Saturday, October 22, 2016

Rosenfeld (ed.), What Ifs of Jewish History

What Ifs of Jewish History
From Abraham to Zionism

EDITOR: Gavriel D. Rosenfeld, Fairfield University, Connecticut
DATE PUBLISHED: September 2016
FORMAT: Hardback
ISBN: 9781107037625

What if the Exodus had never happened? What if the Jews of Spain had not been expelled in 1492? What if Eastern European Jews had never been confined to the Russian Pale of Settlement? What if Adolf Hitler had been assassinated in 1939? What if a Jewish state had been established in Uganda instead of Palestine? Gavriel D. Rosenfeld's pioneering anthology examines how these and other counterfactual questions would have affected the course of Jewish history. Featuring essays by sixteen distinguished scholars in the field of Jewish Studies, What Ifs of Jewish History is the first volume to systematically apply counterfactual reasoning to the Jewish past. Written in a variety of narrative styles, ranging from the analytical to the literary, the essays cover three thousand years of dramatic events and invite readers to indulge their imaginations and explore how the course of Jewish history might have been different.

• The first major scholarly study to systematically apply counterfactual reasoning to the Jewish past
• Spans three thousand years of Jewish history, ranging from the Exodus to the founding of the modern State of Israel
• Contributions range from analytical essays to entertaining works of literary fiction
Two of the essays are relevant to ancient Judaism:
1. What if the Exodus had never happened? Steven Weitzman
2. What if the temple of Jerusalem had not been destroyed by the Romans? René Bloch
Regarding the first, I'm not sure that the Exodus did happen, at least as anything like what is described in the Book of Exodus. But this is a mainstream view and I'm sure the author of the essay took account of it.

I have done some work on counterfactual history, including a published article that dealt with the Dead Sea Scrolls. See this post for some relevant discussion, as well as bibliography and links to a couple of my draft essays online.

The Italian PM on the UNESCO resolution

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Italy PM says officials should have voted against UNESCO Jerusalem resolution (Middle East Online). Another voice in the chorus of condemnation.

Background here and links.


YONA SABAR: Hebrew Word of the Week: ‘atseret “festive assembly; general, special assembly”. Again, timely. See tomorrow and cross-file under Shemini Atzeret.

Laird, Negotiating Power in Ezra-Nehemiah

Negotiating Power in Ezra-Nehemiah
Donna Laird

ISBN 9781628371390
Status Available
Price: $55.95
Binding Paperback
Publication Date October 2016
Pages 418

Donna Laird examines Ezra and Nehemiah in the light of modern sociological theorist Pierre Bourdieu. How did this context of hardship, exile, and return change what Ezra and Nehemiah viewed as important? How did they define who was a part of their community, and who was an outsider? It goes on to explore how the books engaged readers at the time: how it addressed their changing circumstances, and how different groups gained and used social power, or the ability to influence society.


• Chapters dedicated to penitential prayer and to the role of ritual
• Illustrations of how the writers used past traditions to justify dividing those who belong, the repatriates, from the local population
• Demonstration of how shifting strategies of discourse in the various sections of Ezra-Nehemiah reflect the changing political and social contexts for the community and the authors
Follow the link for ordering information and more details. Also available in hardback.

Friday, October 21, 2016

A Hebrew papyrus from the 8th century BCE? [Now updated]

EPIGRAPHY: Discovery: ‘Jerusalem’ on Hebrew Papyrus (David Israel, The Jewish Press).
A unique, 2,700-year-old Papyrus which mentions the Hebrew word “Yerushalma” (possibly meaning “to Jerusalem”) will be revealed next week at a conference on Innovations in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and Its Environs, at the Rabin Jewish Studies Building on the Mount Scopus Campus of the Hebrew University, Makor Rishon reported. Researchers say the papyrus may be the earliest evidence in Hebrew of the connection between the city of Jerusalem and the period of the Kings of Israel.

The papyrus is a document written on paper made from the pith of the papyrus plant, cyperus papyrus. Such documents were written on sheets of papyrus, joined together side by side and rolled up into a scroll, in an early form of a book. In a dry climate, like that of Egypt or the Judaean desert, the papyrus pages are stable, since they are made of highly rot-resistant cellulose; but storage in humid conditions can result in molds attacking and destroying the material.

First, just to be clear, the photo of "an ancient Hebrew text written on papyrus" at the top of the article is not a photo of the new Hebrew papyrus (nor does the caption claim that it is). That would be written in the paleo-Hebrew script, but the one in the photo is written in the much later square script. Offhand, I don't know what it is. [UPDATE (24 October): For the identification of the papyrus in the photo, see here.]

In any case, this announcement is very exciting. Papyri are fragile and there are very few that survive from the eighth century BCE and as far as I know all of those come from Egypt rather than the Judean Desert. The earliest surviving Hebrew(ish) papyrus is the Marzeah Papyrus, which appears to date to the seventh century BCE. Unfortunately it surfaced on the antiquities market and is unprovenanced. You can see a photo of it here (center, second from the top). As I noted back in 2005, epigrapher Christopher Rollston doubts that the Marzeah papyrus is authentic. I have no view myself, except that I am always skeptical of unprovenanced inscriptions, especially ones that are not available for examination.

With that as background, my heart sunk a bit when I read the last paragraph of the article on the new papyrus:
The Hebrew papyrus was discovered recently in the Judaean desert and purchased from an antique dealer. It was examined by the Israel Antiquities Authority’s labs, and carbon dated. The results showed with certainty that the papyrus dates back to the 8th century BCE, near the end of the Kingdom of Judea, a short while before the destruction of the First Temple.
The new papyrus is unprovenanced, but materials testing dates the papyrus material used for it to the eighth century BCE. That's good, but we must keep in mind that, going back all the way to the nineteenth century, modern forgers have know to use ancient materials. The most recent well-publicized case is that of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife.

Thus the date of the papyrus material used for this new inscription may or may not tell us when the inscription itself was written on it. That said, although I am going to reserve a little skepticism, I recognize that the authentication by the IAA should be taken very seriously. Also, I recognize that blank papyrus from the eighth century BCE would not be easy for a forger to find.

I look forward to more information when Professor Achituv gives his lecture on it next week. Ultimately the case needs to be made and decided in the peer-review scholarly literature and that will take time. The preliminary indications look good and I hope it turns out to be authentic.

By the way, I mentioned the cave inscription that refers to Jerusalem (at Khirbet Beit Lei) some years ago here.

HT: thanks to Joseph Lauer for his e-mail drawing attention to the announcement.

Weissenrieder (ed.), Borders

Borders: Terminologies, Ideologies, and Performances
Ed. by Annette Weissenrieder

[Grenzen: Terminologien, Ideologien und Eigenschaften.]
2016. IX, 508 pages.
Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 366
149,00 €
ISBN 978-3-16-154375-3

Published in English.
What are the relevant conceptualities and terminologies marking political, cultural, cultic, or religious borders and border zones? What terms represent “border” or “border zones” and what did they signify in antiquity? In this volume, an international group of archaeologists, classicists, historians, and biblical scholars investigates various terms, performances, and qualities of borders, and ideologies of boundaries in antiquity. Their primary focus is on physical borders and border zones of political organizations as well as of sanctuaries and houses, and on borderlines which can be experienced in demarcations and their relevance for religious life. The contributions also discuss instances where definitions of external borders are renounced altogether and states are organized from the center toward the outer margins, for example, with the sub-divisions of a given territory remaining undefined. And they look into trans-boundary social relationships, investigated on the basis of archaeological finds and textual sources, and their significance for the transfer of knowledge.
Many of the essays deal with ancient Judaism and related matters.

Sukkahs for Sukkot

JEWISH AND SAMARITAN: Two very different Sukkot celebrations in Israel (
In many ways, the unusual sukkah customs of Israel’s little-known ancient Samaritan community can’t hold a candle to the country’s most expensive “desert” huts. But it all depends on what you’re looking for.

The elegant sukkahs built by the Samaritans are designed in accordance with the ancient tradition of using dozens of kilograms of fruit picked by family members.


A more common sight in Jerusalem is the many homemade sukkahs built on private balconies and in courtyards. Hotels get into the act, competing with each other to build the fanciest constructs.

Also, reader Yoel points me to this brief but picturesque Times of Israel video: Inside the Samaritan high priest’s fruity sukkah, literally. It presumably goes with the article I noted yesterday. Follow the links there for more on Samaritan Sukkot and the Samaritans. For this year's Jewish Sukkot celebrations (and relevant background), start here and follow the links.

Islam, Jews, and Jerusalem

HISTORY AND TRADITION: Opinion - Islam Has Never Denied the Jewish Connection to Jerusalem. On the contrary, anywhere you look in early Islamic literature, if it discusses the city at all you’ll find its Jewish connection (Salman Masalha, Haaretz). Excerpt:
The deepening occupation and the ongoing conflict are also driving the other side out of their minds and their religion. I’ve discussed this at length in articles I have published in Arabic. Islam has never denied the Jewish connection to Jerusalem. On the contrary, anywhere you look in early Islamic literature, if it discusses the city at all you’ll find its Jewish connection.

There is a plethora of examples. For instance, it’s no accident that the ancient name of Surah al-Isra, the chapter of the Koran that discusses the Prophet Mohammed’s legendary journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and his ascension to heaven, was Surah Bani Israil, that is, the Surah of the Children of Israel.
There is a debate within Islam over the direction in which Muslims originally prayed. Some claim that Muslims prayed toward Mecca from the start, while others claim that they initially prayed toward Jerusalem. Ancient and canonical Muslim traditions cite Mohammed referring to Jerusalem as Qibla al-Yahud, meaning the Kaaba of the Jews. (The Kaaba in Mecca is Islam’s holiest site.) The reference is to the rock on which the Dome of the Rock was built in the seventh century.

Muslim commentators also discuss Al-Aqsa Mosque, which appears in the Koran as Suleiman’s Mosque or Suleiman’s Temple — in other words, Solomon’s Temple. Such commentaries even cite a tradition, or hadith, attributed to Mohammed, who said of the First Temple: “Solomon son of David raised [it] with gold and silver, with rubies and emeralds.” The tradition also says that this temple was destroyed twice, but all its looted contents are destined to return to it when the Mahdi comes, the Messiah who will restore our ancient glory.
I am no expert on Islamic literature, but I am aware of early Islamic traditions that take the connection of Judaism and Jerusalem for granted, and I am unaware of anyone claiming that there were no Jewish temples on the Temple Mount until quite recently, probably the 1990s.

Some relevant past posts are here, here, here, and here.

Jewish-Temple denial from an MK

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Arab MK: No Jewish Temple Ever Existed on Temple Mount (David Israel, The Jewish Press).
In a zeal reminiscent of the ISIS hordes destroying archaeological treasures belonging to cultures and religions before the birth of Islam, and a fervor matching that of the Arab members of UNESCO who voted to erase millennia of Jewish history in Jerusalem, MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint Arab List) on Thursday said that “There has never been any connection to the Al Aqsa Mosque to any other religion, and although I don’t wish to enter a religious dispute, there was no Temple.”

There's audio of the interview (in Hebrew) at the link. Reports of such denials, alas, are not new. See here and here.

"Solomon's Pools" at Gush Etzion

PHOTO ESSAY: Welcome to Breichot Shlomo (Solomon’s Pools) (Photo of the Day, The Jewish Press).
The Kfar Etzion Field School gave a special tour during Succot to Breichot Shlomo / Solomon’s Pools, just north of the town of Efrat in Gush Etzion.

Solomon’s Pools consist of 3 large pools that are an integral part of the water network that supplied ancient Jerusalem and the Second Temple with water. Much of the network was built by Herod, but parts (the lowest pool) are of earlier, Maccabean origin.

There was a report of damage to Solomon's pools earlier this year.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

New evidence for Roman breach of Jerusalem's third wall

ARCHAEOLOGY: Excavation Reveals Spot Where Romans Breached Jerusalem’s Wall 2,000 Years Ago (JNi.Media).
Exciting evidence of the breaching of the third wall that surrounded Jerusalem at the end of the Second Temple period was uncovered last winter in the Russian Compound at the city center. The discovery was made in an archaeological excavation the Israel Antiquities Authority conducted in the location where the new campus of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design is slated to be built. In the course of the excavation, archaeologists discovered the remains of a tower jutting from the city wall. Opposite the tower’s western facade were scores of ballista and sling stones that the Romans had fired from catapults at the Jewish guards who were stationed at the top of the tower.

According to Dr. Rina Avner and Kfir Arbib, excavation directors on behalf of the IAA, “This is a fascinating testimony of the intensive bombardment by the Roman army, led by Titus, on their way to conquering the city and destroying the Second Temple. The bombardment was intended to attack the sentries guarding the wall and provide cover for the Roman forces so they could approach the wall with battering rams and thereby breach the city’s defenses.”


Review of Belser, Power, Ethics, and Ecology in Jewish Late Antiquity

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Book Note | Power, Ethics, and Ecology in Jewish Late Antiquity (Catherine Bonesho).
Julia Watts Belser. Power, Ethics, and Ecology in Jewish Late Antiquity: Rabbinic Responses to Drought and Disaster. Cambridge University Press, 2015.

In 2014 the governor of California declared a state of emergency due to drought and claimed, “We can’t make it rain” (Martineau 2014). In the Deuteronomic and rabbinic traditions, however, God makes it rain as part of a relationship with the land and the people of Israel. Drought is not a natural disaster but a moral crisis, an explicit sign of a broken relationship with God. Julia Watts Belser, an assistant professor of Jewish Studies at Georgetown University, presents how tractate Taʿanit in the Babylonian Talmud (hereafter BT) both inherits this Deuteronomic understanding and challenges the seemingly straightforward notion that “piety and virtue can assure good fortune in this world” (p. 5).


IAA director compares UNESCO to ISIS

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Israel’s antiquities chief compares UNESCO to Islamic State. UN cultural body’s resolution on Jerusalem akin to jihadist group’s destruction of Palmyra, says Yisrael Hasson (Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel).
“Around us, world heritage treasures are being destroyed… They murdered Syrian archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad, who tried to protect heritage,” Hasson said recalling the 82-year-old retired head of antiquities in Palmyra who was beheaded by IS militants last year.

IS overran Palmyra — a UNESCO world heritage site known as the “Pearl of the Desert” — in May 2015 and used its ancient amphitheater for public executions.

The extremist group blew up temples and tower tombs as part of it campaign against pre-Islamic monuments it considers “blasphemous.”

“And recently UNESCO in essence joined this system of destruction by diplomatic means. This is essentially the same action by a diplomatic course,” Hasson said.
That's harsh, but there's no question that the wording of the UNESCO resolution was unhelpful.

Meanwhile, Hamas is displeased with Ban Ki Moon for backing away from the resolution: Palestine: Hamas slams UN chief over Al-Aqsa resolution (Ola Atallah, The Muslim News).
Ban, for his part, said that the holy site belongs to all religions.

“The Secretary General reaffirms the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions and stresses the importance of the religious and historical link of the Jewish, Muslim and Christian peoples to the holy site,” Ban’s spokesman Estefan Dogrec said.

Hamas described Ban’s statement as a “violation of his duties”.
And let's not fail to take note of the intimation of Jewish-Temple denial in the article:
For Muslims, Al-Aqsa represents the world’s third holiest site. Jews, for their part, refer to the area as the “Temple Mount,” claiming it was the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times.
Background on the UNESCO resolution and the responses to it are here (today's first post, but composed and meant for yesterday) and links.

Interview with Visotzky on Aphrodite and the Rabbis

NEW BOOK: The Aphrodite exchange, part 1: On how Greek and Roman culture influenced Judaism (Samuel Rosner, The Jewish Journal).
Rabbi Burton Visotzky serves as Appleman Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies at The Jewish Theological Seminary, where he joined the faculty upon his ordination in 1977. Rabbi Visotzky is the Louis Stein Director of the Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies of JTS, charged with programs on public policy. He also serves as director of the Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue of JTS. Rabbi Visotzky holds degrees from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Harvard University, and JTS. He has been visiting faculty at Oxford, Cambridge, and Princeton universities, and at the Russian State University of the Humanities in Moscow. With Bill Moyers, Rabbi Visotzky developed 10 hours of television for PBS. Their collaboration, Genesis: A Living Conversation, premiered in 1996. He also consulted with Jeffrey Katzenberg and DreamWorks for the company's 1998 film, Prince of Egypt. Rabbi Visotzky's articles and reviews are published in America, Europe, and Israel. He is the author of 10 books and more than 100 articles and reviews.

The following exchange will focus on Rabbi Visotzky’s new book Aphrodite and the Rabbis: How the Jews Adapted Roman Culture to Create Judaism as We Know It.
I have replaced the first link in the quotation, which is dead, with one that works. Parts two and three of the interview are available at the following links:

The Aphrodite exchange, part 2: On Judaism’s ambivalence toward Rome;

The Aphrodite exchange, part 3: What we can learn from Jewish-Roman relations.

More on Samaritan Sukkot

SAMARITAN WATCH: Inside the Samaritan high priest’s fruity sukkah, literally. While Jews use holiday to spend time outdoors, this ancient Israeli community, now numbering just 750, builds its festive huts indoors, and not out of wood, but fruit (Dov Lieber and Iacopo Luzi, Times of Israel).

More on Samaritan Sukkot is here and links. And there's more on the Samaritans in general here with many links.

UNESCO resolution latest

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH (FROM YESTERDAY - IT SEEMS I FORGOT TO PRESS "PUBLISH"): UNESCO ratifies Jerusalem resolution, Mexico withdraws support. Under pressure from Western states, Mexico backed away from its initial intention to call for a new vote on the resolution so that it could withdraw its support from the resolution (Tovah Lazaroff, Jerusalem Post).
UNESCO’s Executive Board on Tuesday afternoon ratified a 24-6 vote taken last week on a resolution that ignored Jewish ties to the Temple Mount.

Under pressure from Western states, Mexico backed away from its initial intention to call for a new vote on the resolution so that it could withdraw its support from the resolution.

Instead Mexico noted for the record that its position on the matter was one of abstention, but its statement does not technically change the vote numerical count as the 58-member board wrapped up its 200th session in Paris.

Mexico’s Foreign Ministry posted a statement on its web site that it had abstained in recognition of the undeniable Jewish cultural heritage that is located in east Jerusalem.

It added that it was also doing so out of a deep appreciation for the contribution the Jewish community has played in Mexico’s economic, social and cultural development.

Brazil also spoke at the final board session and indicated that it was unlikely to support such resolutions in the future.

This is getting complicated, isn't it? Then there's this: Mexico fires Jewish ambassador who protested UNESCO vote, but will now abstain
RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) — Mexico has fired its ambassador to UNESCO, Andre Roemer, who is Jewish, for protesting against his country’s decision to vote for a resolution denying Jewish ties to Jerusalem.

“For not having informed diligently and with meticulousness of the context in which the voting process occurred, for reporting to representatives of countries other than Mexico about the sense of his vote, and for making public documents and official correspondence subject to secrecy,” read the official statement released on Oct. 17.

However, the Latin American country announced it will now change its vote from “in favor” to abstain on the proposal concerning the preservation of cultural heritage and religion in eastern Jerusalem.

“Changing the vote reiterates the recognition that the government of Mexico gives to the undeniable link of the Jewish people to cultural heritage located in East Jerusalem. It also reflects the deep appreciation that this government has for the Jewish community and in particular for their significant contributions to the welfare and economic, social and cultural development of Mexico,” the statement also said.

To recap: Mexico fired the ambassador who walked out of the UNESCO meeting (on the grounds that he did not properly fulfil some specific obligations of his job), but also announced that it wished to change its vote from approving the resolution to abstaining on it. And Brazil voted for this resolution but said it is unlikely to do so again in similar situations in the future. Meanwhile, UNESCO's Executive Board ratified the original vote (despite a report yesterday that they were taking a new vote), so all the talk around it is just talk. Important talk, though, because it appears to weaken the authority of the resolution and, by extension, of UNESCO. And appearances count for a lot in the realm of diplomacy.

Background here and links.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Sukkot priestly blessing at the Temple Mount 2016

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Thousands flock to Western Wall for Priestly Blessing. Amid tight security, worshipers invited to special sukkah by chief rabbis, rabbi of the Western Wall (Times of Israel).
Thousands of Israelis flocked to the Western Wall in Jerusalem Wednesday, for the traditional biannual Priestly Blessing.

The ceremony sees male descendants of the Kohanic priestly caste gathering to recite a benediction. It is performed daily by devout Jews at synagogues throughout Israel, while mass blessings at the Western Wall take place on the festivals of Passover and Sukkot.

The Western Wall is the closest spot to the Temple Mount where Jews can legally pray. Though they are allowed to visit the Mount, where two ancient Jewish temples stood, Jews are not allowed to pray there.

Last year's Sukkot priestly blessing was noted here. Subsequent posts on the priestly blessing (Numbers 6:24-26) are here, here (briefly), here (Passover), here, and here. This year's post on Sukkot is here.

The Economist on the Samaritans

SAMARITAN WATCH: Who are the Samaritans and why is their future uncertain? An ancient tribe survives in Israel (A.V., The Economist Explains Blog).
THIS week millions of Jews are celebrating Sukkot, a week-long Jewish holiday commemorating an ancient pilgrimage linked to the harvest. It is a time to relax, see family and eat good food. Jews are not the only ones to indulge. Some 800 Samaritans, dotted around Israel and the West Bank, also join in. Most people only know Samaritans from a bit part in the Bible, or as a charity for the emotionally vulnerable. So who are the Samaritans—and why are their numbers dwindling?

The rest of the article is a pretty good summary of the history of the Samaritans and their current situation. This sentences requires some unpacking:
And because it hosted an older Jewish temple, Mount Gerizim, near the Palestinian town of Nablus, is held by Samaritans to be holier than Jerusalem.
This issue goes back to a variant reading in the book of Deuteronomy which has Moses building an altar on Mount Gerizim rather than Mount Ebal. This has been discussed here, here, and here. (I'm not sure whether the Deuteronomy fragment in question is genuine or not [see here and links], but that does not matter for the broader discussion.) The larger historical situation has been discussed here. Archaeology shows that there was a Samaritan temple at Mount Gerizim in the Second Temple period, but it was not older than the Second Temple on the Temple Mount, let alone older than the original Judean temple established on the Temple Mount during the Iron Age II (a.k.a, the First Temple period).

More on the Samaritan Sukkot is here and links. Other past posts on the Samaritans are here and here and many, many links.

Fake Dead Sea Scroll fragments?

FORGERIES? Newly Discovered Dead Sea Scrolls are Skillfully Crafted Fakes, Experts suspect (Nina Burleigh, Newsweek). I have noted this story before, but this article has some new specifics:
American Steve Green, the evangelical Christian heir to the Hobby Lobby craft chain fortune and the force behind the Museum of the Bible, an endeavor Newsweek covered earlier this year, has spent millions on the new finds. One fragment sold to the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary conveniently refers to the biblical prohibition against homosexuality in the Book of Leviticus.

The problem is, experts suspect many of these sensational and pricy new fragments are expertly crafted fakes. For example, the fragment references passages in Leviticus 18 and 20 that contain the two strongest condemnations of homosexuality in the Bible. Such a strong coincidence is a flag of fakery.

“It is extremely unlikely that a small Dead Sea Scroll fragment would preserve text from both chapters” of Leviticus, says religion scholar Arstein Justnes, at University of Agder in Norway, who called the new fragments “amateurish” imitations that seem to have been copied from modern textbooks about the scrolls. “I think this fragment was produced for American evangelicals.”
Too good to be true is often too good to be true. But this is a guideline, not a rule. Watch this space.

Background here and here. For background on the Green collection, start here and follow the many links.

The Golden Tanit

PUNIC WATCH: Ahram's Osama Abdel-Fattah selected to jury at Carthage Film Festival. Osama Abdel-Fattah is the editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram's evening paper. Congratulations to Mr. Abdel-Fattah, but what caught my eye in this article is the modern use of a bit of ancient punic religious lore:
The festival's main prize is the Golden Tanit, which is named after the Phoenician goddess of the same name.
Tanit (or Tannit) is actually a Punic goddess — that is, she is known from ancient Carthage but not, as far as I know, from Phoenicia. Her name means roughly "dragon lady" and she was the consort of the chief god Baal and co-recipient with him of Carthaginian child sacrifices.

I have noted some Punic Tanit coins here and here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

UNESCO to vote again

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: UNESCO to vote on Jerusalem again after Mexico shifts stance. Mexico’s Jewish ambassador removed from post after walking out of previous vote; Israeli envoy: ‘We’re not giving up’ (Raoul Wootliff, Times of Israel).
In a dramatic turn of events, UNESCO was set to revisit on Tuesday a vote on a contentious resolution ignoring Jewish and Christian historical ties to Jerusalem holy sites, following an announcement by Mexico that it had changed its position on the issue and was utilizing a rare provision to allow for a re-vote.

The resolution, sponsored by several Arab countries and passed Thursday in the committee stage of the United Nations cultural body, referred to the Temple Mount and Western Wall only by their Muslim names and condemned Israel as “the occupying power” for various actions taken in both sites.

The second paragraph is not quite correct: the resolution (at least in the draft that I saw) did refer to "the Western Wall," but only in scare quotes. In any case, the wording of the resolution was very unhelpful and deserves a reexamination.

Then there's this, which is very disturbing: Security Upgraded for UNESCO Chief After Death Threats Over Jerusalem. The chief of UNESCO has been threatened because she knows the truth: one cannot erase Jewish history from Jerusalem (Hana Levi Julian, The Jewish Press).
Security for United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) chief Irina Bokov has been ramped up, after she received death threats over her blunt opposition to last week’s resolution erasing the historic Jewish link to Jerusalem.

According to a report broadcast on Israel Radio, “the director-general received death threats and her protection has been reinforced… These threats were made after her criticism” of the resolutions in which Israel was condemned for “violations” at Jewish holy sites and in which the holiest sites in Judaism are referred to solely by their Islamic names, describing them as holy only to Muslims.

On the last sentence, see above.

Mysterious manuscripts

SOME ARE ANCIENT AND SOME ARE JUST OLD, BUT THEY'RE ALL INTERESTING: Cracking Codices: 10 of the Most Mysterious Ancient Manuscripts (Owen Jarus, Live Science).
Dating back hundreds to thousands of years, codices can reveal much about an ancient culture, that is, if you can decipher the text. Often written in an outdated language with unfamiliar grammar, these codices take careful analysis to crack their meanings. Some continue to completely baffle archaeologists and other scientists, while others have divulged just enough of their meaning to intrigue.

From an Egyptian book full of magic spells to a text written in an unknown language, Live Science takes a look at 10 of the most mysterious ancient manuscripts.
A good photo essay. Some of the manuscripts have come up, sometimes frequently, at PaleoJudaica. For the Gospel of the Lots of Mary, see here and here. Background on the Gospel of Judas is here with many links (note especially here). Background on the Copper Scroll is here with many links. For that Coptic handbook of ritual power, see here and here. The Treatise of the Vessels is also featured, and both I and Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, volume 1, get a mention. Background on this text is here, again with many links.

Romans 5:12-14

READING ACTS: Sin Came Through One Man – Romans 5:12-14. With notes on other ancient Jewish views about the effect of Adam's sin on humanity.

Some past posts in Phil Long's series on Paul's letter to the Romans are noted here and links.

2017-2018 Katz Center Fellowships

H-JUDAIC: Call for Applications for 2017-2018 Katz Center Fellowships.
For its 2017–2018 fellowship year, the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies seeks applications from scholars asking new questions about the history of science, medicine and technology from the perspective of Jewish culture. This year will explore the theories, institutions, and paradigms that shaped how Jews have studied nature, and the ideas, applications, and cultural and religious consequences that emerged from such study.

The fellowship is open to scholars working on particular thinkers, texts or theories, as well as research projects that frame the subject in relation to Classical, Christian, Muslim, or secular approaches. This theme spans the entirety of Jewish history, and encompasses the history of science, the anthropology of science, philosophy, philology, and environmental studies, among other potentially relevant fields.

This theme shall embrace an interdisciplinary and comparative approach and encourages projects within fields of inquiry that bear on how Jews have understood, interacted with, or sought to intervene into nature. This could include but is not limited to: astrology, magic and other esoteric forms of knowledge, medieval and early modern natural philosophy, Zionism and its impact on scientific and medical practice, contemporary research in genetics, as well as mathematics and technology.
Follow the link for further particulars. The deadline for applications is 31 October 2016.

Samaritan Sukkot

SAMARITAN WATCH: The Samaritan Sukkot.The ancient community also celebrates the traditional harvest holiday, but does so with many of their own unique practices, such as constructing their sukkot inside the home as opposed to out; 'Every family has their own design and it requires a lot of patience to build' (Asaf Kemer, Ynet News).

The festival of Sukkot is taking place this week. A couple of past posts on Samaritan Sukkot are here and here.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Late-antique Christians and the Temple Mount

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: UNESCO’s Jerusalem resolution ignores Christian roots, too. With increased archeological findings of a Byzantine presence prior to the Muslim conquest, the historical holy site is clearly linked to Judaism, Islam, and Christianity — and not necessarily in that order (Amanda Borschel-Dan, Times of Israel).
Shortly before his death, in what is called the Olivet Discourse, Jesus predicts the fall of the Second Temple and the resulting desolation on the Temple Mount. Recounted in three gospels, this prophecy became foundational theology to the early Christians, who eschewed the most holy site of the Jewish faith when creating their new churches.

But what if not all of them did leave the Temple Mount deserted?

Over the past decade, there have been increasing archaeological findings that after the destruction of the Second Temple and prior to the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem, the Temple Mount served Byzantine Christians as a base.

Shown through rare images of Byzantine mosaics photographed during the British Mandate in 1937 — and only published in 2008 — alongside some half a million Byzantine period mosaic tiles discovered since 1999 in the Temple Mount Sifting Project, there is increasing evidence that the Al Aqsa Mosque and courtyard is built upon Christian ruins.

A long, interesting article that explores various expert viewpoints about pre-Islamic Christian activity on the Temple Mount. It does sound as though there was some of this. Background on the UNESCO resolution is here and links. And for much more on the Temple Mount Sifting Project, start here and here and follow the many, many links.

Review of Marx-Wolf, Spiritual Taxonomies and Ritual Authority

Heidi Marx-Wolf, Spiritual Taxonomies and Ritual Authority: Platonists, Priests, and Gnostics in the Third Century C.E. Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016. Pp. ix, 216. ISBN 9780812247893. $55.00.

Reviewed by Heidi Wendt, Wright State University (


Spiritual Taxonomies and Ritual Authority offers a textured account of third-century intellectuals, defined broadly, and makes several productive contributions to the study of late ancient religion. Exploring how Platonically-inclined writers both known and anonymous staked out positions about the ontology and cosmic order of spirits, Heidi Marx-Wolf situates these figures and the “spiritual taxonomies” they produced within a common intellectual milieu characterized by regular discursive exchange. Her detailed literary analysis gestures far beyond the particular texts she examines, however, toward rivalries among would-be religious experts that paid little heed to the boundaries of putative ancient groups and continue to resist modern scholarly categories.

The book consists of four main chapters that align evidence ranging from the writings of Origen and philosophers in the lineage of Plotinus to certain “Gnostic” tractates and “magical” handbooks. Marx-Wolf argues that the spiritual taxonomies undergirding these texts were “one strategy in more global attempts to establish various kinds of authority, garner social capital, and wrest these from other contemporary cultural entrepreneurs and experts” (2). Her methodology collapses distinctions between the intellectuals she considers along two axes: horizontally, between Origen, Porphyry, and Iamblichus, as well as the authors of select Nag Hammadi tractates and Greek and Coptic ritual papyri; and vertically, between literate experts of differential skill-levels and the popular audiences above which they sought to elevate themselves. The resulting picture is of an intellectual climate more integrated than factional, and far from the cultural nadir implied in much previous scholarship. Hence, hers joins other voices seeking to recast the third century as a period not of cultural decline or mayhem—a dark ages between the evanescence of the Second Sophistic and the triumph of Christianity —but of exchange, creativity, and innovation, particularly in the religious domain.

The book was noted earlier this year here. Some past posts on Platonism and Gnosticism are here, here (briefly and tangentially), here, here, here, and here. And this post is probably relevant too.

Clivaz et al. (eds.), Ancient Worlds in Digital Culture

Ancient Worlds in Digital Culture

Editors: Claire Clivaz, Paul Dilley and David Hamidović
Subjects: Biblical Studies
Keywords: Classics; Digital Humanities; Culture; Humanities; Judaism; Bible; Christianity
Publication Year : 2016
Book DOI: 10.1163/9789004325234
E - ISBN : 9789004325234
Print and series information
Collections: Biblical Studies, Ancient Near East and Early Christianity E-Books Online, Collection 2016
Volume: 1
Series: Digital Biblical Studies

The volume presents a selection of research projects in Digital Humanities applied to the “Biblical Studies” in the widest sense and context. Taken as a whole, the volume restitutes the merging Digital Culture at the beginning of the 21st century.
Follow the link for the TOC and ordering information. One of the chapters is on the Rabbinic literature and others are of interest, if less directly so.

Noted by Peter Gurry at the ETC Blog with some comments: New Brill Series on Digital Biblical Studies.

Romans 4:13-17

READING ACTS: Heirs of the World – Romans 4:13-17. Phil Long looks at God's promise of the land to Abraham in Genesis as interpreted in some Second Temple-era Jewish texts.

Past posts in his Romans series are noted here and links.

Tunisian museums

PHOENICIAN AND PUNIC WATCH: TOP 5 MUSEUMS IN TUNISIA FOR THE HISTORY BUFFS ( Some of these museums have lots of Phoenician and Punic artifacts that sound well worth seeing, so don't miss them if you visit Tunisia. But do be careful while you're there!

Some past posts on Phoenician and Punic antiquities in Tunisia, and the current dangers there, are here and here and links.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Sukkot 2016

THE FESTIVAL OF SUKKOT (BOOTHS, TABERNACLES) begins this evening at sundown. Best wishes to all those observing it.

Last year's post leads to biblical background and has some more information. Additional Sukkot-related posts, one before and the rest since then, are here, here, and here.

Christians, Jews, and divine judgment on Pompeii

CANDIDA MOSS: The Christian Myth Still Haunting Pompeii. Modern technology is now able to transport people onto the streets of ancient Pompeii. But it hasn't solved one of the city's greatest controversies (The Daily Beast). Excerpts:
Almost as interesting as the site itself, though, is why early modern and modern Europeans care so much about it. Since the city’s rediscovery Christian novelists and theologians have consistently cast the destruction of Pompeii as an example of divine punishment. The licentious and immoral Romans, they argued, were persecuting the Christians and, as a result, God destroyed them in a rain of fire analogous to the destruction of the Biblical Cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Pompeii, in other words, is an archaeological testament to God’s vengeance.


But even if there were no Christians in Pompeii there may well have been Jews. And Jews have been labeling the disaster divine justice for nearly two millennia. Only nine years before the eruption of Vesuvius, the Romans had sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. For some Jews, Vesuvius was just deserts. The Sibylline Oracles, a compilation of Jewish, Christian, and Greek prophecies written and assembled after the events, predicts that “an evil storm of war will also come upon Jerusalem from Italy, and it will sack the great Temple of God...” and adds that “when a firebrand, turned away from a cleft in the earth [Vesuvius] in the land of Italy, reaches to broad heaven it will burn many cities and destroy men. Much smoking ashes will fill the great sky and showers will fall from heaven like red earth. Know then the wrath of the heavenly God.”

There’s some debate about whether or not there were Jews in Pompeii at the time of its destruction. The presence of what might be kosher garum (fish sauce) in Pompeii suggests that there were Jews living in the city. And at least one person, arriving at the site after the eruption, has scratched “Sodom and Gomorrah” onto the side of a house. The graffiti is a clear indication that, for some, the destruction of the two Roman cities was an echo of God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19.
There are many past PaleoJudaica posts on Pompeii and the eruption of Vesuvius. Start here and follow the links. For possible indications of a Jewish presence in Pompeii, see here, here, here, here, and here. Also, David Meadows's comments noted at the third of the links in the previous sentence lead me to infer that the "Sodom and Gomorrah" graffito at Pompeii may have been scratched by an inhabitant of the city before its destruction and thus may refer to the debauchery of the city in the eyes of the graffitist rather than to its (later) destruction. If so, the comparison was prophetic.

"Syria" exhibition at Aga Kahn Museum

EXIBITION REVIEW Aga Khan Museum exhibit explores Syria's diverse cultures (James Adams, The Globe and Mail).
There is another Syria, however. An alternate or parallel Syria, if you will, spanning millenniums, encompassing diverse yet interconnected cultures, peoples, religions and languages. Ancient interconnections that speak of continuities and continuations and resiliences perceptible, perhaps, in the quiet moments between explosions, the cries of the wounded, the scream of a jet-bomber, the whoosh of an Islamic State executioner’s sword.

It’s a compact exhibition, just 50 or so objects and presentations drawn mostly from seven institutional collections, including the Louvre, New York’s Metropolitan Museum and the Royal Ontario Museum, as well as the private holdings of Torontonians Marshall and Marilyn Wolf. Yet, there’s a density and gravitas here that makes it seem very full indeed, albeit without the bloat that can accompany shows of an omnibus, centuries-hopping ilk.

Curators Filiz Cakir Phillip – she’s head curator at the Aga Khan – and Nasser Rabbat – he’s director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT – have wisely scrapped taking a chronological course, using instead themes such as divinity, the home and humans and beasts to organize the figurines, vases, steles, textiles, flasks, panels, fragments and stone reliefs. The oldest loan to the exhibition, from the ROM, is also one of the most tiny and delicate – a piece of gypsum, dating to 3200 BC, carved into the shape of two pairs of eyes.
And this in particular caught my eye. (The article has a good photo of the tomb relief).
Also compelling is the vitrined pairing of a Palmyrene tomb relief dated to 123 AD with a section of a 14th-century edition of the Koran telling of the Prophet Mohammed’s “night journey” to Jerusalem from Mecca and thence to heaven. The relief, in limestone, portrays the head and upper torso of a young woman, Tiklak by name, whose name and genealogy are incised on each side of her head in Palmyrene Aramaic. She’s the Mona Lisa 1,400 years before Leonardo got around to painting her.
Cross-file under Palmyra Watch and Aramaic Watch. And there's lot smore on ancient Palmyrene Aramaic here and links.

Yeshaya and Hollender, Exegesis and Poetry in Medieval Karaite and Rabbanite Texts

Exegesis and Poetry in Medieval Karaite and Rabbanite Texts
Karaite Texts and Studies Volume 9

Edited by Joachim Yeshaya KU Leuven and Elisabeth Hollender Goethe University, Frankfurt

This collection of essays offers an inquiry into the complex interaction between exegesis and poetry that characterized medieval and early modern Karaite and Rabbanite treatment of the Bible in the Islamic world, the Byzantine Empire, and Christian Europe. Discussing a variety of topics that are usually associated with either exegesis or poetry in conjunction with the two fields, the authors analyze a wide array of interactions between biblical sources and their interpretive layers, whether in prose exegesis or in multiple forms of poetry and rhymed prose. Of particular relevance are mechanisms for the production and transmission of exegetical traditions, including the participation of Jewish poets in these processes, an issue that serves as a leitmotif throughout this collection.
Cross-file under Karaite Watch.

Brock awarded Ullendorff Medal

CONGRATULATIONS, WELL DESERVED: British Academy award for Dr Sebastian Brock. On 27 September, Dr Sebastian Brock FBA was recognised by the British Academy for his extensive contribution to the study of Syriac language and literature (Wolfson College, Oxford).
The Edward Ullendorff Medal is awarded annually for scholarly distinction and achievements in the field of Semitic Languages and Ethiopian Studies. Dr Brock is an Emeritus Fellow at Wolfson and Emeritus Reader, Syriac Studies, at the Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford.

Cross-file under Syriac Watch.

What are the Dead Sea Scrolls?

ALWAYS GOOD TO HAVE A REMINDER: What are the Dead Sea Scrolls? (Daryl Worthington, New Historian).