Saturday, December 26, 2015
Coming towards the end of this phase of our project, we have almost finalised the digitisation of 1,255 manuscripts selected for this phase, with the total of approximately 430,000 digitised images. These are mainly manuscripts catalogued and published by George Margoliouth at the end of the 19th century, but some of these have never been published. At this point, several manuscripts still await more thorough conservation treatments. In addition, four of our Torah scrolls included textile covers (mantles), made of silk brocade and linen. These are undergoing conservation treatment by a textile conservator prior to imaging.Background on the project, which is also associated with the Israel National Library, is here. For many other manuscript digitization projects, go here and just keep following the links.
So far, 748 digitised manuscripts have been uploaded and can be viewed on the Library’s Digitised Manuscripts site, and the remainder is expected to be fully accessible by the end of June 2016.
I have sketched the political and social meltdown that Palestine suffered in the terrible year of 4 BC. Wars and insurrections were by no means unusual anywhere in the ancient world, and Palestine was no exception. But this particular crisis was unusual in its severity, and several features make it worthy of special notice, especially for anyone interested in Christian origins.Background here.
In the last few years, I have mentioned on two occasions manuscript witnesses to 4 Ezra that have apparently been left out of scholarly discussions focusing on this writing. In this post, I propose two possible reasons for this omission, and discuss why these manuscript sources to 4 Ezra deserve our attention. My interest here is not the decisions made by individual scholars, but rather the assessment schemes embedded in philological paradigms and the structuring effects of disciplinary borders to research practices.Background here and links. Cross-file under "Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch."
Friday, December 25, 2015
Past PaleoJudaica posts on the Magi are here, here, here (and links), here, and here. And past posts on the Star of Bethlehem story are here, here, and links.
Is this the REAL face of Jesus? Forensic experts use ancient Semite skulls to reveal what Christ may have looked likeThis is an old story that is obviously being recycled for Christmas, but I don't think I have noted it before. The actual story is this:
He may be shown as a Caucasian man with long, flowing light brown hair in many religious artworks, but Jesus would have likely had a darker complexion and short, dark, curly hair, a forensic expert claims.
Retired medical artist Richard Neave has recreated the face of ‘Jesus’ by studying Semite skulls using modern-day forensic techniques.
The team analysed skeletal remains of Semite men from the time of Jesus to come up with the average build of a Jewish man living in Galilee.So this is an interesting project of forensic reconstruction that gives us a vaguely averaged idea of what an ancient Galilean man might have looked like (assuming the skulls were from the Galilee, which is implied but not stated). Only vaguely averaged, because any averaging of this type that would have statistical significance would need a lot more than three samples. There is no particular reason to think that their reconstruction looks very much like Jesus looked. We already knew he wasn't blond with blue eyes. Related thematic and seasonal post here.
And now after the above was composed, Professor Joan Taylor has published the following with the BBC: What did Jesus really look like? That forensic reconstruction comes up briefly, but she also discusses his likely hair and beard style and clothing style, as well as the origins of the idea of Jesus as the bearded longhair wearing a long robe.
Thursday, December 24, 2015
In the British Museum's latest exhibition, Egypt: Faith After the Pharaohs, there is a long fragment of papyrus, one of many on display, written in Greek and called the Gospel of Thomas. What is striking about this fragment is not its beauty or penmanship, but the era in which it was written. In Oxyrhynchus, an Egyptian city, the scroll’s Christian owner had copied the text less than 300 years after the death of Jesus, a time when the ancient Egyptian gods were still widely worshipped, before the acceptance of Christianity across the Roman Empire and before the appearance of Islam. To many of his contemporaries in Egypt, this ancient copyist—a man simply trying to preserve his messiah's sayings—would have been a rebel. He could not have predicted how Egypt, and the whole world, would change over the coming centuries, or that the church would forbid Christians fr om reading the very text he was copying once the contents of the New Testament had been agreed upon.Past posts on the Egypt: Faith After the Pharaohs Exhibition at the British Museum are collected here and links.
Political Memory in and after the Persian EmpireFollow the link for downloading and ordering information. And congratulations to Professor Hackett on the Festschrift!
edited by Jason M. Silverman and Caroline Waerzeggers, ANEM 13, 2015
Epigraphy, Philology, and the Hebrew Bible: Methodological Perspectives on Philological and Comparative Study of the Hebrew Bible in Honor of Jo Ann Hackett
edited by Jeremy M. Hutton and Aaron D. Rubin, ANEM 12, 2015
And if that weren't enough, there's this: The religious case for ignoring Star Wars Episodes I, II and III (Bob Smietana, WaPo).
There won’t be any “Attack of the Clones” at our house this Christmas.Again, the first article above has SPOILERS, so don't click in the link if that matters to you.
No “Revenge of the Sith.”
And definitely no “Phantom Menace.”
Instead, we’ll sing carols, decorate the tree, exchange presents, all while watching the original three “Star Wars” movies.
Then we’ll head out for a late afternoon showing of “The Force Awakens” on Christmas Day.
At our house the prequels are like the gnostic Gospels of “Star Wars.” They exist, but we don’t watch them. Why?
Like the gnostic Gospels, the prequels aren’t true. Or to put it another way, they aren’t the same story as the originals. Something about the essential nature of “Star Wars” was lost along the way.
Both articles have quite a few assumptions built in, but these are interesting to explore. For my part, I ignore the second-made trilogy because it was awful. I'll take the Gnostic gospels over them any time.
I saw The Force Awakens on Monday and, frankly, was not much impressed. But your mileage may vary.
Wednesday, December 23, 2015
In Jewish historiography, the Roman emperor Hadrian – or, "Hadrian the bone-grinder,” as traditional religious sources called him – has a “place of honor” on the list of those considered to be the most hated and bitter enemies of the Jewish people over the generations.Background here.
Publius Aelius Hadrianus Augustus, as he was known, was emperor from 117 to 138 C.E., and is best remembered in Israel for crushing the Bar Kochba revolt against the Romans and for the ensuing holocaust, including destruction of the Jewish community in Judea and the razing of Jerusalem, upon whose ruins he built a pagan city named Aelia Capitolina.
In world historiography, however, Hadrian has a completely different image: He is considered to be one of the most enlightened and important of Roman rulers, the man responsible for the golden age of the empire. He is said to have been a gifted general and politician, a patron of the arts and a man of letters, as well as a builder who left important monuments behind in his wake.
In a new exhibition opening on Tuesday, the Israel Museum is attempting to present – and possibly resolve – this paradox.
As the article and the one noted previously mention, this exhibition is the final one associated with the celebration of the Israel Museum's 50th anniversary, on which more here and links.
Some details of the discovery are given:
- Lead amulet containing a silver scroll was found in Jerash, Jordan
- Scientists used CT scanning and computer models to reveal scroll's text
- Revealed it contains magical letters and a mixture of language
- It was likely written by a 'Jewish magician', around 1,300 years ago
A silver scroll discovered hidden in an ancient amulet has revealed what appears to be a magical spell that has remained a secret for 1,300 years.
The mysterious inscription is thought to have been made by a Jewish 'magician' living in the Muslim town of Jerash in Jordan in around 750AD.
Although the silver scroll is too delicate to unfurl, CT scans of the relic have revealed 17 lines of text in an unknown language, alongside what the researchers call 'magical symbols.'
The outside lead casing was cracked and corroded, but experts managed to extract the fragile rolled silver scroll from inside it.
The Jerash amulet was discovered in 2014 among the ruins of a house destroyed by an earthquake in 749AD.So it is an excavated object and presumably it can be regarded as genuine.
Glass bottles, ceramics, jewellery and coins were also found along with the scroll inside a small metal cylinder measuring 2-inches (5cm) long.
A sidebar gives details on the inscription:
A total of 17 lines of text were revealed using CT scans. The first line is said to consist of magical spells written in a form of Greek, while the text is written in an indecipherable form of Arabic.That sounds reasonable, although I would like to compare the signs to magical signs in things like the Greek Magical Papyri and later Arabic magical documents. The headline and one of the bullet points quoted above suggest that the text is Jewish, but later the article more cautiously states "'Since it was not possible to read the 'text' we cannot identify the religious affiliation of the amulet's owner,' the researchers wrote." I would leave it there. Even if we could read the text, late antique magic was religiously eclectic and it is frequently difficult to be sure of the religious background of a specific text.
According to the researchers, ancient 'magicians' were known to have made up languages, and as many people couldn't read or write, they could get away with creating nonsensical messages.
The text also contains signs which clearly are not Arabic or imitate Arabic letters.
Most of these occur in line one, but a few further signs are found in the following lines.
Leading researcher Dr Rubina Raja explained: 'We've sent it out to the world's leading philologists, and all came to the conclusion they can't read it, it must be pseudo-Arabic.
'Collectively, it has not been possible to assign these signs to a known alphabet.
'Since we presume the artefact is an amulet, and since the main text seems to be in pseudo-script, it is reasonable to view the signs as "magical".'
Inscribed metal amulets are well known from antiquity. The Ketef Hinnom silver amulets with a Hebrew text found also in the Bible have been come up many times in PaleoJudaica. See here and follow the links. Other Jewish amulets made of silver and other metals are noted here. Inscribed lead curse tablets are noted here and here.
The faux-Arabic writing has an analogy in magical texts from around the same period (in Iraq rather than Jordan). Some of the Babylonian incantation bowls have similar meaningless inscriptions/squiggles meant to look like Hebrew/Aramaic writing. These have been mentioned here and here.
The text of this new amulet was recovered with some of that promising non-destructive and non-invasive technology that I keep going on about. Related stories here, here, and here and links. Cross-file under "Technology Watch."
A very unique and ancient artifact of the famous Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II went on display on Tuesday, in the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem. The artifact, borrowed by the Museum from the David Sofer Collection, is a barrel-shaped cuneiform cylinder with an inscription from Nebuchadnezzar.The Tenth of Tevet marks the beginning of Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Jerusalem. More on it is here. Background on the By the Rivers of Babylon exhibition is here and links (cf. also here).
“It expresses a completely different perspective of Nebuchadnezzar than the way Jewish people have thought of him for the past 2,000 years,” said Dr. Filip Vukosavović, chief curator of the Bible Lands Museum, to Tazpit Press Service (TPS).
On the inscription, Nebuchadnezzar refers to himself as a leader who “likes truth and justice.”
“It is of interest to recognize how Nebuchadnezzar is depicted in the inscription,” Vukosavović said to TPS.
In terms of wealth, power, and influence, Herod the Great rivaled King Solomon as the greatest king in the history of the Jews. Most Christians, however, know little more about Herod than what is reported in Matthew 2: his interaction with the Magi and the slaughter of Bethlehem’s infant boys. Far beyond the significance of those isolated incidents, Herod powerfully shaped the world in which Jesus and the earliest Christians lived.The book by Vermes was noted here (and note also here) and the book by Marshak was noted here. The one by Gelb is new to me. Past posts on Herod the Great and Herodium are collected here, and see also here.
The collective historical opinion—colored by Matthew’s account—has viewed Herod as a paranoid, cruel, and murderous tyrant. Several historians, however, have recently sought to rehabilitate Herod’s image. Norman Gelb’s Herod the Great: Statesman, Visionary, Tyrant (Rowman and Littlefield, 2013), Geza Vermes’s The True Herod (Bloomsbury, 2014), and Adam Kolman Marshak’s The Many Faces of Herod the Great (Eerdmans, 2015) all seek to positively reassess his reign. Gelb and Vermes provide accessible accounts of Herod’s life, while Marshak provides an academic appraisal of Herod’s rule in terms of the ancient political, cultural, and religious expectations of a good king.
It is too strong to claim that these recent books indicate a sweeping renaissance in the study of Herod’s life. Nevertheless, they represent a growing interest in the historical Herod fueled by a desire to look afresh at Herod’s life apart from Matthew’s Gospel.
JNi.media) Sotheby’s set a new world auction record for any piece of Judaica on Tuesday in New York, when one of the finest copies of Daniel Bomberg’s Babylonian Talmud sold for $9.3 million According to Tablet Magazine, the buyer is Leon Black, a New York businessman, founder of private equity firm Apollo Global Management.This is sad. Background on the breakup and auction of the Valmadonna Library is here and here and links. The Tablet article mentioned above is here.
The extraordinary volume was purchased by Stephan Loewentheil for the 19th Century Rare Book & Photograph Shop. The Bomberg Talmud led the sale of a selection of extraordinary items from The Valmadonna Trust, which totaled $14.9 million and became the most valuable auction of Judaica ever held. Together with the auctions of Important Judaica and Israeli & International Art, Sotheby’s annual December sales of Judaica and Israeli Art totaled $22.6 million.
Tuesday, December 22, 2015
From now on each day will be getting a little bit longer, which is always a particularly welcome development in Scotland.
Happy Saturnalia also (see the above link, scroll down) and happy conclusion of Yalda. The latter is a winter solstice festival celebrated yesterday on the 21st, but this year the actual solstice is unusually late on the 22nd.
From the Daily Mail: Is this where Jesus performed The Miracle of the Swine? 1,600-year-old Hebrew slab points to the site of Kursi where Christ exorcised a man possessed by demons (Sarah Griffiths).
So far, experts have identified the words 'amen' and 'marmaria' inscribed into the stone, which could either refer to marble, Mary or Rabbi.That's a bit cryptic, but the Times of Israel explains the proposal more clearly: Ancient inscription points to Jewish past for early Christian site. Marble slab with 7 lines of Aramaic and Hebrew text found at biblical town on banks of Sea of Galilee may be from Byzantine-era synagogue. ‘There’s been nothing like this before,’ says archaeologist (Ilan Ben Zion):
More impressive, however, were seven lines of Hebrew and Aramaic text carved into a large slab of imported Greek marble. It includes the words “marmaria,” “amen,” “the holy king” and “the merciful,” researchers said.Apparently someone is suggesting that the word "marmaria" could mean mar "the master of" plus maria, an Aramaic transliteration of the Greek or Latin form of the name Miriam/Mary. This strikes me as possible, but very speculative, although I would have to see the word in the full context of the whole inscription to be sure. Pending more information, I am going to apply Frank Cross's epigraphic principle that the more banal reading is to be preferred and stay with the interpretation of the word as an Aramaic transliteration of the Greek word for "marble." As usual, this question can only be decided definitively, if at all, in a complete peer-reviewed publication of the inscription with good photographs.
Excavations at the site are funded by the Avery-Tsui Foundation, and headed by Cohen with the collaboration of the Israel Antiquities Authories and the Israel Parks Authority. High school student volunteers also took part in the dig.
Cohen was reluctant to reveal much about the inscription until experts had a chance to study the text more thoroughly. He did suggest, however, that “marmaria” could refer either to a type of marble, or — more intriguingly — “the rabbi of Mary.”
Background here and here.
UPDATE: Richard Bauckham e-mails the following:
The form מריה is actually quite well attested for the late Second Temple period (ossuaries etc), but not at all for the rabbinic period, when the name Mariam itself becomes much less popular (presumably because of Christian usage). I suppose if it were a Jewish Christian synagogue, the use of מריה c. 500 CE would not be so surprising, but in my view it would be very surprising if this was a Jewish Christian synagogue. And "the master of Mary" seems a rather odd phrase, even if it can mean "Mary's rabbi" - for which we need evidence. I see from Jastrow it could also mean "Mary's pick-axe".
For the first time since his reign over 1,800 years ago, three bronze sculptures of the Roman emperor Hadrian — a man both revered and reviled — will go on display at the Israel Museum on Tuesday, in the final exhibit marking the institution’s 50th anniversary.A long article, but worth reading in full.
The three bronze heads — one from the Israel Museum’s collection found in northern Israel, one from the British Museum found at the bottom of the River Thames, and the third from the Louvre in Paris — differ slightly in their depiction of the emperor, and shed light on a character whose legacy is so multifaceted.
Besides Hadrian’s visages are the two halves of a monumental inscription erected in Jerusalem by soldiers of the 10th legion Fretensis in Hadrian’s honor two years before the outbreak of the Bar Kochba revolt in 132 CE — rejoined for the first time since antiquity.
The first half was discovered in the late 19th century by French archaeologist Clermont Ganneau (also known for finding the Temple Mount Warning inscription), and is housed at the Franciscan Flagellation Monastery in Jerusalem’s Old City. The second half, found last year by Israeli archaeologists, was used as the top of a Byzantine cistern during salvage excavations in East Jerusalem.
The discovery of the fragment of that Hadrian inscription was noted last year here. Another Hadrian exhibition, this one in the British Museum, took place in 2008. Start here and follow the many links. For Hadrian's Wall, see here and here.
Monday, December 21, 2015
We will never know for sure how much gold the Jerusalem Temple contained and exactly where it was displayed, internally and externally. It is generally known that Josephus occasionally exaggerates, but that a large amount of gold was displayed in the Jerusalem Temple, appears to be a reasonable suggestion if we also take other historical sources into consideration.For more on ancient real (?) gold and other treasures possibly associated with the Temple, as well as legendary gold and treasures definitely associated with it, see here and links.
Cross-file tangentially under "Copper Scroll" and "The Treatise of the Vessels."
Martin Friis reviews Daniel Schwartz, Reading the First Century: On Reading Josephus and Studying Jewish History of the First Century
Carla Sulzbach reviews Katharina Bracht and David S. du Toit, Die Geschichte der Daniel-Auslegung in Judentum, Christentum und Islam: Studien zur Kommentierung des Danielbuches in Literatur und Kunst
In november 2017, the Museum of the Bible will open in Washington, D.C., two blocks from the National Mall. Like many of the city’s other museums, it is designed to attract hordes of visitors each year, and it will be vast—eight stories tall, and covering 430,000 square feet. Despite its location and size, however, it isn’t a government institution. It’s private, backed by the family of David Green, a wealthy businessman from Oklahoma City, better known as the founder of the Hobby Lobby retail chain, and it will house artifacts from the family’s stunning collection of biblical manuscripts, Torah scrolls, Dead Sea Scrolls, and cuneiform texts. The Greens’ collection is one of the largest private collections of such artifacts in the world, comprising some 40,000 objects—many of which, remarkably, were unknown to scholars and the general public before the Greens acquired them. And the Greens made their first purchase only six years ago.It does indeed raise difficult and disquieting questions, but I am not inclined to render a judgment until I see a good bit more information. So far, as we already knew, there is a federal investigation. After four years it has not led to charges, but who knows what will come of it? I shall keep an eye on the situation with interest, but unless and until there is clear evidence of illegality that leads to charges, it is only fair to give the Green Collection the benefit of the doubt. Watch this space.
That’s a startling pace of acquisition, especially given the fraught and specialized market for biblical antiquities, and it raises difficult questions about how the Green family has acquired its artifacts, and why.
Meanwhile, additional background on the Green Collection and the Museum of the Bible is here and links. And Roger Pearse's very different perspective on the work of the Green Collection is worth remembering now and again.
Israeli students found three Hasmonean dynasty coins while on an an archaeological dig at the ruins in Adulam Park.
Sunday, December 20, 2015
Zodiac Calendars in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Their ReceptionConcluding counterfactual-history tidbit:
Who knows, if history had turned out differently, our synagogues, as they once did, might still be displaying zodiacs.The book was noted here and here. Related posts are here and here.
In 2012, Dr. Asaf Matskin's book "Too Close to the Edge" was published, telling the story of political corruption since the creation of Israel. Amid the scandals detailed in the book was the story called "The Antiquities of Moshe Dayan." Dayan was chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces and eventually became defense minister.I noted the accusations against General Dayan back in 2006 and I am unaware of anyone who has tried to refute them or deny them since. The article by archaeologist Raz Kletter that presents evidence has moved to a new ULR. You can read it here. He has also discussed the issue in his 2006 book, Just Past? The Making of Israeli Archaeology (which I have not read). You can read a review of it at JSTOR here.
According to Matskin, some in Israeli society were rooted in the mentality that "everything is allowed" — at least everything that your name, reputation or position allowed you to get away with. That's how Dayan, who was a sworn lover of archaeology, used his position and authority to dig at any site of his choosing while illegally using equipment and manpower belonging to the IDF.