Saturday, April 09, 2016

Punic Playmobil

PUNIC WATCH: 26,000-Figure Playmobil Diorama Depicts Carthage Vs. Rome (JOHN KEEFER, The Escapist).
An avid Playmobil collector has set up a diorama depicting the Battle of Zama in what may turn out to be a world record.

The battle was epic ... and so was the set-up.

Playmobil collector Jean-Michel Leuillier has been collecting the figures for years and decided to go for a world record on March 19 in the sports hall of Heyrieux in southeastern France. He chose to depict the Battle of Zama from 202 BC, which had more than 40,000 Carthaginians facing off against more than 35,100 Romans in a battle that would end the Second Punic War.

Past posts involving the Battle of Zama are here, here, and here.


YONA SABAR: Hebrew word of the week: Yehudi. A couple of past PaleoJudaica posts dealing with the origin of the word "Jew" are here and here.

On childbirth and ritual impurity

LEVITICUS: Torah Portion of the Week: The Dynamics of Impurity. Is giving birth to a child a sin? That seems to be the message of Parashat Tazria (Ariel Seri-Levi, Haaretz). Not surprisingly, the answer to the question is no. Nor is a "sin" offering required because the woman rashly vowed during labor never to have sex again, even though she may well have done so.
In his book, “Leviticus: A Book of Ritual and Ethics,” the late Bible scholar Jacob Milgrom explains the role of the hatat offering and the significance of atonement. Commission of sins, bodily secretions and various biological phenomena give rise to impurity – a dynamic force that in essence adheres to the sanctuary and all it contains, which can endanger God’s continued presence both there and in Israel’s midst. For this reason, the Torah prohibits the new mother from coming into contact with anything holy during the period immediately following childbirth: “she shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purification be fulfilled” (Lev. 12:4).

But, even if she remains at home, her ritual impurity adheres to the sanctuary and can accumulate there. The impurity must be purged from the sanctuary to ensure that God will continue to reside there. The disinfectant the priest uses to remove the impurity from the altar – not from the new mother – is the blood of the hatat-offering, which is sprinkled not on the person bringing the offering but on the altar.

We can therefore understand that the Hebrew word for this offering, “hatat,” is linked not to sin (het) but to disinfection (hitui), and therefore should be translated not as “sin-offering” but as “purification-offering.” Disinfection is also referred to as atonement – kippur¸ whose root in Hebrew is kaf-peh-resh. In Akkadian, that root means “disinfection” or “wiping away.” Thus the meaning of the atonement in the purification-offering is removal of the impurity, of a kind of filth.
Or, as I suggest when I lecture on ritual impurity in P, a kind of cooties.

Three Bloomsbury books

Zechariah’s Vision Report and Its Earliest Interpreters
A Redaction-Critical Study of Zechariah 1-8

By: Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer

Published: 01-14-2016
Format: Hardback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 296
ISBN: 9780567665225
Imprint: Bloomsbury T&T Clark
Series: The Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies
Volume: 626
Dimensions: 6 1/8" x 9 1/4"
List price: $120.00

About Zechariah’s Vision Report and Its Earliest Interpreters

If Zechariah's vision report (Zechariah 1.8-6.8) reflects the seer's visionary experience, how does that impact our understanding of the gradual growth of the text? Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer builds on the work done in her previous book Zechariah and His Visions (Bloomsbury-T&T Clark, 2014), to demonstrate that the visionary material forms the primary textual layer. The oracular texts constitute chronologically later interpretations. Zechariah and/or later authors/editors sought guidance in the earlier vision accounts, and the oracular material reflects these endeavours. Tiemeyer's investigation is guided by the question: what is the latter material doing with the former? Is it enforcing, contradicting, or adding to it?

Using a ratio composed of the difference between the intratexts and intertexts of Zech 1-8, Tiemeyer shows how this ratio is higher in the oracular material than in the visionary material. This difference points to the different origin and the different purpose of the two sets of material. While the earlier vision report draws on images found primarily in other biblical vision reports, the later oracular material has the characteristics of scribal interpretation. By drawing on earlier material, it seeks to anchor its proposed interpretations of the various vision accounts within the Israelite textual tradition. It is clear that the divine oracles were added to give, modify, and specify the meaning of the earlier vision report.

Worlds that Could Not Be: Utopia in Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah

Editor(s): Frauke Uhlenbruch, Steven J. Schweitzer

Published: 01-28-2016
Format: Hardback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 224
ISBN: 9780567664051
Imprint: Bloomsbury T&T Clark
Series: The Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies
Volume: 620
Dimensions: 6 1/8" x 9 1/4"
List price: $112.00

About Worlds that Could Not Be: Utopia in Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah

The idea of Utopia was first made current and popular by Sir Thomas More with the publication of his book by the same name in 1516. The 'no-place' that was created has had a fantastic reception history, which makes its application to the biblical books of Nehemiah, Ezra and Chronicles as vibrant as the current scholarship which is ongoing into the Renaissance term and its implications. The essays in this collection take different approaches to the question: are there proto-utopian elements in the three books from the Hebrew Bible? Methodological considerations are to be found, but each essay also moves beyond the methodological constraint to raise the hypothetical question of 'what if?' in different ways.

The essays evaluate the potential, and pitfalls, of reading Biblical books as (proto-)utopian. Topics include how utopia construct intricate counter-realities, and how to tell whether a proposal diagnosed as 'utopian' from a modern point of view is meant to motivate its audience to political action. Case studies which read aspects of Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah as potential utopian traits include the restoration project of Ezra-Nehemiah and the rejection of foreign wives, utopian concerns in Chronicles, as well as the empire's role in writing a putative utopia, and King Solomon as a utopian fantasy-king.

The Return of the King
Messianic Expectation in Book V of the Psalter

By: Michael K. Snearly

Published: 11-19-2015
Format: Hardback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 248
ISBN: 9780567664334
Imprint: Bloomsbury T&T Clark
Series: The Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies
Volume: 624
Dimensions: 6 1/8" x 9 1/4"
List price: $112.00

About The Return of the King

The clear structure of psalm groups in Psalms 107-150 can be interpreted as signaling a renewed hope in the royal/Davidic promises. Each psalm group of Book V is organized around a theme or key word that is related to the royal/Davidic hope in the earlier sections of the Psalter: Psalms 107-118; Psalm 119; Psalms 120-137; Psalms 138-145; Psalms 146-150. These words and themes figure prominently at the major seam psalms of the Psalter – Psalms 1-2 and 89. Thus, the content and subject matter at the end of the Psalter is integrally related to the content and subject matter at the beginning.

The editorial-critical method used by Snearly is an extension of the method used by David M. Howard, Jr. in The Structure of Psalms 93-100. Snearly also draws from recent insights in the fields of poetics and text-linguistics in order to establish a linguistically based foundation for reading the Psalter as a unified text. The methodology emphasizes parallel features, with special focus on key-word links. This method advances editorial criticism by not only discerning links within a group but also showing that those links do not occur with the same frequency outside of the group.
Follow the links for TOCs and ordering information.

The "messiah" in Daniel 9:27

PHILIP JENKINS: The Messiah, the Prince (The Anxious Bench).
I recently blogged on the many and various ways in which translators subtly (and usually unconsciously) change the meaning of a text by capitalization and punctuation. Here is an illustration that seems quite powerful to me.

Notice also the subtle but telling punctuation and translational differences in the translation of the chronology of the 70 weeks in Daniel 9:27. The more Christological ones differ from the ones that implicitly recognize the original sense of the title.

Also note the link to Professor Jenkins's earlier post, Revolutionary Years 1, which discusses the question of the date of the book of Daniel. I have linked to it already, but did not mention that particular aspect of it.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Palmyra's Arch of Triumph redivivus

OPEN THAT PORTAL: Why the Arch of Triumph of Palmyra is being recreated in London - 1,800 years after it was built (Nigel Richardson, The Telegraph).
We watch mesmerised as the robotic arm beavers away, the drill bit on the end painstakingly incising the precise lineaments of a 1,800-year-old monument that was blown up last October.

The monument in question is the Arch of Triumph of Palmyra, destroyed by Isil forces as they spread across Syria in the summer of 2015.

For the past two months, in a mountain workshop right next to where Michelangelo quarried a block of finest-quality white marble for his David, a new arch has been rising, and the week after next, in a culminating flight of fancy, it will touch down in Trafalgar Square.
Meanwhile, Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz in Breaking Israel News breathlessly reports Temple of Ba’al Replica Arrives in London Just in Time for Ancient Pagan Festival. It seems that the reconstructed arch will be on display in London at a time coinciding with the beginning of an occult festival (one I've never heard of) whose end culminates with May Day/Walpurgistnacht/Beltane. In my view, that's a pretty tenuous connection. I don't doubt that any day of the year could be traced back to some such occult connection with a little effort. This is what I call the Illuminatus fallacy: anything can be connected to anything else if you keep the parameters flexible and allow a few steps in between. Sometimes 19 April is just 19 April.

In any case, Mr. Berkowitz, as well as Michael Snyder of Charisma News (see here), will presumably be somewhat relieved to hear (as above) that it is the Arch of Triumph that is being reconstructed, not the entrance of the Temple of Bel. That should make for a less "eerie coincidence" and a less threatening portal.

Cross-file under Palmyra Watch. More on the reconstructed Arch is here and links. Additional background on the long, sad story of Palmyra, one that I hope is now moving to happier times, is here and here and links.

Yeasayer - "Dead Sea Scrolls"


The approximate lyrics are given here. Something to enjoy for the weekend.

On digging up the dead

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: When Is It Okay To Dig Up The Dead? Human bones tell stories that would otherwise be lost to history. But archaeologists are increasingly confronted with demands to let past generations rest in peace (Mark Strauss, National Geographic). This article has a sensible and sensitive discussion of the full range of issues surrounding the question of archaeological excavation and study of human remains. Without wanting to oversimplify, I am in basic agreement with this:
Some bioarchaeologists are staunchly opposed to returning bones to the ground. Duncan Sayer, an archaeologist at the University of Central Lancashire, writes, “The destruction of human remains prevents future study; it is the forensic equivalent of book burning, the willful ruin of knowledge.”
But that does not exclude trying to find creative ways to accommodate the wishes of indigenous groups and (more cogently) direct descendants who feel they have a stake in the fate of the remains.

Another post on this subject, in which I give my own views and suggestions in greater detail, is here.

Kirsch awarded Guggenheim Fellowship

CONGRATULATIONS TO ADAM KIRSCH: Adam Kirsch Awarded Guggenheim Fellowship for Nonfiction (Jonathan Zalman, Tablet Magazine).
We’re excited and proud to learn that Adam Kirsch, Tablet’s long-time contributing editor and literary critic, has been awarded the 2016 Guggenheim Fellowship for General Nonfiction.

For the last few years Mr. Kirsch has been writing a weekly column in Tablet on the daily Daf Yomi cycle of Talmud readings, and PaleoJudaica has been following his work closely. I am very happy that he has received this well deserved award.

For his Daf Yomi columns, start here and just follow those links.


YONA SABAR: Hebrew word of the week: Creationism/bri’atanut. No, this isn't an ancient Hebrew word. But I couldn't resist. I have posted comments on the ancient use of the root here and here.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

NLI groundbreaking ceremony

RENOVATION: Israel’s national library turns the page with an eye on community, technology (Judy Lash Balint/
The recent groundbreaking ceremony for the new building of the National Library of Israel (NLI), a major event in the history of Jerusalem, was a deeply personal moment for many of the most prominent participants.


The collections of the NLI are a repository of the cultural history of the Jewish people and encompass 5 million books, among them many rare and ancient volumes, including the original writings of Maimonides, Franz Kafka, Sigmund Freud, and Albert Einstein. By law, as any Israeli author will tell you, two copies of every book published in Israel—in any language—must be deposited at the NLI.

In 2007, the National Library Law was passed by the Israeli Knesset, followed in 2008-10 by a Master Plan for Library Renewal designed to efficiently move the library into the 21st century, as well as to preserve and open access to the cultural and intellectual treasures of the State of Israel and the Jewish people that are safeguarded in its collections.

But the new building, to be located between the Israel Museum and the Knesset, is “to be much more than a library,” asserted NLI Director Oren Weinberg.

Background on the renovation of the Israel National Library is here.

Review of Neis, The Sense of Sight in Rabbinic Culture

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Neis, The Sense of Sight in Rabbinic Culture (Daniel Picus).
The Sense of Sight in Rabbinic Culture: Jewish Ways of Seeing in Late Antiquity by Rachel Neis, Cambridge University Press: New York, 2013.

It seems fitting that a book about the sense of sight should be remarkably clear-eyed. So, too, is it fitting that its gaze should sweep the length and breadth of the ancient Mediterranean, the Middle East, and even land on the Indian subcontinent, and that its analysis be measured, thoughtful, and lucid. Perhaps even more impressively, its author, Rachel Neis, an associate professor of History and Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan, has managed to write a book about sight that relies not at all on gimmicky metaphors of seeing and vision (something that this author, however, seems to have failed at completely).
Well, yes. But he does better in the rest of the review.

An earlier review of this book was noted here.

"Zohar" - the oratorio

MUSIC: Leshnoff’s “Zohar” Premieres at Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (Atlanta Jewish Times).
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra will present the world premiere of Jonathan Leshnoff’s oratorio “Zohar” this month at Symphony Hall before moving on to New York for the composer’s debut at Carnegie Hall.

The work is based on one of the pillars of Jewish mysticism and is a commentary on the mystical aspects of the Torah, Leshnoff said.


The work is based on the spiritual text known as the Zohar, the foundation of Kabbalah. “The Zohar is extremely profound, dealing with the most basic and deepest issues of Judaism and life,” Leshnoff wrote in an email to the AJT. “I barely understand its surface level, but even that inspires me to the core of my being. My composition straddles the ecstatic mystical experiences that I glean from the Zohar itself and balances such heightened moments against the human, ‘down to earth’ elements of existence.”


Leshnoff said his goal is to take the audience on a journey. “Where they go, I don’t know, but I need to be the conduit, the means to have them go somewhere. And if I can provide that bridge, then I’ve done my job. My aesthetic is that music needs to do something to us. It needs to affect us. That’s why the music that lasts through centuries is there.”
This is first muscial compostion I've encountered that is based on the Zohar, but I have been following news about Zohar the written composition for many years. Start here and here and follow the links.

Report that Gaza church has been destroyed

ARCHAEOLOGY: Archaeologists scramble to save ancient church unearthed on Gaza building site (AFP). That story was from yesterday, 6 April. The news today does not sound encouraging: Palestinian Christians bitter over destruction of church ruins in Gaza. “It’s obvious that Christian legacy and human beings are being targeted in our region,” cleric charges (KHALED ABU TOAMEH, Jerusalem Post).
Palestinian Christians on Wednesday expressed anger over the way the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have handled the ancient ruins of a Byzantine church that were uncovered in Gaza City last week.

They said that bulldozers removed the antiquities and continued with their work without supervision. They accused the two big Palestinian parties of seeking to obliterate Christian history and identity in the Holy Land.


“They used bulldozers to remove the antiquities and no one ordered a freeze of the construction work at this important archeological site,” said Father Ibrahim Nairouz, a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem who lives in Nablus.

“Had they found the remains of a mosque or synagogue or any other ancient structure, would they have dealt with them in the same manner?” Nairouz asked. “Or are they doing this because it’s an ancient church?” His criticism came in a letter he wrote to PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and Minister of Antiquities and Tourism Rula Maa’yaa.


Suleiman Fayoumi, another Christian from Nablus, commented, “How are the Wakf officials in Gaza different from ISIS when they bulldoze antiquities and a religious and cultural treasure?” Nick Bandak of Bethlehem said it was “disgraceful” and “barbaric” to remove the remains of a church in this way.

This does not sound good. Hamas is reportedly in charge of the area and bears some responsibility for the situation.

Background here.

Conference in honor of the Qumran Institute

AT GRONINGEN UNIVERSITY: 21-23 June: Nationhood and Religion in Hellenistic-Roman Judaea.
When: Tu 21-06-2016
Start: 12:30
End: 18:30
Where: Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Groningen Oude Boteringestraat 38, Court Room of the Faculty
Conference 21-23 June: Nationhood and Religion in Hellenistic-Roman Judaea
Celebrating 55 Years Qumran Institute (1961-2016)

This conference is made possible by generous grants from the European Association for Jewish Studies (EAJS), the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), and the Nicolaas Mulerius Fund (University of Groningen)

Organisers: Steve Mason and Mladen Popović
Follow the link for registration information and the conference program. This is yet another one I would like to go to if that week in June were not already committed to the Enoch Seminar.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

More on restoring Palmyra

PALMYRA WATCH: Russia's Hermitage Museum offers help to restore Palmyra (AFP). The Hermitage Museum has a large collection of artifacts from Palmyra, including sculptures and some stone inscriptions in Aramaic ("Palmyrene") and Greek.

It is still very early days and it will take a while just to get a clear idea of what needs to be done. To illustrate the current flux, note that the director of the Hermitage Museum, Mikhail Piotrovsky, said that up to 70% of the site may have been damaged or destroyed. But according to another article posted yesterday by Bel Trew for the London Times, unnamed (in the part of the article that is public) "top archaeologists" have said that 80% of the site is still standing. Of course, both statements could be true, depending on the actual details.

Watch this space.

Background here and follow those links.

Ancient bronze implements excavated at Magdala

ARCHAEOLOGY: Second Temple period bronze implements discovered in Magdala excavations (IAA). The link to the press release at the IAA website is here. It includes a brief YouTube video which you can also find here. The main link above is to the IAA press release posted on the (more durable) Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.
The excavation season was located alongside the pier of the large Jewish settlement of Magdala. Volunteers from Chile, Mexico, Italy and Spain came to Magdala in order to help and continue the excavations at the site.

​(Communicated by the Israel Antiquities Authority Spokesperson)

A decorated bronze incense shovel (used for transferring embers from place to place) and a bronze jug were recently uncovered in archaeological excavations in Magdala on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. The Israel Antiquities Authority is leading archaeological excavations slated for the construction of a guesthouse at Magdala. The land is owned by Arke New Gate.

The Hebrew word for incense shovel is mahta, which is derived from the action of raking or gathering embers, and is mentioned in the Bible in Exodus 27:1–3: “You shall make the altar…you shall make pots for it to receive its ashes, and shovels and basins and forks and fire pans; all its utensils you shall make of bronze”. The mahta is thought to have been a sacred implement like the rest of the items that were utilized in the Temple where it was mainly used for transferring embers from place to place. Incense shovels frequently appear in Jewish art as one of the religious articles associated with the Temple, and they have been depicted on mosaic floors of synagogues alongside the menorah, lulav and etrog.

According to Dina Avshalom-Gorni, the Chief archaeologist on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The incense shovel that was found is one of ten others that are known in the country from the Second Temple period. From early research in the world it was thought that the incense shovel was only used for ritual purposes, care for the embers and incense that were burnt in ritual ceremonies. Over the years, after incense shovels were also discovered in non-cultic context, apparently were also used as tools for daily tasks. The incense shovel and jug found in our excavation were exposed lying next to each other on the floor in one of the room, at the storehouses that is locate adjacent the dock of a large Jewish settlement, on the shore of Sea of Galilee, in the late Second Temple period. These implements might have been saved in the storeroom as heirlooms by a Jewish family living at Magdala, or they may have been used for daily work as well”.

A potential connection of the shovel with incense work at the Temple is highlighted here and in the video, but I wonder how likely that is, given that it was excavated up north in the Galilee. The press release does also make clear, as above, that such shovels had other more mundane uses. The first thing that occurred to me when I saw it was that it would make a nice bread toaster for rich people. But I am not an archaeologist.

For some good photos, see the Daily Mail's coverage here. For more on the Magdala Stone, see here and links. For more on the site of Magdala, which may or may not be the home town of Mary Magdalene (specialists disagree and I myself have no opinion - more here), see here, here, and many links.

The CREWS project

The project, called Contexts of and Relations between Early Writing Systems (CREWS for short), is to focus on exploring how writing developed during the 2nd and 1st millennia BCE in the ancient Mediterranean and Near East, and will investigate how different writing systems and the cultures that used them were related to each other.

The project is led by Dr Philippa Steele of the University’s Faculty of Classics. Described as an “innovative and interdisciplinary approach to the history of writing” the CREWS project aims to enrich our understanding of linguistic, cultural and social aspects of the use, borrowing and development of writing in the ancient world – which can uncover some often surprising links to our modern-day written culture.

For example, today the notion of “alphabetical order” is used to arrange everything from dictionaries to telephone books, but why is the alphabet organised the way it is?

[A discussion of the Ugaritic and Phoenician writing systems follows.]

The origin of the alphabet is just one of the areas that the CREWS project will explore, along with the social and political context of writing, and drivers of language change, literacy and communication. Because of the high level of interconnectedness in the ancient Mediterranean and Near East, ideas could be spread widely as people moved, traded and interacted with different cultures.

The Daily Mail also covers the story and includes some nice photos of Ugaritic and other ancient inscriptions.

Cross-file under Phoenician Watch.

UPDATE: Wrong link now fixed. Sorry about that!

DiTommaso and Oegema (eds.), New Vistas on Early Judaism and Christianity

New Vistas on Early Judaism and Christianity
From Enoch to Montreal and Back

Editor(s): Lorenzo DiTommaso, Gerbern S. Oegema

Published: 07-14-2016
Format: Hardback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 368
ISBN: 9780567666178
Imprint: Bloomsbury T&T Clark
Series: Jewish and Christian Text
Dimensions: 6 1/8" x 9 1/4"
List price: $154.00

About New Vistas on Early Judaism and Christianity
The study of early Judaism and early Christianity has been revolutionised by new evidence from a host of sources: the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Pseudepigrapha, the New Testament Apocrypha, the Nag Hammadi writings and related texts, and new papyrus and amulet discoveries. Now scholars have entered the “next generation” of scholarship, where these bodies of evidence are appreciated in conversation with each other and within the contexts of the wider Jewish, Christian, and Greco-Roman cultures from the fourth century BCE to the fourth century CE.

This volume features chapters from leading scholars who approach the study of early Judaism and early Christianity from this synthetic approach. The chapters engage in an inter-generational and international dialogue among the past, present and future generations of scholars, and also among European, North-American, African and South-American scholars and their various methodologies and approaches –- linguistic, historical or comparative. Among the chapters are contributions by Professors James Charlesworth (Princeton), André Gagné (Concordia) and Loren Stuckenbruck (Munich), as well as papers from researchers from North America, Europe, South America and Africa.
Follow the link for TOC and ordering information.

The Lost Book of King Og

REMNANT OF GIANTS: Writings by Ancient Rephaim Found! The Lost Book of King Og. Cross-file, I suppose, under Pseudepigrapha-of-the-Old-Testament-Pseudepigrapha Watch.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Today's Palmyra news

PALMYRA WATCH: A Jewel in Syria Where ‘Ruins Have Been Ruined’ by ISIS. A Times photographer traveled to Palmyra, Syria, to see what remained of its archaeological treasures after almost a year of Islamic State control (BRYAN DENTON, NYT). A photo essay by the photographer. What appears to be the scene described in the first paragraph also appears in a photo farther down. You are warned!
PALMYRA, Syria — As my Hezbollah escort and I entered the modern city around Palmyra, we were greeted by the mangled body of an Islamic State fighter left to rot in the sun. He looked as if dogs might have gotten to him after Syrian government forces, backed by loyal militiamen, routed him and his comrades from the ancient city after almost a year of Islamic State control.

In that time, the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, destroyed some of the remains of a civilization that 2,000 years ago was a mix of Roman, Persian and local cultures.

Where Palmyra’s impressive Temple of Bel once stood, only a single stone archway was left to frame a rectangle of blue sky above the arid desert about 160 miles northeast of Damascus, the capital.

I traveled to Palmyra on Saturday with members of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia allied with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, to see what remained of the archaeological treasures of Palmyra .

And there's this: Never mind ruins, what about Palmyra’s people? (albabwa). Both are important.

And this: Palmyra Can Be Restored Within Year With Funding – Chechnya Leader The ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, recently liberated from terrorists by the government forces, could be restored in a year if enough funding is provided, the acting leader of Russia's Chechen Republic told Sputnik in an interview. I hope he's right.

Archaeologists still protesting Western Wall compromise

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Archeological council slams mixed-prayer area at Western Wall. The government's decision last January to expand the prayer area to include Conservative, Reform and mixed-gender prayer has raised the ire of archeologists who warn of great damage to a Jewish and world heritage site of primary importance (Itay Blumenthal, YNet News).
Israel’s Archeological Council announced, in a letter that it sent on Monday to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that it greatly opposes what it called "the major damage to the archeological park at the foot of the Western Wall", the place where the government decided last January to establish an expanded prayer area for Conservative, Reform and mixed-gender worship.

“Recently a prayer and events area consisting of an additional 500 square meters has been established, as one can see when visiting the site; these stages cause great damage to the site's appearance, in the site’s visiting path and the ability to explain the site to visitors - they should be removed as soon as possible," they determined. "The current plans to add and multiply the amount of prayer stages will only cause more damage to the site."

The harsh message followed a hearing that was held on the subject two weeks ago, and the hearing’s head, Prof. Roni Reich, explained that "this is a Jewish and world heritage site of primary importance. Preservation of the ruins is a prime archeological, public, educational and cultural duty."

Background here and links.

Undergraduate conference on Judaic Studies at Princeton

CONFERENCE REPORT: Princeton hosts a first in Judaic studies. University undergrads gather to share ideas and research with peers (Ricki Heicklen, New Jersey Jewish News).
PRINCETON — When Ayelet Wenger heard about a conference for undergraduate classics students at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, her immediate thought was: “Why doesn’t such a thing exist in Judaic studies?”

The Princeton University junior from Columbus, Ohio, e-mailed religion professor Martha Himmelfarb to pitch the prospect of hosting such a conference, where undergraduate students would present original research in Judaic studies. The two met last March, Wenger told NJJN, and shared excitement at the idea.

Several months of planning later, the inaugural Undergraduate Judaic Studies Conference met on Feb. 14 in Princeton’s Fine Hall. Over 50 students from across the country and beyond came to hear 11 undergraduates present on topics ranging from Second Temple literature, to demonology of Nahmanides, to messianism and Israel’s disengagement from Gaza.

Sounds like the conference was well-run (by the students themselves) and very successful.

Roman-style butchery?

ANCIENT MATERIAL CULTURE: Ancient Romans Influenced Jewish Ritual Slaughter, Says Archaeologist. Jerusalem was a hub of pilgrimages when close cultural ties between the Romans and Jews were a fact of life (Noa Shpigel, Haaretz). Excerpt:
“The Roman world influenced the Jews in the area of culture, but its penetration into religious and holy matters is something we have not seen before,” says Dr. Ram Buchnik, an archeologist in the department of Land of Israel studies at Kinneret College.


At the ancient village of Yodfat in the Lower Galilee, for instance,, butchers skinned the animals in a unique way that made minimal use of a knife. The meat was taken off in one piece, which provided maximum hygiene — and the meat could keep for a week without refrigeration. “They would hang up the animal and cut it in a delicate, anatomical manner, bordering on surgical,” he said.

At the site of a rubbish dump in Jerusalem, where most of city’s garbage was collected during that period, Buchnik found similar signs. He learned from the site that butchers worked very carefully and gently with their knives and left almost no signs of cutting on the animal bones.

Not far away, at the edge of the City of David, the picture changes. When the Romans wanted to prepare food, they did not work in an neat and organized fashion, says Buchnik. The butcher would cut off the head and then cut through the bones of the animal. The food did not have to be kept long because the Roman soldiers ate it all — and the Jews began to copy them.
Read the whole thing before it goes behind the subscription wall.

Late-antique church found in Gaza

ARCHAEOLOGY: Remnants From Ancient Church Unearthed in Gaza by Construction Workers. Archaeologists think pillars discovered say may be part of a Byzantine church dating from around 1,500 years ago (Reuters).
Construction workers in Gaza have discovered ancient ruins that archaeologists say may be part of a Byzantine church dating from around 1,500 years ago, the Palestinian Tourism and Antiquities Ministry said Monday.

The findings include segments of marble pillars with ornate Corinthian capitals, one nearly three meters long, and a 90-centimeter foundation stone bearing a Greek symbol for Christ. Fifteen pieces have been uncovered, with excavations continuing.

“Our first thought is that the site is a cathedral or a church from the Byzantine period,” said Jamal Abu Rida, the general director of the antiquities ministry.


The discovery was first made on Saturday, as construction workers prepared the ground for a shopping center. The antiquities ministry was called in and immediately uncovered three large pieces. Then a dozen more were found.

Abu Rida said the preparation for a shopping center may have to be halted should excavations lead to the discovery of more pieces. Construction workers showed no sign of stopping Monday, with diggers shifting huge mounds of earth.

“Our mission is to preserve our Palestinian history before Islam and after Islam,” said Abu Rida.


Monday, April 04, 2016

Inside the Palmyra museum

PALMYRA WATCH: Smashed sculptures, decapitated statues and defaced figures: Devastation inside Palmyra's national museum after ISIS destroyed priceless artefacts (Ben Tufft, Daily Mail). With lots of photos of the devastation.

Also, there's this: Palmyra restoration possible only after peace in Syria - French Foreign Ministry official. "Not only a temporary truce, which we hail, but real peace," Anne-Marie Desctes, Director-General for Globalization, Development and Partnerships at the French Foreign Ministry said (Tass).
MOSCOW, April 4. /TASS/. A full-fledged start of restoration of monuments destroyed in Syria’s Palmyra will only be possible after a comprehensive truce is established in the country, a senior official at the French Foreign Ministry told TASS in an interview.

Sappers defuse 1,230 mines in Palmyra — Russia's Defense Ministry
"In order to reliably protect that wonderful heritage [Palmyra] from barbaric actions, which were destroying it for so long, and completely restore it, being guided by broad international support, peace is required. Not only a temporary truce, which we hail, but real peace," Anne-Marie Desctes, Director-General for Globalization, Development and Partnerships at the French Foreign Ministry, said.

Maybe so, but it does not sound like real peace is coming anytime soon. And I don't think the Russians are going to wait around for it before they go to work on the restoration.

Background here and links.

Hurtado on early use of the Psalms

LARRY HURTADO: Psalms in NT and Wider Jewish Context.
Having prepared a paper for a symposium in Salamanca (May this year) focusing on “messianic” Psalms, I’ll pass on a couple of interesting notes for now. Essentially, NT use of Psalms (1) reflects broad developments in the Jewish tradition about how the Psalms were viewed, and (2) also reflects some distinctive particularities in NT usage.


Lange and Tov (eds.), Textual History of the Bible

PRESS RELEASE: Brill Publishers to Launch Reference Work 'Textual History of the Bible'.
Brill, the international scholarly publisher, has launched a groundbreaking Major Reference Work for the study of textual history of the Jewish Bible and the Christian Old Testament: Textual History of the Bible. It aims to bring together all available information regarding the textual history, textual character, translation techniques, manuscripts, and the importance of each textual witness for each book of the Hebrew Bible, including its deuterocanonical scriptures. In addition, it includes entries on the history of research, the editorial histories, as well as its auxiliary fields such a papyrology, codicology, and linguistics. THB is an excellent starting point for text-critical analysis of all biblical versions and books, as it offers the reader information about all the textual evidence for a specific biblical book and all the evidence for a specific textual source in one reference work.

More on the Star of David kerfuffle at Elephantine

ICONOGRAPHY OR GRAFFITI? Star of David found engraved into an ancient Temple arouses bustle in Egypt. Egyptian official accused the delegation of German archaeologists that has been working on the site's reconstruction of engraving the Stars of David into the Shrine's stone. (, Jerusalem Post).
Egypt has recently been witnessing a great commotion following the archeological discovery of two Star of David engravings in an ancient Temple in the southern city of Aswan.

The Roman Temple, which dates back to the 3rd century B.C, is located in the Elephantine Island in Aswan.

The earlier report says that the two hexagrams were discovered some 15 years ago. Follow the link for more on the use of the hexagram in ancient Jewish iconography. I have no idea whether these two hexagrams are ancient or modern. [Incorrect link now fixed. Sorry about that!]

A ghost elephant trail in the Alps?

PUNIC WATCH: The truth about Hannibal’s route across the Alps. How exactly did the Carthaginian general and his elephants reach Italy? Scientists have got their hands dirty to come up with an answer (Philip Ball, The Observer [Guardian]).
The battles didn’t end with Scipio’s victory, though. Much ink, if not blood, has been spilled in furious arguments between historians over the precise route that Hannibal took across the Alps. The answer makes not a blind bit of difference to the historical outcome, but there’s clearly something about that image of elephants on snowy peaks that makes experts care deeply about where exactly they went.

An international team of scientists now thinks the puzzle is largely solved. Its leader, geomorphologist Bill Mahaney of York University in Toronto, began pondering the question almost two decades ago by looking at geographical and environmental references in the classical texts. He and his colleagues have just revealed surprising new evidence supporting their claim to have uncovered Hannibal’s path.


The researchers rolled up their sleeves and dug into the mire. What they found was mud. And more mud. Not very informative, you might think. But mud can encode secrets. Taking an army of tens of thousands, with horses and elephants, over the Alps would have left one heck of a mess. More than two millennia later, Mahaney might have found it.

The peaty material is mostly matted with decomposed plant fibres. But at a depth of about 40cm this carbon-based material becomes much more disturbed and compacted, being mixed up with finer-grained soil. This structure suggests that the bog became churned up when the layer was formed. That’s not seen in any other soils from alpine bogs, and isn’t easily explained by any natural phenomenon such as grazing sheep or the action of frost. But it’s just what you’d expect to see if an army with horses and elephants passed by – rather like the aftermath of a bad year at the Glastonbury festival. This soil can be radiocarbon-dated – and the age comes out almost spookily close to the date of 218BC attested by historical records as the time of Hannibal’s crossing.

The researchers then took samples of this disturbed mud back to the lab, where they used chemical techniques to identify some of its organic molecules. These included substances found in horse dung and the faeces of other ruminants. There’s some of this stuff throughout the mire mud, but significantly more in the churned-up layer.
Suggestive, if not yet quite conclusive, evidence for the route of Hannibal's army through the Alps.

There are many past PaleoJudaica posts on Hannibal and the Punic Wars. See, for example, here, here, here, and links

Sunday, April 03, 2016

The Queen of Sheba between & beyond Scriptures

SOMEONE HAD TO DO THIS: The Queen of Sheba Tumblr. And that someone is Annette Yoshiko Reed.

Background on the Queen of Sheba and the vast cycle of legends about her is here and links.

Studies in Late Antiquity


Studies in Late Antiquity: A Journal
eISSN: 2470-2048
Elizabeth DePalma Digeser, Editor

Studies in Late Antiquity: A Journal (SLA) is a new online quarterly journal published by the University of California Press. The journal is scheduled to launch in February, 2017.

SLA aims to publish scholarship on a wide range of topics pertaining to the world of Late Antiquity (150 – 750 CE). A defining focus of the journal is fostering multi- and interdisciplinary research that emphasizes the interconnectedness of the Mediterranean with other parts of the late ancient world. Comparative and methodologically innovative papers are especially welcome.

SLA encourages submissions from scholars working in the following regions and languages therein during the period 150-750 CE:

Africa, Anatolia, Arabia, the Baltic, the British Isles, Central and Western Asia, China, Europe, India, the Mediterranean, Persia, Scandinavia

SLA welcomes contributions that explore the following fields and topics:

Archaeology, Cultural Geography (including Cartography), Economics, History (including Cultural History), History of the Arts (including Architecture, Art, and Music), Law, Literature and Rhetoric, Material Culture (including Codicology, Epigraphy, Numismatics, and Papyrology), Historical Demography, Philology, Philosophy, Religion, Theology
Follow the link for further particulars. You can also sign up for e-mail updates.

Hjelm on ancient Israel

Lost and Found? A Non-Jewish Israel from the Merneptah Stele to the Byzantine Period

Article from History, Archaeology and The Bible Forty Years After "Historicity" (Routledge, 2016).

By Ingrid Hjelm
Faculty of Theology
University of Copenhagen
March 2016
Quite a bit of the article has to do with the Samaritans.

Stuckenbruck and Boccaccini (eds.), Enoch and the Synoptic Gospels

Enoch and the Synoptic Gospels: Reminiscences, Allusions, Intertextuality (Early Judaism and Its Literature) Paperback – April 29, 2016
by Loren T. Stuckenbruck (Author), Gabriele Boccaccini (Author)

Essential research for students and scholars of Second Temple Judaism and the New Testament

Since Richard Laurence published the first English translation of 1 Enoch in 1821, its importance for an understanding of early Christianity has been generally recognized. The present volume is the first book of essays contributed by international specialists in Second Temple Judaism devoted to the significance of traditions found in 1 Enoch for the interpretation of the Synoptic Gospels in the New Testament. Areas covered by the contributions include demonology, Christology, angelology, cosmology, birth narratives, forgiveness of sins, veneration, wisdom, and priestly tradition.

  • Multiple approaches to thinking about the relationship between 1 Enoch and the Synoptic Gospels
  • Exploration of the common socio-cultural and religious framework within which the traditions concerning Enoch and Jesus developed
  • Articles presented at the Seventh Enoch Seminar in 2013
More on the Seventh Enoch Seminar is here.

Oegema, Apocalyptic Interpretation of the Bible

Apocalyptic Interpretation of the Bible
Apocalypticism and Biblical Interpretation in Early Judaism, the Apostle Paul, the Historical Jesus, and their Reception History

By: Gerbern S. Oegema

Published: 06-20-2013
Format: Paperback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 208
ISBN: 9780567188755
Imprint: Bloomsbury T&T Clark
Series: Jewish and Christian Text
List price: $39.95

About Apocalyptic Interpretation of the Bible

This book presents a synthesis of Gerbern Oegema's extensive research on apocalypticism and Biblical interpretation. Oegema works with the hypothesis that apocalypticism was a major current and mindset from the beginning of the Second Temple period, through Enochic literature, the Qumran Scrolls and the New Testament into Late Antiquity, shaping many inner-Jewish traditions and those emerging from Early Judaism, namely the Early Church and Rabbinic Judaism.

The topics and texts dealt with range from prophecy and apocalypticism in Second Temple Judaism, messianic expectations in the Qumran writings, the apocalyptic interpretation of the Patriarchs in 4QPatriarchal Blessings (4Q252), the 'Coming of the Righteous One' in 1 Enoch, Qumran and the New Testament, to the historical Jesus between Early Judaism and Early Christianity.
Follow the link for TOC and ordering information. [Update: Actually this one was published a few years ago. But I didn't note it then, so here it is. Professor Oegema has co-edited another one recently, which I will post as soon as I get a chance.]