Saturday, March 26, 2016

Lead ink in the Herculaneum scrolls

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Lead ink from scrolls may unlock library destroyed by Vesuvius (New Scientist).
Lead often gets a bad press. But its discovery in ancient Graeco-Roman ink could make it easier to read an early form of publishing – precious scrolls buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.

Some 800 scrolls, part of the classical world’s best-surviving library, have tantalised scholars since they were unearthed in a villa in the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum in 1752. About 200 are in such a delicate state that they have never been read.

Unrolling the charred scrolls can destroy them, so people have been X-raying the bundles in the hopes of discerning the writing inside. But progress has been slow – it is difficult to detect the difference between the letters and the papyrus they are written on.

Now physicist Vito Mocella of the Italian National Research Council and his colleagues have revealed lead in the ink on two Herculaneum papyri fragments held in the Institute of France in Paris.

The presence of lead means that imaging techniques could be recalibrated to pick up the metal, something at which X-rays excel.

“This really opens up the possibility of being able to read these scrolls,” says Graham Davis, a reader in 3D X-ray imaging at Queen Mary University of London. “If this is typical of this scroll or other scrolls, than that is very good news.”

Background on this longstanding project to recover the texts of the carbonized scrolls from Heculaneum is here and follow the many, many links. This development could be crucial to the success of the project. As they say, bit by bit, a letter at a time, whatever it takes. Until we're done.

Review of Leith, The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, Volume LXXX

M. Hirt, D. Leith, The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, Volume LXXX. Graeco-Roman memoirs, 101. London: Egypt Exploration Society, 2014. Pp. xiv, 176; 14 p. of plates. ISBN 9780856982224. $170.00.

Reviewed by W. Andrew Smith, Shepherds Theological Seminary (

The eightieth volume of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, which introduces items 5219–5257 of the collection, was prepared by Marguerite Hirt (University of Cambridge), David Leith (University of Exeter), and W. Benjamin Henry (University College London). Additional contributions were made by Daniela Colomo (Research Associate and Curator of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri), Nick Gonis (University College London), and Livia Tagliapietra (PhD student in Classics, University of Cambridge). While most volumes in this series group texts in categories of theological, literary, and documentary papyri, this one presents a collection of medical texts (perhaps following the themed approach of volume 79's Games, Competitors, and Performers in Roman Egypt), making it the "largest single collection of medical papyri to be published" (vi).

Some of the material helps perfect our knowledge of the text of already-known ancient medical documents. Bit by bit, a letter at a time, whatever it takes. Until we're done.

Williams, Stewart, & Hintze, Zoroastrian Flame

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Zoroastrian Religion, History and Tradition. New book: Williams, Alan, Sarah Stewart & Almut Hintze (eds.). 2016. Zoroastrian flame: Exploring religion, history and tradition. London: I.B. Tauris.

Honigman on video

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW has three new videos by Dr. Sylvie Honigman, who "discusses her book Tales of High Priests and Taxes."

Sylvie Honigman | Part One: Narrative Cycles

Sylvie Honigman | Part Two: How to Read the Maccabees

Sylvie Honigman | Part Three: Ioudaismos

I noted a review of her book here last summer.

Progress in Palmyra

PALMYRA WATCH: The battle for Palmyra will reveal how much damage was done to Syria's priceless relics (Nabih Bulos, L.A. Times).
Syrian pro-government forces battled their way Friday into the outer areas of the city of Palmyra, the archaeological metropolis held by Islamic State militants since May of last year, as part of a punishing month-long drive to wrest control of the city and surrounding areas from the extremist group.

Syrian state television broadcast images of soldiers backed by armored units advancing toward the city as Syrian and Russian helicopters and warplanes pounded militant positions ahead of the troops. The state news agency said army units and allied fighters had retaken the ancient citadel, a 13th century castle perched atop a city whose 2,000-year-old antiquities have become some of the most devastating casualties of the occupation.

Some opposition activists disputed the extent of the gains, and fierce fighting was still underway, but it appeared clear that Russian airpower was helping turn the tide in Syrian President Bashar Assad's push to recapture large swaths of territory that have been declared part of Islamic State's caliphate.

Moscow earlier this month said it would withdraw most of its forces from Syria, but President Vladimir Putin has made it clear that recapturing Palmyra remains a crucial objective.

"I hope that this pearl of world civilization, or at least what's left of it after bandits have held sway there, will be returned to the Syrian people and the entire world," Putin said.

I hadn't heard about that. Good for him. The article also reports that civilians were sent out of the city in advance of this military action and that there seems to be some corroboration that this is true.

Background here and links.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday 2016

TODAY IS GOOD FRIDAY. Best wishes to all those observing it. The relevant New Testament passages are collected here. This time of year always brings historical articles on crucifixion, and this year is no exception. And another recent relevant post is here.

Mosiac discovered in ancient Gush Etzion church

ARCHAEOLOGY: Ancient Byzantine Church Uncovered in Gush Etzion (Michael Bachner, Breaking Israel News).
A colorful mosaic and various archaeological artifacts have been recently unearthed at the site of a large, uniquely structured Byzantine basilica in Gush Etzion, south of Jerusalem.

The discovery was made at the Khirbet Bureikut archaeological site in Migdal Oz, where the Byzantine church was originally discovered in 1977, and indicates that the inhabitants there were very wealthy. The newly discovered mosaic indicates that the church was originally built in the fourth century, according to Hananya Hizmi, Head Staff Officer of Archaeology of the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria.

The region of Gush Etzion has been mentioned recently in PaleoJudaica posts here and here.

Palmyra being retaken?

PALMYRA WATCH: Backed by Russia, Syrian troops enter IS-held Palmyra. Assad forces advance on famed UNESCO World Heritage site as US-backed Iraqi forces prepare to retake jihadist stronghold of Mosul (AP). It appears that Syrian forces are advancing on the city, but the reports conflict on whether they have entered it or not.

Many more posts on Palmyra, its history, the ancient Aramaic dialect spoken there (Palmyrene), and the city's tragic recent fate in the hands of ISIS are here and follow the links. Background on Mosul is here, here, and here and links.

James M. Robinson, 1924-2016

SAD NEWS: JAMES M. ROBINSON reportedly passed away this week. Simon J. Joseph has an announcement on his blog: In Memoriam: James M. Robinson. (HT Mark Goodacre in a private communication.) I also saw announcement at the Facebook page for the St. Shenouda Center for Coptic Studies. Surprisingly, I can find no media announcements and Professor Robinson's Wikipedia page has not been updated.

Professor Robinson was a towering figure in the area of New Testament and early Christianity, perhaps best known for his critical role in the publication of the Coptic Gnostic library from Nag Hammadi. Some PaleoJudaica posts on some of his more recent work are collected here.

Requiescat in pace.

Interview with the vampire author

NEW TESTAMENT APOCRYPHA AND CINEMA WATCH: Alice Cooper Interviews Anne Rice on Religion, Vampires, Tom Cruise & Pot (Billboard Magazine). As you would guess, this is a very interesting interview, touching not only on Ms. Rice's very broad-ranging work, but also on her personal background and experiences. The point of immediate interest is her Jesus novel, now a newly released movie.
Your book Christ the Lord Out of Egypt was the basis for the film The Young Messiah. In the co-writing of this movie many references were used from the Bible. Was the Apocrypha also used as a source?
Actually very little of the apocrypha was used in the novel, only the legends regarding Jesus' childhood in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, which is NOT gnostic and contains legends that influenced Christian art for centuries. Nothing gnostic was used in the book whatsoever. I researched the First Century for something like ten years, off and on, probing history, archaeology, anthropology, and the bible, of course, the bible again and again and the early historians, Josephus and Philo of Alexandria. I sought to write a biblically sound and authentic novel about Jesus as a child that would bring Him alive for people, presenting a fictive day to day life for him. I wanted people to hear his laughter, smell the dust in the streets of Nazareth, to see the world in which Jesus lived; I wanted people to have a sense of Him as a real little boy, surrounded by mysteries -- the Jesus whose birth was celebrated by angels singing to shepherds, the Jesus whose birth brought Magi from the East, the Jesus whose mother had been visited by an angel.... The bible mattered infinitely more to me than the apocrypha.
The interview also discusses her much earlier book, Memnoch the Devil, which (not mentioned, but see here and here) draws on the watchers legend in 1 Enoch.

Reviews of The Young Messiah have been noted here and here. And here's another one by Noel Murray in the L.A. Times: Review 'Young Messiah' lacks passion. ("Passion." Get it, get it?)
Nowrasteh makes everything too portentous, as the boy Jesus has his first encounters with baptism, crucifixion, temple merchants and the like. At times, this movie feels too much like the Christian version of “The Phantom Menace,” offering unnecessary explanations for well-known stories.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

PaleoJudaica's 13th anniversary

HAPPY 13TH ANNIVERSARY TO PALEOJUDAICA! Below is a list of my favorite PaleoJudaica posts from the last twelve months. Some are just notices of important stories, some demonstrate the ongoing lapses of the press, a few include my own research or break a story, and all involve more of my own commentary than usual. When there are links, be sure to follow them for more information. Past anniversary posts are here and links.

As always, thanks for reading PaleoJudaica! Please keep coming back and keep bringing your friends.

Brown, The God of This Age

LARRY HURTADO: The Apostle Paul on Satan: New Book.
I’m pleased to note a newly published book by a former PhD student: Derek R. Brown, The God of This Age: Satan in the Churches and Letters of the Apostle Paul (WUNT 2.409; Tuebingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2015). This is a lightly revised form of Brown’s PhD thesis submitted here in 2011.


Reif, Jewish Prayer Texts from the Cairo Genizah

Jewish Prayer Texts from the Cairo Genizah

A Selection of Manuscripts at Cambridge University Library, Introduced, Transcribed, Translated, and Annotated, with Images. Cambridge Genizah Studies Series Volume 7.

Go to Online Edition
Stefan C. Reif, St. John's College Cambridge
Jewish Prayer Texts from the Cairo Genizah, which sets a new tone for future studies, consists of a selection of transcribed and translated Genizah fragments that contain some of the earliest known texts of rabbinic prayers. Reif describes in detail the physical makeup of each manuscript and assesses the manner in which the scribe has tackled the matter of recording a preferred version. He then places the prayer texts included in the manuscript within the context of Jewish liturgical history, explaining the degree to which they were innovative and whether they established precedents to be followed in later prayer-books. He offers specialists and more general readers a fresh understanding of the historical, theological, linguistic, and social factors that may have motivated adjustments to their liturgical formulations.

Is Aramaic the oldest living language?

ARAMAIC WATCH: Assyrians: Speaking the Oldest Living Language of the Middle East (Eden Naby,, via AINA). This headline requires considerable qualification, but the article itself presents the claim in a more nuanced way:
Aramaic is the oldest continuously written and spoken language of the Middle East, preceding Hebrew and Arabic as written languages. Equally important has been the role of Aramaic as the oldest continuously used alphabetically written language of the world. Aramaic influenced both Arabic and Hebrew, sister Semitic languages, and even contributed to the writng of Mongolian and Uighur, in terms of alphabet development, lexical borrowing, and cultural habits like alphabet numbering.

The influence of Aramaic is widely studied by ancient historians. Aramaic inscriptions have been found from the central mountains of Afghanistan (Kandahar and elsewhere) to Egypt, and second century CE Palmyrene. Aramaic is found in northeast Britain on a tombtone associated with Hadrian's Wall.

With the Christian period, the form of Aramaic adopted for Christian texts became the Syriac of Urhoy(Gr. Edessa). Classical Syriac as the advanced language of science, medicine and philosophy east of the Greek world, provided the Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258) in Baghdad with a ready source of knowledge that was reborn in Arabic while Syriac withered as did the churches that had tended it.

At the start of the 20th century, modern spoken dialects of Aramaic survived chiefly among Christian Assyrians and to a lesser extent among Mandeans and Jewish Aramaic speakers (the Nash Dedan).
It is more or less fair to say that Aramaic is the oldest Middle Eastern language that has both an unbroken written tradition and an unbroken tradition of being a spoken native language. Arabic is comparably old, but its written tradition only begins in late antiquity. (If you want to factor in the various now-extinct ancient Arabian dialects in their various now-extinct writing systems, the tradition goes much further back, comparably to the Aramaic tradition.) Hebrew is comparably old and, contrary to what you may have heard, has been in continuous use up to the present. It has a comparably old, unbroken written and liturgical tradition, but it was not a native spoken language between (at latest) the early centuries CE and around a century ago. (Last sentence revised for accuracy.)

Will Palmyra be retaken this time?

PALMYRA WATCH: Syria regime forces at entrance to Islamic State-held Palmyra. Jihadists using suicide bombers in effort to halt advance of pro-government troops (AFP). We've heard this before, back in July. It came to nothing and much additional horror and destruction has been visited on Palmyra since. But the Syrian forces were not backed by the Russians then, so this time the result may be different. I hope the civilians in the area are able to remain safe and that the surviving ruins are not damaged further.

In case the city actually is retaken this time, this article is relevant: Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky: Palmyra must be restored (ELENA YAKOVLEVA, ROSSIYSKAYA GAZETA/ Russian Beyond the Headlines).
According to the Syrian ambassador to Moscow, Riad Haddad, the Syrian army is approaching the ancient ruins of Palmyra, aided by the remaining contingent of Russia’s aerospace forces. If the ancient city is liberated, will it be possible to restore it? Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of St. Petersburg's Hermitage museum, shared his thoughts on the matter.
If the result of our operation is the liberation of Palmyra, we will never find anything more beautiful in the annals of the whole of Russian history in the Middle East and the Holy Land. Pardon me for sounding solemn, but it's true.
Background here and links.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Purim 2016

HAPPY PURIM to all those celebrating! The festival begins tonight at sundown.

Some past Purim posts are collected here and links. And since then, there's this, this, this, and this.

Size of the Jerusalem Kedem Center still being debated

MORE DOWNSIZING, THAT IS: Leftist group demands downsizing of structure near Jerusalem's Old City. Ir David Foundation says Kedem Center would strengthen the capital by celebrating its shared history. (DANIEL K. EISENBUD, Jerusalem Post).
Despite considerable pressure from the left-wing NGO Emek Shaveh to radically downsize the contested Kedem Center, being built by a right-wing group near the Old City walls at the entrance to Silwan, Emek Shaveh leader Yonotan Mizrahi said it was unlikely that the opposition would succeed.

“We got the feeling that they will approve what has already been approved for the center,” Mizrahi said following a Tuesday morning hearing by the National Planning and Building Committee.

Last May, the committee approved a scaled-down version of the controversial 16,000-square meter visitors’ compound, to be operated by the Ir David Foundation (Elad) over an active excavation site.

That story was noted here back in June of last year. Follow the links for the whole story, which goes back some years.

Rising groundwater threatens Alexandrian antiquities

ANCIENT ARCHITECTURE IN DANGER: Alexandria’s ancient sites face extinction due to stalled renovation (Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt Independent).
Archaeological sites in Alexandria are facing ruin, with renovation projects by the Antiquities Ministry covering 13 ancient Islamic, Coptic and Jewish monuments stalled due to a shortfall in funding that stretches back many years.


Enumerating the endangered structures, [Antiquities Ministry official Mohamed Ali] Saeed listed the Shorbagy Mosque, the Terbana Mosque, the Haqqania courthouse, the Ptolemaic Wall, the old towers, the cisterns of Ibn al-Nabih, Ibn Battouta Ismail and Ingy Hanem, as well as the entire Abu Mina Coptic site. He said that while renovations at some sites have been halted for at least six years, others have not seen conservators for more than 20 years.


Ahmed Abdel Fattah, another expert and a member of the ministry’s permanent antiquities panel, warned of rising groundwater levels at the ancient Ptolemaic and Greek tombs of Mostafa Kamel, Shatbi and Anfoushi, where walls and floors are being gradually eroded. He said the structures should be prioritized for renovation, especially due to their exposure to high humidity levels resulting from proximity to the sea.


15th Orion Symposium

THE ORION CENTER WEBSITE: The Fifteenth International Orion Symposium, in conjunction with the University of Vienna, Institute for Jewish Studies, and the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies
will be held
April 10–14, 2016
Beit Maiersdorf and the Rabin Building
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mount Scopus

On the topic

The Texts of the Bible from the Dead Sea Scrolls
to the Biblical Manuscripts of the Vienna Papyrus Collection

The discovery and publication of over 200 biblical manuscripts among the Dead Sea scrolls has fundamentally changed our understanding of the biblical text and its history. These copies reflect the earliest evidence currently available for the books of the Bible, and therefore provide invaluable evidence for the state of the biblical text in the Second Temple period. The comparison of these manuscripts to one another, and to later texts found in the Cairo Genizah and other repositories, allows for a comprehensive assessment of the dynamic processes of transmission and textual development of the Bible in antiquity and in the early medieval period. These and other issues will be addressed in this two-part symposium: the first part focusing on the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Second Temple period and late antiquity; the second part on the Vienna papyrus collection and early medieval trajectories of the biblical text.

The program will be posted as soon as it becomes available.

Jewish Studies research fellowship at Brooklyn College

Fellowship:Fellowship: New Visiting Research Fellowship in Jewish Studies at Brooklyn College

by Robert Shapiro
Dear colleagues,

The Judaic Studies Department at Brooklyn College has been authorized to offer Visiting Research Fellowships in Judaic Studies. Applications will be considered from candidates in any field of Jewish studies, including both senior and early career scholars and advanced doctoral students. Of special interest would be research projects related to the many Jewish communities in Brooklyn and the greater New York region.

Although the Visiting Research Fellowships do not at present provide any stipend, Fellows will be provided with office space, computer, printer, and library privileges. Fellows from Israel and other countries will be assisted in obtaining appropriate visas. Fellows will be invited to present their research to the Departmental Seminar and in a public lecture.

Fellows will be responsible for their own travel, housing, maintenance, and insurance. Housing is available in the Kenilworth Residence Hall at Brooklyn College, as well as in apartments in the Midwood-Flatbush neighborhood. There is a convenient subway connection from Brooklyn College to the Center for Jewish History and other Manhattan resources.

Research projects in any field of Jewish studies will be considered..Applications for stays from one to ten months will be considered, although stays of two to four months are more likely to be available.
Follow the link for further particulars.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

How many books in Josephus' Bible?

PHILIP JENKINS: Numbering the Old Testament: 22, 24 , 39, or more? (The Anxious Bench). Yes, I know the term "Bible" in the header is anachronistic. Something like "collection of divinely authoritative writings" would have been more accurate, but it was unwieldy.

Visiting Scholar post in Hebrew at Indiana University

H-JUDAIC: JOB: Indiana University, Visiting Scholar in Biblical Hebrew
Indiana University - Bloomington, Robert A. and Sandra S. Borns Jewish Studies Program
Visiting Scholar, Biblical Hebrew

The Robert A. and Sandra S. Borns Jewish Studies Program at Indiana University invites applications for a Visiting Scholar for the 2016-2017 academic year. The Visiting Scholar will be expected to teach two courses in both the Fall and Spring semesters: Introductory Biblical Hebrew, and Intermediate Biblical Hebrew. The position provides a stipend of $45,000, and the successful applicant will also be able to apply for some research funding from the program. Ph.D. in Jewish Studies or a related field is desirable, but suitable ABD candidates will also be considered. Residency of the visiting scholar in Bloomington is strongly preferred.
Follow the link for application information etc. Consideration of applications begins on 15 April.

The Talmud on acquiring women

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: On the Acquisition of Women. In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ Talmud study, the rabbis parse the betrothal of Jewish couples under the patriarchy. Plus: Is sex really sex if it doesn’t go all the way?
The first words of the mishna are “A woman is acquired,” which might seem to make betrothal equivalent to the purchase of a slave or a piece of land: In all these cases, the man is gaining ownership of something. Yet things are not so simple, as the Gemara goes on to explain when it examines the language of the mishna. Why, the rabbis ask, does the mishna state “a woman is acquired,” rather than “a man betroths”? In the Talmud, the exact choice of words is always critical; there is always a conscious reason why the tannaim put things one way rather than another.
The world of antiquity had very different, often shockingly different, standards from those of the twenty-first century, not least regarding the status of women. That said, the Talmud's standards for protecting the rights and well-being of women were comparatively high in the context of the ancient world. Some related thoughts are here and links.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Bibliographia Iranica is back

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: A new beginning! This very useful blog, to which PaleoJudaica linked often, went on indefinite hiatus at the end of January. I'm glad to report that it's now up and running again. And happy slightly belated Iranian New Year as well.

New EABS unit on Slavonic parabiblical traditions

EUROPEAN ASSOCIATION OF BIBLICAL STUDIES: Slavonic Parabiblical Traditions EABS annual meeting 2016. I know that I already noted the full EABS 2016 program here, but this is a brand new workshop research unit and it deserves to be highlighted. Follow the link for full details and note the CFP for this year:
Call for Papers 2016

Papers are invited on various aspects of “Visitors from Heaven, Visitors to Heaven” narratives, with special emphasis on Slavonic apocryphal writings, oral tradition and iconography. The aim will be to compare and contrast Slavonic texts with others (extant in Hebrew / Aramaic, Greek, Syriac, Latin, Romanian, Armenian, etc.) but scholars working in all of these fields are welcome to apply.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Review of Balch, Contested Ethnicities and Images

David L. Balch, Contested Ethnicities and Images: Studies in Acts and Art. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 345. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2015. Pp. xx, 479, CD-ROM. ISBN 9783161523366. €159,00.

Reviewed by Davina C. Lopez, Eckerd College (


[Full disclosure: I am a contributor to a festschrift honoring David L. Balch entitled Text, Image, and Christians in the Graeco-Roman World: A Festschrift in Honor of David Lee Balch, ed. Aliou Niang and Carolyn Osiek (Princeton Theological Monographs 176; Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2011)].

In the academic study of the New Testament and related literature, two contentious methodological issues include a) the relationship of the Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles to ancient biography and historiography and b) the connections between ancient visual representations and literary materials as related to early Christian discourses. Over the course of nearly half a century, the New Testament scholar David L. Balch has made significant contributions regarding both issues. Contested Ethnicities and Images: Studies in Acts and Arts collects his essays that focus on understanding Luke-Acts in its ancient literary milieu and assessing the utility of ancient art (especially Roman domestic art) for New Testament studies. As the texts of the New Testament do not serve solely as ancient artifacts but also as “scriptures” for a variety of communities, a critical component of these essays is their potential applicability in contemporary conversations in which biblical texts are used to carve out, and contest, claims to identity formation and cultural status.


James Joyce and the Vigna Randanini

TNT MAGAZINE: In the footsteps of James Joyce in Rome (Giuseppe Cafiero).
Italian writer Giuseppe Cafiero has recently published his latest book James Joyce 1906-1907: The Ambiguity of Epiphanies - a fascinating and provocative literary fiction exploring the forgotten year that author James Joyce lived and worked in Rome, enjoying an extraordinary love-hate relationship with the eternal city. Here Cafiero shares the sites and locations in Rome that were most pertinent to the Irish novelist and poet, with TNT readers...
Naturally, Joyce visited the places you would expect, such as the Coliseum and the Forum, but there's also this:
Finally, we travel along the old Appian Way to experience a place that Joyce hastened to visit since it had been discovered only in 1859 and he had been fascinated by it thanks to some readings made in Trieste. The Vigna Randanini was (as it still is, even though altered externally by restorations) an ancient Jewish necropolis dating to well before the Christian catacombs. Joyce was speechless at the sight of those ruins, recalling the succession of rituals that had marked the place. Imagining the first settlements when, it is said, the area was sacred to the Jews and it was constructed according to patriarchal dictates, with galleries and narrow tunnels making room for tombs carved into the volcanic rock walls. Visiting that place even now we can imagine a synagogue, where there is water, where there is the division of spaces into two units (one for men, one for women), where we can deduce the presence of apses. Thus there is a large oblong space preceding an antechamber, then a vestibule as a place of access leading to another room containing a well of circa 6 metres, a necessary element for a synagogue.
These were certainly the most indelible memories for Joyce as he wandered, bored and inebriated, through Rome. Memories that can be revisited with renewed interest if we decide to consider them as evocative literary tours and Joycean itineraries.

3D reconstruction of Syrian archaeological sites

VISUALIZE THIS: Archaeologists documenting Syria’s heritage with 3D reconstructions (GHIDA LADKANI, Step Feed).
A group of Syrian archaeologists have partnered with a French digital surveyor to recreate detailed 3D reconstructions of some of Syria’s most prominent historic sites. The photogrammetric technology has been used to record the 8th-century Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, the Krak des Chevaliers Crusader castle near Homs, the Roman theater in Jableh and the Phoenician site in Ugarit.

These 3D reconstructions went online March 15 on the French start-up Iconem‘s website. According to the start-up, the team hopes to preserve the knowledge of heritage sites that are under the threat of disappearing. They scan the sites using drones in order to transmit this common world heritage from one generation to another.

Nice videos. The drone looks disquietingly like something produced by Skynet, but I suppose that can't be helped. Ugarit is not a "Phoenician" site. One could just about get away with calling it "Canaanite," but I prefer to think of it as a "Northwest Semitic" site.

Cross-file under Technology Watch and Archaeology.

Death to Haman?

IT SEEMS A BIT LATE TO BE CONCERNED ABOUT THIS: Report: Iran Arrests Two Jewish Teens for Scribbling 'Death to Haman' on a Wall. American Jews have been helping to seek the 17-year-olds' release, the Israeli newspaper Maariv reports (Haaretz). If they were busted for the graffiti vandalism, that's fair enough. But Haman is already dead.

Cross-file under Purim.

Near Eastern Archaeology 79.1 (2016), free!

AWOL: Near Eastern Archaeology, Vol. 79, No. 1, March 2016. For a limited time (until 4/18/16) get free access to the latest Near Eastern Archaeology magazine without needing to login! For you, special deal!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Review of Steinhauer, Religious Associations in the Post-Classical Polis

Julietta Steinhauer, Religious Associations in the Post-Classical Polis. Postdamer altertumswissenschaftliche Beiträge, Bd 50. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2014. Pp. 189. ISBN 9783515106467. €52.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Matt Gibbs, University of Winnipeg (

Table of Contents

Julietta Steinhauer’s thought-provoking monograph, based on her doctoral thesis undertaken at the University of St Andrews, examines “a novel religious form that appeared in the Aegean world in Hellenistic and Roman times” (15). It is primarily concerned with the material from Athens, Delos and, in passing, Rhodes, and (in mainland Asia Minor) Ephesus, Pergamum, and Smyrna, from the fourth century BCE to the second century CE.

The volume contains seven chapters, including an introduction and conclusion, and a bibliography. There are also two appendices: the first contains two graphs illustrating the number of inscriptions from Athens, and several plans of the architectural structures considered in the text; the second is divided into two sub-sections considering the Jews of the Diaspora and the Septuagint.


Interview with Bond

CRUX SOLA: How I Do Research: Prof. Helen Bond (Gupta). Wise words. This in particular resonated with me: "One of my present difficulties is that I get so little time for research."

Gafni, Orthodoxy and Talmudic Criticism?

Chanan Gafni, Orthodoxy and Talmudic Criticism? On Misleading Attributions in the Talmud, Zutot, Volume 13, Issue 1, pages 70 – 80 (2016).

Critical approaches to the Talmud flourished among liberal elements in nineteenth-century Jewry. Scholars whose aim was to introduce further alterations to Jewish law found backing for their agenda in their scientific treatment of the Talmud, emphasizing the dynamic transmission of this central Jewish tradition. However, describing the emergence of Talmud criticism without considering the contribution of traditional writers would be misleading. Orthodox scholars did occasionally arrive at and elaborate on critical insights, at times precisely in order to defend their conservative views. An instructive example of this phenomenon comes from the writings of a leading opponent of Wissenschaft des Judentums, Yitzhak Isaac Halevy (1847–1917). In one of his apologetic discussions, Halevy introduced a revolutionary principle, according to which the Talmud would often attribute an original phrase by an Amora to that same Amora in other halakhic contexts.
Requires a paid individual or institutional subscription (or a one-time payment) to access.

Hidary, 'One May Come to Repair Musical Instruments'

Richard Hidary, 'One May Come to Repair Musical Instruments': Rabbinic Authority and the History of the Shevut Laws

mBets 5:2 lists a series of activities prohibited on the Sabbath under the category of shevut (rest) laws because they are not conducive to the restful Sabbath atmosphere. Second Temple sources already proscribe some of these activities, and tannaitic sources consider them prohibited by biblical mandate. The Bavli, however, reinterprets these laws as rabbinically-enacted safeguards (gezerot) lest one come to violate a biblical law. For example, bBets 36b teaches that one may not swim on the Sabbath lest one come to make a flotation device, and one may not clap lest one come to fix a musical instrument. As the strangeness of these seemingly far-fetched worries suggests, and as earlier sectarian and rabbinic sources confirm, the Bavli’s explanations are not the original reasons for these laws. This prompts us to wonder why the Bavli demoted them to the status of rabbinic laws and resorted to such circuitous reasoning to explain their prohibition. This analysis will help explain the Bavli’s curious explanations for the shevut laws, and also serve as a case study for understanding some of the motivations and mechanisms of rabbinic legislation and interpretation. This example will also shed light on how the rabbis succeeded in imbuing the rabbinic legal system in general with authoritative status.

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