Saturday, December 17, 2016

Bar Kokhba coin is overstruck "Judea" denarius

NUMISMATICS: NGC Ancients: Rare Overstruck “Judaea Capta” Bar Kokhba Coin Discovered (Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, Coin Week).
From an historical standpoint, this coin tells a tremendous tale. The host denarius of Vespasian was originally issued in 69 or 70 CE as part of the ‘Judaea Capta’ series that celebrated Rome’s victory in the Jewish War of 66 to 70, which culminated in the sack of Jerusalem and the razing of the Holy Temple. That victory had been led by none other than Vespasian and his eldest son Titus, both of whom were destined to be emperors.

Somehow the host denarius made its way to Judaea, perhaps with a soldier or a merchant. But it most likely would not have circulated there as its design would have been offensive to the local population. Eventually, in 133 CE, the coin found its way to the minting facility then being used by the rebel forces of Bar Kokhba. While there it was restruck and transformed into a new currency, the patriotic designs of which trumpeted the cause of the Jewish rebels.

It has long been suggested that the overstriking process was symbolic as a way for the rebels to ‘erase’ a potent symbol of Roman authority by virtue of creating their own emblems. However, in this case, it would have had even greater meaning since it was also a chance to erase a coin type that celebrated an earlier Roman victory in Judaea.
The coin is to be auctioned in January of 2017.

The Scroll of the Hasmoneans

'TIS THE SEASON (HANUKKAH EDITION): A misunderstood holiday with a dark side (Rick Sirvint, Monadnock Ledger-Transcript).
Superficially, Hanukkah is a delightful holiday that coincides with and is influenced by the Christmas season. The second most popular Jewish holiday, it is marked by giving presents, especially to children, lighting of candles, music, joy, eating fried foods, particularly potato pancakes. Many young Jews today marry Christians and, consequently, many households observe both Christmas and Hanukkah.

However, Hanukkah is not a major holiday like Christmas. It is not based on biblical sources, and there are no limitations on work that other Jewish holidays have. It is also a very misunderstood holiday, one with a dark side.

This essay is based on a 1,400-year-old source called the Scroll of the Hasmoneans or the Scroll of Antiochus. It was originally written in Aramaic, which suggests an earlier date for its original composition.

One 10th-century rabbinical source dates its origin to the second century BCE, when events of Hanukkah occurred.

The Scroll of the Hasmoneans is an interesting text that we considered for inclusion in the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project. But we found ourselves unconvinced that it was composed within our target time-frame, i.e., before the rise of Islam in the early seventh century CE. It certainly is not from the second century BCE, and even 1400 years old (i.e., c. 600 CE) sounds generous. If we could be persuaded that it is that old, we would include it in volume 2.

400+ Mar Behnam Monastery manuscripts saved

SYRIAC WATCH, ARAMAIC WATCH, ARABIC WATCH: Hundreds of Historic Texts Hidden in ISIS-Occupied Monastery (Own Jarus, Live Science).
More than 400 texts, dating between the middle ages and modern times, have been saved at the Mar Behnam monastery, a place that the Islamic State group (also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh) had occupied for more than two years, until November.

The texts, which were written between the 13th and 20th centuries, were hidden behind a wall that was constructed just a few weeks before ISIS occupied and partly destroyed the Christian monastery, according to Amir Harrak, a professor at the University of Toronto who studied the texts before they were hidden away.

Some of the texts are "beautifully illustrated" by the scribes who copied them, Harrak said. "Each one contains lengthy colophons [notes] written by the scribes, telling historical and social, and religious events of their times — a fact that makes them precious sources," Harrak told Live Science.

The texts are written in a variety of languages, including Syriac (widely used in Iraq in ancient and medieval times), Arabic, Turkish and Neo-Aramaic, said Harrak, who is an expert in Syriac.

Also this photo essay, from the same writer in the same publication:

In Photos: Historic Texts Hidden in Christian Monastery in Iraq

I've known about this for a while, but have been waiting for Owen Jarus to finish his research and publish these articles before I mentioned it. This is truly good news in a place where good news has been scarce lately. As regular readers know, I had given these manuscripts up as almost certainly destroyed. I have never been happier to have been wrong. All commendation and respect to Father Yousif Sakat, whose foresight led to them being hidden (in metal barrels and walled up in a building) before ISIS arrived. Now let's hope that the manuscripts stay safe.

Background on the Mar Behnam Monastery, its occupation by ISIS, and its recent liberation during the Mosul campaign, is here and links. For additional background on the history of the monastery, see this post by Christopher Jones at the Gate of Nineveh Blog from May of 2015: What We’ve Lost: Mar Behnam Monastery.

Lecture series at Florida Atlanta University

BOCA NEWS: FAU Announces Spring 2017 Distinguished Lecture Series.
BOCA RATON, FL ( (Source: FAU) — Florida Atlantic University has announced the schedule for its Spring 2017 Distinguished Lectures Series in the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters. ...
Three of the lectures are of interest to PaleoJudaica readers:
• “The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Origins of Judaism and Christianity” – Thursday, Feb. 2 at 4 p.m. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1940s and their complete publication in the 1990s have led scholars to reevaluate the history of Judaism and Christianity. This lecture by FAU’s world-renowned biblical scholar Fred Greenspahn, Ph.D., will describe the contents of the more than 900 scrolls that were found in the Judean desert and what we have learned about each of these religions, their relationship to one another, and the creation of the Hebrew Bible.
• “Torah, Tradition and Change: The Ancient Synagogue at Horvat Kur” – Thursday, Feb. 9 at 4 p.m. Byron McCane, Ph.D., professor of history and religion, presents a report and reflection on five seasons of excavation, including the discovery of three artifacts that are now in preparation for the synagogue exhibit at the Israel Museum. The discoveries shed new light on the practice of Jewish religion at the local level in a small village as the Roman Empire came to its end.
• “Globalization in Antiquity: Augustus, Herod, and the Second Temple” – Thursday, Feb. 23 at 4 p.m. A prominent historian has remarked that Augustus didn’t create the Empire, but he did see it coming, so he got out front and led the parade. Herod, another astute reader of the signs of the times, quickly fell in step right behind Augustus. Byron McCane, Ph.D., argues that the Second Temple was a prominent part of Herod’s multi-faceted effort to draw the Jews of Palestine willingly into Roman orbit.

Archaeology top 10, 2016

Top 10 archaeological discoveries of 2016 (Heritage Daily). This is the first I have seen of what will presumably be many such lists, some at better venues. The main item of interest is "3 – Spectacular cargo of ancient shipwreck found in Caesarea," on which I posted here. The one on ancient shoes from Vindolanda (#9) is of some interest too, since the epigraphic discoveries from that British site also have come up (cf. here, here, and here and links) from time to time.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Non-deceptive pseudepigraphy?

THE EUANGELION BLOG: Pseudepigraphy as a Non-Deceptive Fiction (Michael F. Bird). Let me introduce a couple of notes of caution here. First, Salvian's justification of the forged writing as "a completely transparent and therefore non-deceptive fiction" could also be taken as an after-the-fact justification once the forgery was detected. I am not at all sure that we should take this as a good example of pseudepigraphy done in good faith with no intention to deceive.

Second, contrary to the impression given by the quotation from Baum, Salvian does not actually confess to the forgery. He presents his justifications as speculations about what the forger might have been thinking and always refers to the forger in the third person. You can read an old translation of the full text of his Letter 9 here, posted by Roger Pearse. Pearse also has additional comments here on Bart Ehrman's use of the text.

The broader issue, of course, is whether such impersonations were constructed in such a way as to be obviously fictional, in which case there would have been no intent to deceive. It is not at all obvious to me that biblical pseudepigrapha such as the Pastoral Epistles or the Book of Daniel, or other pseudepigrapha such as the books in 1 Enoch, would come under this category. Some of the other Old Testament pseudepigrapha might.

That is not to say that all ancient biblical pseudepigrapha were exactly forgeries intended to deceive. I have explored some of the psychological complexities of this issue in my 2006 SBL paper, especially toward the end: Scripture as Prophetically Revealed Writings. And my 2012 SBL paper also deals with some similar issues: The 94 Books of Ezra and the Angelic Revelations of John Dee.

JHS special issue on SF and the Bible

THE JOURNAL OF HEBREW SCRIPTURES (SPECIAL ISSUE): Frauke UHLENBRUCH (ed.), " 'Not in the Spaces We Know': An Exploration of Science Fiction and the Bible."
Abstract: The present issue is a collection of essays which were originally presented as conference papers at the “Science Fiction and the Bible” unit of the European Association of Biblical Studies in Leipzig (2013) and Vienna (2014). It includes an introduction by the editor, Frauke Uhlenbruch, as well as a response by James F. McGrath.

With contributions by Frauke Uhlenbruch, Francis Landy, Ian Wilson, Harold Torger Vedeler, Ryan Higgins and James F.McGrath.
I was going to call this to the attention of James McGrath but I see now, as I should have expected, that he is one of the contributors.

SBL 2016 report on Philo, Wisdom and Apocalypticism

PHILONICAL ET NEOTESTAMENTICA BLOG: Philo, Wisdom and Apocalypticism (Torrey Seland).
The SBL Annual Meeting is already an event of the past, some weeks have, in fact, gone by since I left San Antonio, heading back to Norway.

Nevertheless, as some other duties have kept me away from blog writing, I will post two pages here about two events I enjoyed very much. Hence this is not going to be about everything I enjoyed or experienced, but two selected events.

This post concerns the papers delivered at a seminar session on Wisdom and Apocalypticism, and focusing especially on Philo of Alexandria.


Palmyra as the rubble of pluralism

PALMYRA WATCH: The Rubble of Palmyra. ISIS did not merely blast apart old stones—it attacked the very foundations of pluralistic society (Leon Wieseltier, The Atlantic). A rambling and didactic, but sometimes interesting article. Two excerpts:
We call this the Ozymandian feeling, after Shelley’s stinging sonnet of 1818; but we might also call it the Palmyrene feeling, because it was articulated at greater length, and in inferior verse, by Shelley’s friend Thomas Love Peacock 12 years earlier, in a long poem called “Palmyra.” “Time asserts his empire over the ruins. ... This pomp of ruin presses on the heart…” Yet as the world contemplates the destruction of Palmyra—I mean its destruction in our day, on our watch—we must resist the customary romanticism. It induces an aesthetic passivity, which would go too nicely with the West’s political passivity.
You can read the full text of Thomas Love Peacock's poem "Palmyra" here.
A recent study describes the extraordinary variety of the “deities of the Palmyrene pantheon”: “Bel, Belti, Nebu, Nergal, and Nanai are of Babylonian origin; Balshammin and Belhammon seem to be from Phoenicia; Ishtar and Atargatis are Aramaean; Shadrafa and Elqonera are probably Canaanite; and Arab deities include Shamash, Allat, Abgal, Manawat, and a host of others.” The oasis was an oasis of differences. When one reads this catalog of coexisting divinities, one is reminded of the old Enlightenment argument, made against the exclusivist and bellicose tendencies of the monotheistic faiths, about the innate tolerance of a polytheistic universe. Where there is one God, there is one way. Where there are many gods, there are many ways. In Palmyra there were many gods and many ways. The Palmyrene spirit is precisely what theocrats seek to extirpate. In the West, we are all, perfectly or imperfectly, Palmyrenes.
Background on Palmyra, its history, the ancient Aramaic dialect spoken there (Palmyrene), and the city's tragic recent fate in the hands of ISIS is here with many, many links.

Interview with José Manuel Cañas Reíllo

WILLIAM ROSS: LXX SCHOLAR INTERVIEW: JOSÉ MANUEL CAÑAS REÍLLO (Septuaginta &C. Blog). He is working on the Göttingen Septuagint edition of the Book of Judges.

HT Jim West. Some past interviews of LXX scholars by William Ross are noted here and links.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Dr. Madhavi Nevader

CONGRATULATIONS TO DR. MADHAVI NEVADER, who has just accepted a permanent position at the Divinity School of the University of St. Andrews as Lecturer in Hebrew Bible. Dr. Nevader has been in a temporary post here for nearly three years. She is an excellent colleague and we are delighted to have her fully on board.

You can read about one of her recent papers in this post.

Another SBL review of Hayes, What’s Divine About Divine Law?

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Divine Law: Nominalist/Realist or Rational/Irrational? (Jonathan Klawans, ).
“In 2016, the History of Rabbinic Literature SBL section hosted a review panel of Dr. Christine Hayes’ book, What’s Divine About Divine Law? Dr. Jonathan Klawans continues the forum in its new home at AJR.”

Chris Hayes’s book is a path-breaking, wide-ranging, exhaustive study of a topic of crucial importance for Jewish studies in particular, and for legal/philosophical studies in a broader sense. The reader of the volume is enriched by learning a great deal about legal philosophy, as well as biblical, Greek, and rabbinic understandings of law. The greatest strength of the book is its clever and convincing trace of certain threads from the Greeks, through Philo and Paul, with rabbis then charting their own course in reaction: the distinctiveness of which in the ancient world has been heretofore under-appreciated. Hayes convincingly establishes that the rabbinic discourse on law is self-consciously distinct, moving in the opposite direction from a great deal of prior Jewish literature (to say nothing of Greco-Roman). It does this by denying that divine law is rational, true, fixed, natural and/or unchanging—all the things that properly characterize a divine/natural law from a Greco-Roman perspective.

I could go on saying nice things… but what’s the point of that? Let me proceed from here by highlighting two distinctions used in the book, one of which may be over-used and the other under-used. The over-used dichotomy is between nominalist and realist approaches to law; the under-used dichotomy is between rational and irrational laws. After discussing these two matters a bit, I’d like to think more about those efforts to reduce “the Law” to one or two principles—usually rational ones.

Another review in the same session by Beth Berkowitz was published by AJR and was noted here. And follow the links there for earlier posts on Hayes's book.

Ancient wine press at Ashkelon

ARCHAEOLOGY: 2,100-year-old wine press unearthed at Ashkelon construction site (Yori Yalon, Israel HaYom).
Wine press was discovered during an archaeological survey of a site slated for a new elementary school • Excavation director Ilan Peretz: We now know farming existed here much earlier than we thought • Press to be preserved as part of schoolyard.

Looting arrests in the Galilee

CAUGHT IN THE ACT: Three looters busted plundering ancient tomb in Galilee. Suspects caught in the act robbing graves, disturbing interred remains near Roman-era Jewish site mentioned in Talmud (Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel).
The Israel Antiquities Authority busted a gang of thieves in the act of plundering an ancient tomb in northern Israel over the weekend, the organization said in a statement Wednesday.

The illegal excavation caused “serious damage to the archaeological layers and the interred.” Human remains buried in the cave, believed dating to the Roman period, were disturbed, an IAA spokeswoman said.

It was unclear whether the tomb was Jewish, but the cave is associated with Horbat Mishkena, a Jewish village during the Roman period known to archaeologists from surveys and rabbinic literature.


Rabbi Steinsaltz recovering from a stroke

HOSPITALIZED: Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, Noted Torah Scholar, Recovering from Stroke (Marcy Oster, The Forward).
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Talmudist and Torah scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz is recovering after suffering a stroke a week ago.

Best wishes to him for a speedy and full recovery. Rabbi Steinsaltz has been mentioned often in PaleoJudaica, mostly regarding his Hebrew and English translations of the Talmud, on which more here and many links.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

On King Herod the Great

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC: How King Herod Transformed the Holy Land. In the New Testament King Herod I is a villain, but the Herod of history was more complex, a consummate politician, ambitious builder, and master organizer who was able to balance the needs of the Judaean populace and the rulers of Rome (Antonio Piñero).
Few figures in history have had such a controversial reputation as King Herod I of Judaea. In the Christian tradition, Herod is the villain in the Christmas story. The Gospel of Matthew recounts how the king orders the death of all baby boys following the birth of Jesus, an event called the Massacre of the Innocents. Calling this king “great” hardly seems fitting, given that atrocity.

To many scholars, however, Herod’s honorific is deserved. The king of the Judaeans for the last part of the first century B.C. was a skilled administrator. He created magnificent public building works across Judaea, most notably the colossal reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Herod saved his people from famine in the mid-20s B.C. Although his reign was largely a time of peace and prosperity for Judaea, he was often treated with deep suspicion by his subjects.

He did develop the habit of killing people impulsively, especially those close to him. As the article later observes, this lends a certain plausibility to the story in Matthew, even though there is no historical evidence for it. But Herod also sponsored a prolific building program, with the result that a strikingly disproportionate number of ancient ruins surviving in Israel today are "Herodian."

Some past PaleoJudaica posts on Herod the Great and Herodium are here, here, here, here, here, and links. Cross-file under 'Tis the Season.

Sartre and Sartre, Palmyre

Annie Sartre, Maurice Sartre, Palmyre. Vérités et légendes. Paris: Perrin, 2016. Pp. 259. ISBN 9782262066154. €14.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Rubina Raja, Aarhus University (


Palmyra has become a renewed focus of research in recent years due to interest in subjects outside the core regions of Rome and the Roman Empire; the massive destruction of Syria’s rich cultural heritage has also spurred a renewed interest in the site. Palmyra has also been in the spotlight due to the use of the site in Syrian state propaganda, and because it was a stronghold of the rebels and ISIS from May 2015 until spring 2016, when the city was recaptured by the Syrian state forces. The public beheading of the Director of Antiquities in Palmyra, Khaled al-As’ad, shook the world and the colleagues, who had known and worked with him for several decades. In the wake of this event several conferences and publications were dedicated to his memory and the book by Annie and Maurice Sartre is also to be seen as a product of the growing public and political attention given to the site. Much attention has been given to discussions about the potential reconstruction of the damaged and looted monuments. Since Palmyra is a World Heritage site, UNESCO has taken a particular interest in developing plans for the restoration of the unique oasis city, and scholars have begun to discuss the future of the site should the situation in Syria at some point allow for further work at the site.

Annie and Maurice Sartre's Palmyre is one of these studies, which on the one hand aims at giving the general public an insight and understanding of this unique site and on the other hand presents the potential pitfalls of massive reconstruction without detailed planning and involvement of the scholarly community. ...
Background on Palmyra is here (immediately preceding post) and links. Cross-file under Palmyra Watch.

Paris exhibition "Eternal Sites" (including Palmyra)

PALMYRA WATCH: As Palmyra falls, Paris heritage show looks to the future. Inaugurating an exhibit on endangered Middle Eastern heritage sites Tuesday, French President François Hollande called the show “a militant act”. But the curators are looking ahead to peace and reconstruction. (Leela JACINTO, France24).
These days, the city is being seized, liberated and seized again at such a dizzying pace, it’s hard to know what’s going on in the eastern Syrian desert city.

But now, in a museum thousands of miles away from the Syrian desert and a world apart from the ravages of war, the stones of this ancient city are telling a different story.

It’s a story that tends to get lost in the speed of modern life, with news cycles spinning out jihadist propaganda and politicians vowing to annihilate terrorists from the face of the earth.

A new show, "Eternal Sites: From Bamiyan to Palmyra," at the Grand Palais in Paris aims to highlight the indestructible legacy of endangered heritage sites. Inaugurated by Hollande and the UNESCO chief, Irina Bokova, on Tuesday, the free exhibition runs from December 14 to January 9.

Opening the show before a select audience Tuesday night, Hollande said the exhibit was dedicated to protecting world heritage. "This exhibition is a militant act for visitors who will come not because it’s free, but because they want to be actors, not just spectators, in protecting heritage," Hollande said.


Images of giant, sun-washed stone walls and crumbling mud bricks greet visitors as they enter three cavernous rooms at the Grand Palais. "Eternal Sites" offers viewers an immersive exploration of four inaccessible sites: Palmyra, the Crac de Chevaliers crusader castle, the Umayyad Mosque of Damascus, and Khorsabad, the ancient city in northern Iraq that was the capital of Assyrian King Sargon II, who ruled from 722 to 705 BC.
Meanwhile, I can find no certain news on the current situation in Palmyra, although there is a report that a counter-offensive by the Syrian Army is planned. And here's a statement from the Russian Government: Moscow: Fall of Palmyra is “Blow to the Entire Civilised Humankind” (Taha Abed alWahed, ASHARQ AL-AWSAT).

Background on Palmyra, its history, the ancient Aramaic dialect spoken there (Palmyrene), and the city's tragic recent fate in the hands of ISIS is here with many, many links.

SBL Pseudepigrapha Section 2017

LIV INGEBORG LIED: SBL Annual Meeting 2017 Pseudepigrapha CfP. The official call for papers opens on 19 December 2016. See the SBL website for more information. Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

Whose holy sites are the Western Wall tunnels?

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Court Petition: Western Wall Tunnels a Holy Site for Christians, Muslims Too. Group of Israeli archaeologists say the tunnels run through, under, over and alongside religious sites holy to Judaism, Islam and Christianity (Nir Hasson, Haaretz).
The High Court of Justice has agreed to hear a petition asking why the Western Wall Tunnels have been declared a holy site for Jews and not for Muslims and Christians as well.

The petition was filed by Emek Shaveh, a group of archaeologists seeking to prevent the politicization of archaeology. It came after the Religious Services Ministry’s legal adviser, Hagay Avrahami, said in a letter the tunnels were governed by the regulations preserving Jewish holy sites because the entrance to them leads from the Western Wall Plaza.

This means that all the rules governing the Western Wall apply in the tunnels, as well as in the large spaces that have been discovered in recent years under homes in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. The decision was made after a consultation with Israel’s chief rabbis, Avrahami said.

The petition states that these underground spaces, which have been excavated continuously since the early 1980s, also include structures holy to Christianity and Islam.

The point that the area has elements holy to Christianity and Islam is certainly correct, but it isn't clear to me what the practical issue is. Is there a process through the Religious Services Ministry that can declare sites holy to Christianity and Islam and was this neglected? What are the practical implications of the current declaration and what does Emek Shaveh want done about them? The answers to these questions may be obvious to those more familiar with these political structures in Israel, but they aren't obvious to me, and I wish the article had spelled them out more clearly.

Past posts on Emeq Shaveh's activities and its political perspective (which is not as objective as implied above) are here, here, here, here, and links. Some past PaleoJudaica posts on the tunnel excavations in Jerusalem are collected here.

Cross-file under Politics.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Talmud on charging interest

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Why the Talmud Allows Jews to Profit Off Gentiles. In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ Talmud study, focusing on religious duty over secular egalitarianism.
Tractate Bava Metzia centers on the concept of ownership: What does it mean, under Jewish law, to own a piece of property? And what happens when there is a dispute over ownership, or when one person takes possession of property that belongs to another? This kind of abuse can take several forms, ranging from straightforward theft to what the Talmud calls “exploitation”—a transaction in which one party takes illegal advantage of the other. But over the last two weeks, in Chapter Six of Bava Metzia, Daf Yomi readers have explored a different kind of crime against property—one that in our capitalist economy is not a crime at all. If it were, anyone who takes out a mortgage or a car loan, or who uses a credit card, would be guilty of it. This is the crime of lending or borrowing at interest, which is forbidden to Jews in Leviticus 25: “Do not take from him interest or increase, but fear your God, in order that your brother may live with you. You shall not give him money with interest, nor give him your food for increase.”

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

The first pictures of the ruins of Palmyra

PALMYRA WATCH: THE MYSTERY OF THE FIRST DRAWINGS OF PALMYRA: Part I: Who drew the first pictures of the ruins of Palmyra? AND Who drew this 'Curious Prospect' of Palmyra? (Zenobia Empress of the East Blog).

The current state of the site of Palmyra does not seem to be good. It appears that it has been fully recaptured by ISIS jihadists (see here for the story and follow the many links for background). There are many rumors about what is happening and what is to happen next, but I have not yet found solid information to which I think it is worth linking. Watch this space.

Meanwhile, Judith Weingarten takes us back to better times at Palmyra to solve a mystery from the early modern period.

Still another review of Fine, The Menorah

BOOK REVIEW: Scholar explores significance of menorah to Jews, Christians, Muslims (Eugene J. Fisher, Catholic News Service).
“The Menorah: From the Bible to Modern Times”
by Steven Fine.
Harvard University Press (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2016).
273 pp., $29.95.

Steven Fine, a professor of Jewish history at Yeshiva University in New York City, explores biblical, cultural and religious history through the lens of what he rightly calls in his conclusion “the oldest religious symbol in all of Western culture.”

Earlier reviews of the book are here and here.

Is El-Araj Bethsaida?

BIBLE PLACES BLOG: New Excavations at el-Araj, Possible Bethsaida (Todd Bolen). Todd thinks the identification would be premature.

War crimes prosecutions for captured jihadists?

ISIS WATCH: ISIS May Face War-Crime Charges for Destruction of Historic Sites (Owen Jarus, Live Science). This with reference to some suspected ISIS fighters who have surrendered during the Mosul campaign:
Because international law forbids the destruction of heritage sites, those who surrendered could face charges for war crimes, experts say. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) lists areas as World Heritage Sites for having special cultural or physical significance.

"These destructions may amount to a war crime, and UNESCO will do everything in its power to document the damage so that these attacks do not go unpunished," said Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO, said in a statement released on Nov 25, after Nimrud was recaptured.
That would be all to the good, but it would not surprise me if there were worse war crimes that captured jihadists could be prosecuted for.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Coin of the second year of the Great Revolt

NUMISMATICS: Minister Regev Presents 67 CE ‘Great Rebellion’ Coin at Cabinet Meeting (JNi.Media).
Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev on Sunday presented at the start of the cabinet meeting a coin discovered by a team of her office about a month ago, as part of the preparation for the public revelation of the Pilgrims’ Road which was recently unearthed at the City of David. The presentation and the planned public event mark the coming jubilee of the liberation and unification of Jerusalem.

The coin bears on one side a vine leaf and the statement “Freedom of Zion.” On the opposite side it bears a standing cup and the statement “Second year of the great rebellion” – the year 67 CE.

Not quite. The coin reads "second year of" (שנת שתים) on one side and "the freedom of Zion" (חרת ציון) on the other. The word order seems a little odd, but I think that the two sides are intended to be read consecutively as a single phrase: "The second year of the freedom of Zion." It was indeed the second year of the so-called Great Rebellion or Great Revolt against Rome, but the coin itself does not use this term. (Follow the link above for a photo.)

This article is a little vague about the origin of the coin, but the Jerusalem Post has clearer coverage on that issue: ‘Free Zion’ coin minted 1,967 years ago unveiled (Herb Keinon).
The coin was uncovered during an excavation about a month ago of a recently uncovered road in Jerusalem. The excavation site will be opened to the public during Hanukka.
The recent UNESCO resolutions that play down the ancient Jewish connection with Jerusalem come in for some not-undeserved ridicule on the basis of this coin. As with the use of the Arch of Titus, at least this time the ancient origin of the artifact is not in question, unlike the case of the Jerusalem Papyrus. Cross-file under Politics.

Modern Ethiopic and Second Temple Judaism

PARALLELS: Ethiopian Judaism nearly identical to that practiced during Second Temple Period. Researcher Dr. Yossi Ziv has researched Ethiopian Judaism and found an amazing discovery: Ethiopian Jews' customs and traditions extremely similar to those described in Dead Sea Scrolls, Second Temple Era texts (Yael Freidson, Ynet News).
Dr. Yossi Ziv has been researching the religious rituals of the Ethiopian Jewish population still in Ethiopia and discovered that they maintained the same customs and traditions as the Jews of the Second Temple period for the past two thousand years.

"It’s knowledge which hasn't been written anywhere, and has been preserved in their traditions," the researcher said.

"They have been curating ancient customs that have disappeared from the world. They provide examples of how the leaders of the nation of Israel would have behaved during the time of the Second Temple."

Israeli-Ethiopian elders performing the Sigid ritual in Jerusalem (Photo: Reuters)

The professor released his findings at a seminar which was held at the Kfar Etzion Field School right before the Jewish-Ethiopian holiday of Sigid.

Ziv said that many Jewish-Ethiopian customs go against modern Jewish practice, but perfectly align with customs and rituals described on scrolls found in the Qumran caves and in books dating back to the Second Temple Period. The Qumran Caves are where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, which include the third oldest Hebrew Bible ever found.

Interesting, but two notes of caution are in order. The first is that comparisons like this one involve a lot of interpretive latitude. It is often far from clear how a Qumran text on halakhic matters should be interpreted and to what degree it demonstrates a particular practice in Second Temple Judaism. So any parallels with a later Jewish community have to be sifted exceedingly carefully and the implications of such parallels should be advanced with great caution.

Second, this research is being filtered through the media, which almost inevitably involves an added layer of distortion and misunderstanding which makes the claims even harder to evaluate. Note the last sentence quoted above. I don't doubt that it reflects a reporter's misunderstanding of something a researcher said, but as it stands, it's nonsense. No complete Hebrew Bible was found at Qumran, and the Qumran manuscripts include the oldest fragments of many books of the Hebrew Bible. Perhaps the researcher said the three oldest fragmentary manuscripts of books of the Hebrew Bible were found at Qumran? That would be about right. So who knows what else in the article is garbled?

As always, the sort of claims being advanced in this story should be published in a peer-review venue if scholars are to take it seriously.

Mandaean Book of John TOC

JAMES MCGRATH: The Mandaean Book of John: Table of Contents.
The entire draft of the English translation of the Mandaean Book of John is still not available online. But I thought I would nevertheless provide a table of contents linking to the chapters that are there, for those who may be interested in perusing them.
This sounds like it will be an important publication.

Past posts on the Mandaean Book of John Project are here, here, here, and here. Cross-file under Mandean Watch (Mandaean Watch).

Again, Canaanite, not Hebrew

CHRISTOPHER ROLLSTON: The Proto-Sinaitic Inscriptions 2.0: Canaanite Language and Canaanite Script, Not Hebrew. Excerpt:
I’m sure that Grimme and van den Branden were well intentioned, and I believe that Petrovich is as well. But the evidence is weighty, and the evidence demonstrates the following: the inscriptions from Serabit el-Khadem and Wadi el-Hol (and various other second millennium sites, etc.) are written in a Northwest Semitic dialect of the early Second Millennium BCE. In terms of the name for this language, the most apt term is “Canaanite.” After all, there is nothing distinctively Phoenician, or Hebrew, or Aramaic, or Moabite, or Ammonite, or Edomite about the words in these inscriptions that would reasonably allow someone to call the language of these inscriptions by one of those terms. Indeed, the words in the inscriptions from Serabit el-Khadem and Wadi el-Hol are found in lots of Semitic languages, not just one. Thus, the best term of the language of these inscriptions is “Canaanite.”

And as for the script of these inscriptions from Serabit el-Khadem and Wadi el-Hol, the best terms are “Early Alphabetic,” or “Canaanite.” Some prefer the term “Proto-Sinaitic Script.” Any of these terms is acceptable. But it is absolutely and empirically wrong to suggest that the script of the inscriptions from Serabit el-Khadem and Wadi el-Hol is the Hebrew script, or the Phoenician script, or the Aramaic script, or the Moabite script, or the Ammonite script, or the Edomite script. ...
This post responds to Petrovich's reply to Rollston's first post.

Background here and here.

ISIS retakes Palmyra?

PALMYRA WATCH: ISIS recaptures Palmyra. The Islamic State recaptures the Syrian ancient city of Palmyra, hours after being pushed out by Russian forces (Arutz Sheva).
The Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group on Sunday recaptured the Syrian ancient city of Palmyra, after Syrian armed forces pulled out of the desert city, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, according to AFP.

"Despite the ongoing air raids, ISIS retook all of Palmyra after the Syrian army withdrew south of the city," said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

The jihadists made a lightning-fast advance across the city after overrunning a northern neighborhood and capturing the famed citadel to Palmyra's west.

The ISIS-linked Amaq news agency also reported that the jihadist group regained "full control" of the city on Sunday after taking the citadel, which overlooks Palmyra from a strategic hilltop.

There were back-and-forth reports over the weekend, but as near as I can tell, this is where matters stand at the moment. If so, I will be surprised if they stay that way for long. The recapture of Palmyra by ISIS is a significant blow to Russian prestige and I don't expect the Russians to let it go unanswered. Of course, that is presumably the purpose of ISIS retargeting Palmyra. They want to distract the Russians and the Syrian army and ease the pressure on Aleppo. Watch this space.

Background on Palmyra, its history, the ancient Aramaic dialect spoken there (Palmyrene), and the city's tragic recent fate in the hands of ISIS is here with many, many links.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Geniza Fragments 72

GENIZA FRAGMENTS 72. The October 2016 issue of the Newsletter of the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit, Cambridge University Library is just out. It includes notice of an upcoming conference on the Cairo Geniza at Cambridge University in April of 2017, a report on a conference on the Hebrew text of Ben Sira, and a brief article on an alchemical fragment.

Review of Jerome, Commentaries on the Twelve Prophets, Vol. 1

READING ACTS: Book Review: Jerome, Commentaries on the Twelve Prophets, Volume 1.
Scheck, Thomas, ed. Commentaries on the Twelve Prophets: Volume 1, Ancient Christian Texts by Jerome. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2016. Link to IVP

This new contribution to the Ancient Christian Texts series is the first of three volumes collecting Jerome’s commentaries on the twelve Minor Prophets. Jerome (c. 347-419/20) is primarily known for his Latin translation of the Bible (The Vulgate), but he was also a prolific commentator on biblical books. He was thoroughly familiar with Jewish traditions and brought them to bear on his understanding of the Old Testament. Beginning in 379, Jerome used his considerable linguistic skills to translate Origen’s commentaries and, eventually, to translate and comment on Scripture himself.

And unlike pretty much all ancient Christian commentators except his nemesis Origen, Jerome studied the Hebrew Bible with a good knowledge of Hebrew.

Lundhaug on Shenoute and Nag Hammadi Codex II

HUGO LUNDHAUG: Shenoute of Atripe and Nag Hammadi Codex II ( An offprint from Zugänge zur Gnosis. Akten zur Tagung der Patristischen Arbeitsgemeinschaft vom 02.-05.01.2011in Berlin-Spandau, herausgegeben von Christoph Markschies und Johannes van Oort, Peeters, 2013.

Shenoute and his White Monastery were of crucial importance for the transmission of ancient manuscripts in Egypt. Some past posts on Shenoute are here, here, here, here, here, and here. And some additional posts on the manuscripts of the White Monastery are collected here.

Seen on Facebook.

Operation Mummy's Curse

WHAT COULD GO WRONG? Stolen Mummy Hand Makes Its Way Home (Meg Gannon, Live Science/Yahoo).
The blackened, cloth-wrapped hand arrived in a parcel at Los Angeles International Airport in January 2013. It was listed as a sci-fi movie prop, valued at $66. But as officials with U.S. Customs and Border Protection learned, the hand was from a real Egyptian mummy, nearly 3,000 years old.

The hand was apparently voluntarily forfeited by the importer, and this week, U.S. authorities repatriated it and four other illegally smuggled artifacts to Egypt as part of an ongoing investigation known as "Operation Mummy's Curse."

This is a perfect setup for a horror movie, so I imagine the people of Los Angeles will be happy for it to be sent home so that Egypt can keep an eye on it.

Review of Brotzman and Tully, Old Testament Textual Criticism

ETC BLOG: Review of Brotzman and Tully’s Old Testament Textual Criticism (Meade) (Peter Gurry). The review is by John Meade at Books at a Glance and the page includes a response by Tully.