my questions and also questions that I should have thought to ask.
Tom Holland, the author of “In the Shadow of the Sword,” which charts the origins of Islam, said the discovery in Birmingham bolstered scholarly conclusions that the Quran attained something close to its final form during Muhammad’s lifetime. He said the fragments did not resolve the controversial questions of where, why and how the manuscript was compiled, or how its various suras, or chapters, came to be combined in a single volume.

Consisting of two parchment leaves, the manuscript in Birmingham contains parts of what are now Chapters 18 to 20. For years, the manuscript had been mistakenly bound with leaves of a similar Quran manuscript.

Saud al-Sarhan, the director of research at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, said he doubted that the manuscript found in Birmingham was as old as the researchers claimed, noting that its Arabic script included dots and separated chapters — features that were introduced later. He also said that dating the skin on which the text was written did not prove when it was written. Manuscript skins were sometimes washed clean and reused later, he said.

Professor Thomas said the text of the two folio pages studied by Ms. Fedeli, who received her doctorate this month, corresponded closely to the text of the modern Quran. But he cautioned that the manuscript was only a small portion of the Quran and therefore did not offer conclusive proof.
I should have thought to ask how much of the Qur'an survived in the fragments and which specific passages and what the relationship of those passages was to the text of the Qur'an we now have. Now we know: two pages, parts of Suras 18 and 20 (which verses?), and their text "corresponded closely" to the received text. (How closely? Are there variants?)

In the third paragraph quoted above, the issue of paleography and layout are raised, and it is very interesting that an Arabic paleographer thinks the writing on the fragments is later than the C-14 results indicate. Likewise this:
Graham Bench, director of the Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, concurred, and added a caveat: “You’re dating the parchment,” he said. “You’re not dating the ink. You’re making the assumption that the parchment or vellum was used within years of it being made, which is probably a reasonable assumption, but it’s not watertight.”
I raised this issue myself in my earlier post. Dr. Sarhan suggests the parchment could have been reused after being washed clean. If so, it looks washed very clean, because I can't see any sign of underwriting.

The opening paragraph of the article also says this:
LONDON — The ancient manuscript, written on sheep or goat skin, sat for nearly a century at a university library, with scholars unaware of its significance.
So we have a clear assertion that the fragments are part of the original collection, which is probably true, but I would still like to see the paper trail, or at least hear what it tells us.

Nothing specific yet about provenance, although presumably it was somewhere is Arabia.

I commend the scholars in Birmingham for getting out information on this discovery at a remarkable pace. Questions remain, and each new revelation raises more, but there is plenty to think about in the meantime. And let us remember that real progress is only going to come when, in due course, peer-reviewed publications of and about the manuscript come out. I remain a little skeptical that the text is quite as early as the initial reports indicate but, as usual with these things, I would be very happy to find that my skepticism is misplaced for a change.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader G. Firmin has pointed me, first, to a page congratulating Dr. Fedeli on the completion of her thesis. It includes the abstract of the thesis. The thesis itself has been placed in the University of Birmingham's electronic depository of theses, but it will not be publicly viewable until May 2017. This is a common arrangement that allows a researcher to publish his or her research before the thesis is made public. I look forward to its formal publication in due course. The abstract opens as follows:
The Special Collections of the Cadbury Research Library at the University of Birmingham hold seven early Qur’ānic pieces on parchment and papyrus dating from the seventh century. Alphonse Mingana purchased them from the antiquarian dealer von Scherling in 1936.
Second, G. Firmin points to this University of Birmingham press release, which tells us:
Dr Alba Fedeli, who studied the leaves as part of her PhD research, said: ‘The two leaves, which were radiocarbon dated to the early part of the seventh century, come from the same codex as a manuscript kept in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris.’
So it does seem, as I expected, that there is a paper trail concerning the acquisition of the manuscript. And there is also the interesting news that more of the codex survives in Paris. It is not specified whether or not more fragments of this early manuscript survive in the remains of the codex in Paris, but it doesn't sound like it.

I'm going to try to get some actual work done now, but watch this space.

UPDATE (24 July): More here, especially in the update.

"Penis" in Hebrew

EUPHEMISMS AND SYNONYMNS: Why Hebrew has so many words for 'penis.' Ancient scribes in biblical times squirming at saying That Word begat euphemism creep. Thus were born dozens of terms for penis in Hebrew, an otherwise rather sparse language (Elon Gilad, Haaretz).
Hebrew has a great abundance of words for the penis, though it's usually a rather sparse language. This is because in Jewish culture, as in many others, the male organ is the subject of taboo and like other unmentionable subjects, it is prone to a process called ‘euphemism creep.’ Speakers shy at calling the taboo subject by name, and use a euphemism instead. Eventually this euphemism itself becomes tainted through use, and a new euphemism replaces it. Thus, creep generates a richness of synonyms not shared by non-taboo words.

Euphemism creep didn't start yesterday. The Bible is replete with circumlocutions for penis, to the extent that it isn’t clear what the actual word for penis was in ancient Israel.

Biblical allusions include basar (“flesh”, Exodus 28:42), erva (“nakedness”, Leviticus 18:6), mevoshim (“private parts”, Deuteronomy 25:11), regel (“leg”, 2 Kings 18:27), shofkha (“spout”, Deuteronomy 23:1), yad (“Hand”, Isaiah 57:8), and me’or (“Nakedness”, Habakkuk 2:15).

Later, during the times of the Mishnah and the Talmud (the first six centuries of the Common Era), the rabbis added some more euphemisms to those of eld: panim shel mata (“lower face”, Shabbat 41a), ama (“middle finger”, Shabbat 108b), etzba (“finger”, Pesachim 112b), shamash (“helper”, Nidah 60b), gevia (“corpse”, Negaim 6:7), parmashtaq (probably a Persian word for “penis”, Mo’ed Katan 18a), and evar (“organ”, Bava Mezia 84a).

And the multiplication of terms continued in the Middle Ages and even in modern Hebrew.

Although this is not a subject discussed frequently at PaleoJudaica, in a remarkable synchronicity the immediately preceding post also has to do with a biblical penis, that of Boaz. See the link to Chris Brady's post on "Boaz's Turnips."

Targum Ruth project update

TARGUMAN (Christian Brady) has a page up on his book project on Targum Ruth. I noted his draft translation several years ago, but the Targum Ruth page has lots of additional information, including a couple of articles he has published. Chris has a few recent blog posts on the project as well and he indicates he is making good progress.

Boaz’s Turnips – Or Boaz Wakes Up By a Pile of Barley
Rabbinical views regarding marriage
Boaz’s Shoe (or Glove)

Aramaic K-12 Academy

MODERN ARAMAIC WATCH: New charter school dedicated to preserving culture of Iraq’s indigenous people (Natasha Dado, The Arab American News).
[Nathan] Kalasho is the president of Kalasho Empowerment of Young Scholars, which manages Keys Grace Academy, a one-of-a-kind charter school dedicated to preserving the language, culture and history of Chaldeans, Assyrian and Syriacs.

Kalasho said the idea was to incorporate the heritage of Iraqi Christians.

“The only way to maintain our heritage is to make sure it is passed down to future generations,” he said.

The K-12 school, located at 27321 Hampden St. in Madison Heights, is scheduled to open in September and serve about 500 students. A grand opening ceremony is expected to take place Thursday, Aug. 6 from 5 to 8 p.m..

The non profit Academy’s curriculum follows the Michigan State Board of Education guidelines for all schools and offers tuition-free classes.

Keys Grace Academy’s mission is to prepare 21st century students to think and succeed in a diverse, technological and ever changing world through a partnership of homes, school and community. It will provide broad instruction of language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, computer science, art, music, physical education and health.

The school will offer classes in which students are taught how to read and write the dying ancient language of Aramaic spoken by Christ. It is spoken by Chaldeans, Syriacs and Assyrians.
Background on modern speakers of Aramaic in the Middle East and elsewhere is here and here and links. And for more, do a search for "Modern Aramaic Watch" on this blog.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

On reading the Mishnah

גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב: On reading the Mishnah (D. Miller). I have posted a few thoughts on reading the Mishnah myself here.

Oldest Qur'an fragments?

IN THE MINGANA COLLECTION: 'Oldest' Koran fragments found in Birmingham University (Sean Coughlan, BBC). A little beyond PaleoJudaica's usual range, but an important story that is of tangential interest and which deserves some commentary.
When a PhD researcher looked more closely at these pages it was decided to carry out a radiocarbon dating test and the results were "startling".

The university's director of special collections, Susan Worrall, said researchers had not expected "in our wildest dreams" that it would be so old.

"Finding out we had one of the oldest fragments of the Koran in the whole world has been fantastically exciting."

The tests, carried out by the Oxford University Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, showed that the fragments, written on sheep or goat skin, were among the very oldest surviving texts of the Koran.

These tests provide a range of dates, showing that, with a probability of more than 95%, the parchment was from between 568 and 645.

"They could well take us back to within a few years of the actual founding of Islam," said David Thomas, the university's professor of Christianity and Islam.

"According to Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muhammad received the revelations that form the Koran, the scripture of Islam, between the years 610 and 632, the year of his death."

The person who actually wrote it could well have known the Prophet Muhammad... he would maybe have heard him preach

Prof Thomas says the dating of the Birmingham folios would mean it was quite possible that the person who had written them would have been alive at the time of the Prophet Muhammad.

"The person who actually wrote it could well have known the Prophet Muhammad. He would have seen him probably, he would maybe have heard him preach. He may have known him personally - and that really is quite a thought to conjure with," he says.
So the radiocarbon test dates the parchment with a 95+% probability somewhere between about the time of the birth of Muhammud and less than two decades after his death. That could be of considerable interest for the text-critical study of the Qur'an and will also give lots of interesting codicological information about early Islamic manuscripts.

Two small points of caution. First, the test gives the date of the parchment, not the writing on it, so conceivably the text could have been written some time after the parchment was produced. But probably not a long time after. Second, and I hate to bring this up, but is it absolutely certain that this manuscript has been in the Mingana collection from the beginning? Given that modern forgeries are sometimes written on ancient material (notably, the Gospel of Jesus' Wife), I would like some assurance that the manuscript can be documented as part of Mingana collection from early on. This is probably the case, but the records of its acquisition and conservation would be worth checking. There's a question for a journalist to take up.

A comparably early Qur'anic manuscript is now housed on Uzbekistan. Past posts on Qur'an manuscripts are here, here, here, here, and here. And past posts on the Mingana Collection, which I toured back in 2003, are here, here, and here.

UPDATE (23 July): More here.

Magdala latest

MORE ON MAGDALA: Magdala, the Home Town of Mary Magdalene, Is Being Resurrected. The Galilee is now an extra-special place to visit, especially for women (Zoe Romanowsky, aleteia). Another article about the first-century synagogue found during excavation for a retreat center, the menora-inscribed stone also excavated there, and some questionable speculation about a connection with Mary Magdalene. Ms. Romanowsky interviews Fr. Eamon Kelly about the excavation and the (now constructed) retreat center on video.

Background here and many links.

The earliest domestication of chickens

NEWS FROM HAIFA UNIVERSITY: Sorry colonel, Israel had real original recipe chicken. Forget Kentucky. Ancient Israeli town of Maresha was where people first started preparing poultry for food, archaeologists say (David Shamah, Times of Israel).
A team of researchers excavating the site of Maresha in the southern Judean plain say they found evidence that chicken and eggs, were consumed in the region well before other antiquity sites.

“It’s accurate to say that Israel is where the chicken business was invented,” doctoral student Lee Perry-Gal told The Times of Israel. “Jewish chicken soup, Kentucky Fried Chicken – it all has its roots in the Hellenistic city of Maresha in central Israel.”

“At some point in between 200 and 400 BCE, the residents of Maresha began raising and eating chicken, as well as eggs, which we also have no evidence was eaten before this period,” said Perry-Gal, referring to an archaeological site near the Beit Guvrin caves in central Israel. “That changed, and chicken became a part of the culinary culture of Israel – and eventually the rest of the Western world.”
Actually, my understanding is that Maresha, although now in the territory of the State of Israel, was an Idumean town in antiquity. Past posts on Maresha are here, here, here, here and here and links.

Red heifer blues

DID THE TEMPLE INSTITUTE SPEAK TOO SOON? No holy cow: Israel trying to raise red heifer, but for meat-lovers. U.S. donors behind Negev efforts to raise Red Angus reject messianic Temple Institute's involvement in agricultural-economic effort (Nir Hasson, Haaretz).
But as opposed to the announcement by the Temple Institute, the project was not initiated and is not funded by it. Rather, it began several years ago at the initiative of the Cleveland-based Negev Association, with the cooperation of the research and development department of the Ramat Negev Regional Council.

The purpose of that project is to import embryos of Red Angus cows to Israel – to raise them for meat, which is thought to be of especially high quality and is very popular in the United States. This type of bovine species is also well suited to desert conditions. Frozen embryos and not live cows are imported due to Agriculture Ministry regulations, which forbid the import of such livestock due to the fear of the spread of disease.

Apparently, the Temple Institute joined this agricultural-economic endeavor, considering it a golden opportunity to help realize its objective on the Temple Mount. They reached an agreement with Moshe Tenne, the owner of a Negev cattle farm where the cows are being raised. According to the agreement, Tenne will permit monitoring by halakhic authorities (i.e., those versed in traditional Jewish law) if and when an embryo is successfully implanted and develops, and a red calf is born. He also agreed to the installation of cameras to supervise the conditions under which the mother and offspring are cared for.

But when the announcement was publicized last week, the Ramat Negev Regional Council received complaints about its cooperation with the Temple Institute. Donors in Cleveland were particularly angry, and in a conversation yesterday between the director of the Negev Association they support and a representative of the Temple Institute, the director said that they have no intention of continuing the cooperation with the institute.
Background here and links.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Annual meeting of Classics society in Israel

CONFERENCE: Israel Society for the Promotion of Classical Studies. Wednesday, June 1, 2016 to Thursday, June 2, 2016 (AIA). The call-for-papers deadline is 17 December 2015. Follow the link for further particulars.

Blog posts on the GJW

TWO RECENT BLOG POSTS by prominent New Testament scholars sum up the current situation regarding The Gospel of Jesus' Wife fragment.

Larry Hurtado: “Jesus’ Wife” Fragment: The Collective Negative Judgment

Mark Goodacre: The Jesus' Wife Fake Latest

Both posts point out that Karen King and the Harvard Divinity School (see here) have yet to comment on the recent issue of NTS that is devoted to the GJW and on some important developments the articles in the issues discuss.

Background here and links.

The Aleppo Codex again

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: The Aleppo Codex. The mystery of the missing pages in the oldest Hebrew Bible (Jennifer Drummond). The full BAR article by Yosef Ofer is behind the subscription wall, but this column gives some idea of the content.

There are many PaleoJudaica posts on the Aleppo Codex. Start here and follow the links back

Vows, food, etc., in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: The Talmud as a Jewish ‘Canterbury Tales’ of Earthy, Ribald Moral Inquiry. Along with other questions of mind and body, this week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ is also a field guide to Talmudic-era cuisine.
Anecdotes about the sages are one of the Talmud’s favorite subjects, and this week’s reading, mainly in chapter 6 of Nedarim, contained a number of such stories, all having to do with food. Indeed, the whole chapter was dedicated to food, including the names of different dishes and how they were prepared. The reason has to do with the main subject of the tractate, the taking of vows. Apparently one of the most common kinds of vows was swearing not to partake of a certain food: The first mishna in the chapter, for instance, deals with someone who swears not to eat cooked foods. This is yet another example of the kind of unreasonable promise the rabbis associate with vowing.

To determine the exact scope of such a vow, then, the rabbis must determine exactly what is meant by cooking. Does it include roasting, boiling, or baking? This inquiry leads the rabbis to a wide-ranging discussion of culinary practices, in a way that turns the chapter into a kind of field guide to Talmudic-era cuisine. We hear about roasted meat, boiled eggs, fig compotes (which one particular slave knew how to make in 800 varieties), pickled vegetables, and the Babylonian dish kutecha, a dip made of bread and sour milk. It’s enough to give any Talmud student an appetite.
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Apocryphal theatre

OLD TESTAMENT APOCRYPHA WATCH: Review: ‘Vinegar Tom’ and ‘Judith’ Examine Woman as Myth: Judith: A Parting From The Body/Vinegar Tom (BEN BRANTLEY, NYT). The Apocryphal books of Ecclesiasticus (Ben Sira) and Judith are both invoked in this "earnestly playful double bill of one-acts from the Potomac Theater Project."

Monday, July 20, 2015

Charred Leviticus scroll deciphered

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Seales' Research Team Reveals Biblical Text From Damaged Scroll (Whitney Harder, University of Kentucky News).
LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 20, 2015) — For the first time, advanced technologies made it possible to read parts of a scroll that is at least 1,500 years old, which was excavated in 1970 but at some point earlier had been badly burned. The scroll was discovered inside the Holy Ark of the synagogue at Ein Gedi in Israel. High-resolution scanning and University of Kentucky Professor Brent Seales' revolutionary virtual unwrapping tool revealed verses from the beginning of the Book of Leviticus suddenly coming back to life.

On Monday the rare find was presented at a press conference in Jerusalem, attended by Israel's Minister of Culture and Sports, MK Miri Regev, and the director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Israel Hasson. Seales attended via Skype.


The Ein Gedi scroll was scanned with a micro-computed tomography machine from Skyscan (Bruker). Data from the scan is the sole basis of Seales' software analysis. The scanning process is x-ray-based and completely non-invasive as the Ein Gedi scroll is badly damaged from fire and cannot be physically opened. The scans were done in Israel with assistance from Merkel Technologies Company, Ltd. Israel and Pnina Shor, curator and director of IAA’s Dead Sea Scrolls Projects, provided the data to Seales for analysis. Results were produced non-invasively from scan data alone – the Ein Gedi scroll itself remains intact and unopened.

HT reader Yehoshua Rabinowitz, who just sent in the link. And now I see from Joseph I. Lauer's list that the Israel Antiquities Authority has also circulated a press release in Hebrew and English. But so far only the Hebrew one has been posted online. You can read it here.

This is an early example of the sort of non-destructive and non-invasive scanning technology that I keep going on about (e.g., here, here, and here, and links). And PaleoJudaica has been following the work of Professor Seales for some time. See here and here and links. We live in exciting times!

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

UPDATE (21 July): Joseph Lauer has e-mailed the links to the IAA press release. The English is here and the Hebrew is here.

It belongs in a museum!

NEWS YOU CAN USE: How To Get Rid of Cursed Treasure. From Roman treasures and Mayan artifacts to paintings confiscated from the Nazis—these spectacular stolen artworks were returned by remorseful looters (Nina Strochlic, The Daily Beast).
Indiana Jones wannabes aren’t just plagued by ancient curses of the treasures they pillage—some of them are haunted by their own guilt.

Last week, 20 years after a looter took ancient artifacts from an excavation site in Israel, the pieces were returned with a note. “These are two Roman ballista balls from Gamla, from a residential quarter at the foot of the summit,” the remorseful plunderer wrote. “I stole them in July 1995, and since then they have brought me nothing but trouble. Please, do not steal antiquities!”

The 2,000-year-old slingshot-style weapons were left in a bag at the courtyard of the Museum of Islamic and Near Eastern Cultures. They had originally been made by Romans to attack the city during the First Jewish-Roman War around 73 A.D. They had been missed by the archaeologists excavating the first-century city near the Syrian border, where 2,000 of the balls had been found, and stolen a few years after the site was closed. “We did not realize something was missing,” an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority said in a statement. “Such ‘returns’ are not that extraordinary. They happen every few years,” he told Live Science.

It’s not the first time a repentant thief has sent back valuables. From bad luck to guilt, here are some other good deeds done by tomb raiders for the sake of a clean conscious.

So if you happen to be sitting on a looted archaeological artifact, why not quietly and anonymously turn it in to a museum before some curse comes and gets you? Why take chances? Besides, you'll feel better.

The story of the return of the Gamla sling stones was noted here.

Were red heifers really red?

MORE ON THE TEMPLE INSTITUTE'S PROJECT: The Temple Mount red heifer saga: Engineering the apocalypse? Building the Third Temple is a dream for many religious adherents. Could selectively breeding from Red Angus stock solve a key problem - that red cows don't exist? (Elon Gilad, Haaretz).
Building a Third Temple in Jerusalem is the dream for the messianic branches of Judaism and Christianity, but there are snags. One is the deficiency of a pure red heifer for sacrifice. Tradition holds that the heifer must be truly red from head to toe, with no more than two black hairs on its body, the problem being that such beasts don't exist. Now Temple Mount devotees hope to circumvent the vagaries of nature by breeding the Red Angus strain of cows in Israel.

But they may not be barking up the right tree. The ritual of the red-colored bovine is probably rooted in misinterpretation.


Now, this ritual is predicated on red cows actually existing. The problem is that they don’t.

At best cows are auburn. Yet, according to the ancient texts, there were red heifers for the burning.

How does one reconcile this? Well, rabbinic teaching tells us that God miraculously brought about red heifers for use for this purpose, but there could be another explanation.

The ancients separated the domain of colors differently from us moderns. What we today see as to distinct colors, our forefathers saw as merely different shades of the same. What we call brown, the ancient Hebrews just saw as a type of red. They would be baffled by our pedantic insistence that pink, purple, red, orange and brown each be given a different name - to them all were just different shades of red.

That's an interesting point. The ancients often classified colors differently than we do. Some past posts on this subject are here, here, and here. More on the Temple Institute's red heifer project, which has recently been getting a lot of media attention, is here.

U.S. returns captured looted artifacts to Iraq

ARAMAIC WATCH: Artifacts looted during the Iraq invasion turned up in the house of an Islamic State leader (Loveday Morris, Washington Post).
BAGHDAD — The United States handed over more than 400 ancient artifacts to Iraq on Wednesday, part of ongoing efforts to repatriate the country’s looted heritage. But this latest batch has a particularly intriguing back story — the antiquities were seized by U.S. Special Operations forces members as they raided the house of a leader of the Islamic State militant group.

The nighttime operation to capture the militant took place in eastern Syria in May, and the Delta Force troops did not come back with their prize. It was their first such ground mission in the country, and their main target, a man known as Abu Sayyaf who ran oil operations for the Islamic State in the area, was killed in an ensuing firefight.

But as the commandos scoured the compound for documents and laptops that could provide intelligence about the organization, they stumbled across artifacts thought to be dating back as far as 4,000 years.

Among them was a religious text written in Aramaic, the ancient Semitic language said to have been spoken by Jesus. An official at the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad said Wednesday that it was about 500 years old but has not yet been properly dated. (Museum officials also said that, as with many of the items found, they could not be sure whether the text was of Syrian or Iraqi origin.)

There were hundreds of coins — some of them gold from the Abbassid era, others silver pieces from the Umayyad period. There were stone cylindrical seals from the ancient city of Nimrud and fragments of pottery.

But concern has been raised that not all of the artifacts are genuine. As for the Aramaic text, it is entirely possible that an ISIS leader got his hands on a 500-year-old Aramaic (likely Syriac) manuscript. Such things are not hard to come by. But I would need to see good photos to be able to say anything about the text with any confidence. A recent related post is here. And this post from 2006 shows that the problem has been around since long before ISIS turned up.

$5 million donation for Judaic Studies Chair (etc.) at UMass, Amherst

FUNDING: Pamela and Robert Jacobs donate $5 million to UMass for Judaic studies (DAVE EISENSTADTER,
AMHERST — A couple who graduated during the late 1960s from the University of Massachusetts Amherst have donated $5 million to their alma mater to support Judaic studies, as well as programming and resources for Jewish students.

The gift, from longtime university supporters Pamela and Robert Jacobs, came through the $300 million UMass Rising fundraising campaign. Half of the bequest will be used to create the Pamela M. and Robert D. Jacobs Chair in Judaic and Near Eastern Studies within the university’s College of Humanities & Fine Arts. The remainder will be used for scholarships to the Judaic & Near Eastern Studies program, programming in the Institute for Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies — which they helped to found — and to offer support to UMass Hillel, which offers resources to Jewish students.


Jay Berkovitz, chair of Judaic and Near Eastern studies, said the focus of the new endowed chair will be in the Bible and Rabbinics.

“An endowed chair in Bible and Rabbinics is especially important because it will launch the study of ancient Jewish civilization on our campus and will surely stimulate interest in its broader cultural implications for the fields of history, literature, philosophy and religion,” Berkovitz said. “We are also thrilled that Pamela and Robert have created a scholarship fund to support study at Israeli universities and at other institutions in the U.S. and abroad.”

The Harrak Collection

SYRIAC WATCH: Destroyed Iraqi Holy Sites Find New Life Online (Owen Jarus, LiveScience).
[Professor Amir] Harrak told Live Science that, in the years before the 2003 American invasion, the country was suffering from economic embargoes; but the security situation was stable and he could move freely. "I traveled north, south, east and west without any hindrance," when carrying documentation from the university and permission from Iraqi officials, he said.

He worked to photograph as many inscriptions as he could. Some of the inscriptions were already in poor shape and he had to clean them carefully before photographing them. "There [is] dust in my body from those inscriptions to make them really clear [so that] I could photograph," Harrak said.

The inscriptions were written in a variety of languages. Many of them were in Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic that was commonly used by Christians in Iraq from ancient to modern times. (Harrak is an expert in this dialect.) There are also many inscriptions in Garshuni, a script that records the Arabic language in Syriac letters.

"The Harrak Collection (of photographs) is the largest corpus of Iraqi-Syriac and Garshuni inscriptions in the world," [ Canadian Centre for Epigraphic Documents (CCED) Colin] Clarke said.
I noted this project last September here. The current article gives additional information and has some good photos. And a related LiveScience article by Owen Jarus, with additional photos, is here. For more on Garshuni, see here and links.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Ancient commentaries on the Genesis Creation narrative

A USEFUL LIST: COMMENTARIES ON GENESIS: THE BIBLICAL CREATION NARRATIVES & ADAM AND EVE. This is provided by one Center for Byzantine Studies, run by Dr. Clement A Kuehn.

Tools for Studying the Hebrew Bible

AWOL: Tools for Studying the Hebrew Bible. A useful collection of material by Prof. Marc Brettler at Duke University.

Review of Martín-Contreras and Miralles-Maciá (eds.), The Text of the Hebrew Bible

REVIEWS OF BIBLICAL AND EARLY CHRISTIAN STUDIES: ELVIRA MARTÍN-CONTRERAS, LORENA MIRALLES-MACIÁ, The Text of the Hebrew Bible. From the Rabbis to the Masoretes. Review by Pieter B. Hartog, KU Leuven.
To sum up: this volume is trying to do something novel, as it aims to bridge the gap between the Rabbis and the Masoretes and to develop new approaches to the study of the biblical text in this era. As such, it is generally successful. Its essays raise many intriguing questions, which will no doubt inspire further research and reflection.

Tal and Taxel, Samaritan Cemeteries and Tombs in the Central Coastal Plain

Oren Tal and Itamar Taxel
Samaritan Cemeteries and Tombs in the Central Coastal Plain
Archaeology and History of the Samaritan Settlement outside Samaria (ca. 300–700 CE)

Printed edition 2015 (ISBN: 978-3-86835-153-8): XVIII + 291 pages, 98.00 €

Printed edition + e-book 2015 (ISBN: 978-3-86835-154-5): XVIII + 291 pages, 125.00 €

This book discusses Samaritan burial customs outside Samaria based on the finds of yet unpublished tombs excavated in the second half of the 20th century in the central Coastal Plain of Israel (within the northern city limits of modern-day Tel Aviv, which forms part of the southern Sharon Plain). The burial sites analyzed here include the cemetery of Khirbet al-ʻAura / Tel Barukh, a burial cave at Khirbet al-Ḥadra / HaGolan Street and another one at Tell Qasile. The burial caves excavated at these sites are associated with Samaritan rural populations because of their location and the finds discovered, which include elements of Samaritan material culture (non-epigraphic and epigraphic alike). Our study constitutes a full report on the excavations of these burial sites and offers an archaeological re-evaluation of Samaritan settlement history and material culture. The appendices complete this study by bringing forward small-scale unpublished excavations of probable Samaritan settlements or revising published material that normally bears relevance to research on this subject. Our re-evaluation is holistic in nature, based upon the sites we studied in full, as well as other published Samaritan sites that have been excavated and surveyed in the central Coastal Plain. This publication contributes to our understanding of daily habits and afterlife beliefs of the Samaritans outside their heartland in the heyday of their expansion to the Palestinian lowlands.