Saturday, February 11, 2017

More on the new, blank DSS

QUMRAN CAVE 12: New Dead Sea Scroll Find May Help Detect Forgeries. Looters plundered the cave decades ago. But archaeologists are thrilled by what they left behind. Here’s why. (Michelle Z. Donahue, National Geographic).
The discovery of a twelfth cave associated with the famous Dead Sea Scrolls may arm scholars with new clues to deter looters and detect modern forgeries of the ancient documents.

Earlier this week archaeologists announced the discovery of the cave—the first scroll site found since 1956—and revealed the results of recent excavations. The Israeli team found numerous storage jars that had been hidden in niches cut into the cave walls, but all were broken and their contents removed.

Some items were left behind, however, including leather scroll ties, textiles for wrapping scrolls, and a pair of rusty pickaxes from the 1950s—telltale signs that the cave had once harbored a collection of scrolls stored in clay jars, but looters had made off with the documents decades ago.

“The findings indicate beyond any doubt that the cave contained scrolls that were stolen,” said Hebrew University archaeologist and excavation director Oren Gutfeld.
That's the back story. The key point for this article is this:
The team also found pieces of parchment with no writing on it. Such material has become a hot commodity, with scraps of ancient parchment commanding high prices, according to Randall Price, an archaeologist at Liberty University who collaborated on the project. Much of the material is supplied by looters, who in recent years have been aggressively targeting the Dead Sea caves.


The blank parchment that archaeologists recently found may shed light on how high quality forgeries could be making their way to the market. And because it was recovered by scientifically rigorous methods, the parchment will help experts assess fragments that show up for sale.
That hadn't occurred to me, but, yes, it makes sense. Blank parchments like this scientifically excavated one may already have been looted. They may have been used to give us some of the recent, apparent Dead Sea Scrolls forgeries.

One correction to my first post on this discovery. There I took the Hebrew University press release to be saying that the blank parchment was being tested for faded writing. I think I misread it. What it actually was saying was that the blank fragment itself was (in antiquity) "being processed" to be written on. The English statement isn't very clear. Perhaps the Hebrew press release, which I have not seen, was clearer.

1 Maccabees and Hasmonean ideology

READING ACTS: 1 Maccabees and the Legitimacy of the Hasmoneans.
The book of 1 Maccabees clearly favors the revolution against the Seleucid and the Hasmonean dynasty. In fact, it is “a thoroughgoing pro-Hasmonean . . . perhaps even Sadducean, tendency interpenetrates the entire work” (Fischer, 4:441) and the “author of 1 Maccabees identifies unreservedly with the rebels and their leaders.” (Efron, 47; Sievers, 2).

Yes, both 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees are ideologically pro-Hasmonean. (Not sure about "Sadducean," though.) They are our main historical sources for the Maccabean revolt. This makes an objective evaluation of what happened challenging. A recent PaleoJudaica post on a revisionist view of the revolt is here.

It is not well known, but there are other, briefer, ancient accounts of the Maccabean revolt which give somewhat different perspectives on what happened. The two I know of offhand are Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica, 34-35.1.1 and John Malalas, Chronographia, 206-207. On the latter see also here and here.

It happens that next week I am lecturing on the Old Testament Apocrypha in my Second Temple Jewish Literature class, so I have been thinking about such things.

Past posts in Phil Long's series on the Second Temple Period are noted here and links.

The Septuagint Song

FURTHER TO INTERNATIONAL SEPTUAGINT DAY: The Septuagint Song (Tommy Wasserman, ETC Blog). I give them points for effort.

Background here.

Taylor, Gospels

NEW NOVEL: Nottingham novelist crafts 19th century bible hunting tale that is 'Indiana Jones meets Jules Verne.' Bible-hunting, rogues and Egypt combine to create Nottingham writer Stephen Taylor's fascinating novel, Gospels. Amy Wilcockson spoke to him to find out more (Nottingham Post).
Can you tell us a little bit about your novel?
It's a novel about change and redemption, using the genre of the American road movie, but placed into 1830's Egypt. The rogue John Campbell-John had fled England because his debts caught up with him. In Venice, he meets a man on an honourable quest who wants to travel in Egypt to find the earliest copies of the Bible. So the two travel together down the Nile. Egypt was a predominantly Christian country from the fourth to seventh century, which is something I didn't know until I researched. The monastic movement started in Egypt, and some monasteries actually still exist in the Egyptian deserts. Their libraries contain manuscripts dating as far back as the first century, and it is these my characters want to discover.

Good concept. Could be entertaining. It caught my eye mainly because it is inspired to some degree by the real nineteenth-century explorer Robert Curzon, on whom more here and here and links.
What sort of research did you have to do?
I have to say, as a historical novelist I don't do the primary research. I'm not a history professor so I piggyback on the academics, and use contemporary accounts. One of the early Bible hunters was a guy called Robert Curzon, later 14th Baron Zouche, and he travelled extensively in Egypt looking for the gospels. He wrote a book called Visits to Monasteries in the Levant (Levant being the English word for the Middle East). Not only did this book tell me what he did, what he found and where he travelled, but it also contains a description of the people he met in Egypt at that time. It gives me a snapshot into his world, and it heavily influenced my work. That was my Bible!
"Levant" is a term for the Eastern Mediterranean region, especially Syria-Palestine, and so it only partially overlaps with the Middle East.

Follow the main link above for a description of the novel. The reference to the King James Bible is not promising.

Resources for Zoharic Aramaic

ZOHAR WATCH: Judy Barrett's page has a number of resources for the study of Zoharic Aramaic. See especially Twelve Lessons in Grammatical and Syntactic Analysis of the Zohar and (Toward) A Thesaurus of the Zohar: English-Aramaic/Hebrew Synonyms. And there's more.

I have already mentioned The Aramaic Language of the Zohar website and the Zohar Dictionary. And I believe the discussion on the Facebook Zohar Daf Yomi page is still active.

Cross-file under Aramaic watch.For the many other past PaleoJudaica posts on the Zohar, start here (cf. here) and follow the links.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Tu B'Shevat 2017

TU B'SHEVAT, the New Year for Trees, begins tonight at sundown. Some past posts of interest are collected here and see also here.

Cottrell, The Writings Of Silvanus

NEW NOVEL: Author Dana George Cottrell’s Newly Released “The Writings Of Silvanus” is a Journey into Ancient Phoenicia and Greece.
Published by Christian Faith Publishing, Dana George Cottrell’s new book is a journey into history that tells the story of a wealthy and powerful woman named Rachael.

Nineteen sealed urns are discovered in a small cave located in southern Lebanon. Within the urns, papyrus scrolls written in ancient Greek tell the story of a Jewish family that moved from Judea and settled in Beth-Gebar. Silvanus, the author of the scrolls, wrote about his family’s history while living in Beth-Gebar during the First Century.
Sounds potentially interesting, or at least entertaining. However, the prospects of the book being based on rigorous historical research don't seem good. Note that the fearless, pirate-fighting heroine spells her name with a spelling that first appeared in the 19th century and only became popular in the 1980s.

Human trees in the Bible?

DR. SHAI SECUNDA: “Are Trees of the Field Human?” (
Deuteronomy 20:19 forbids the chopping down of fruit trees during war-time, and offers the cryptic explanation כי האדם עץ השדה (ki ha-adam etz hasadeh), but what does this mean?
I was waiting for Ents to come up, but they didn't. Nevertheless, a timely essay.

Coins and the Bible conference

NUMISMATICS: Coins and the Bible: Understanding Ancient Coinage April 29 @ 10:30 am — 6:00 pm - a day conference at New College at the University of Edinburgh.
Some of the most famous stories in the Bible revolve around coins. From the four-drachma coin pulled from the fish’s mouth to Judas’s thirty pieces of silver, ancient writers have used the terminology of coinage to make their narratives more palatable for their audiences. Coinage communicates the language of empire to its subjects, rich and poor alike, through image and inscription, and helps provide the material background for better understanding the cultural milieu of the Bible. This day conference, “Coins and the Bible,” is primarily aimed at students and scholars of Christian origins and Classics who seek to develop a more comprehensive understanding of numismatics in the ancient world. Renowned scholars from the University of Edinburgh and the British Museum will offer lectures in Hellenistic, Roman, and Jewish coinage ranging from the Second Temple period to late antiquity. The conference will be free for both students and the public, though we suggest considering a £10 donation from public guests. Registration is required and space is limited, so we encourage you to sign up quickly.
Follow the link for the schedule and registration information.

Jubilees and the Land

READING ACTS: Jubilees and Sacred Geography.
The emphasis on God’s gift of land to the descendants of Israel is important because many Jewish readers of this book were living outside of Judea. Perhaps the author of Jubilees places the promise of land to the time of Noah in order to assure readers of God’s promise restore the people of Israel to the land in the future, or even to encourage a return to the land at the present time.
The whole issue of the Land, of course, remains a major concern for modern Judaism.

Past posts in Phil Long's series on the Second Temple Period are noted here and links.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Qumran Cave 12

HEBREW UNIVERSITY PRESS RELEASE: Hebrew University Archaeologists Find 12th Dead Sea Scrolls Cave.
Hebrew University archaeologist Dr. Oren Gutfeld: "This is one of the most exciting archaeological discoveries, and the most important in the last 60 years, in the caves of Qumran."

Excavations in a cave on the cliffs west of Qumran, near the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, prove that Dead Sea scrolls from the Second Temple period were hidden in the cave, and were looted by Bedouins in the middle of the last century. With the discovery of this cave, scholars now suggest that it should be numbered as Cave 12. [Photo links below]

The surprising discovery, representing a milestone in Dead Sea Scroll research, was made by Dr. Oren Gutfeld and Ahiad Ovadia from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology, with the collaboration of Dr. Randall Price and students from Liberty University in Virginia, USA.

The excavators are the first in over 60 years to discover a new scroll cave and to properly excavate it.

The excavation was supported by the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria, by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), and is a part of the new “Operation Scroll” launched at the IAA by its Director-General, Mr. Israel Hasson, to undertake systematic surveys and to excavate the caves in the Judean Desert.
Only you have to keep reading to learn that they pretty much didn't find any actual scrolls there:
Excavation of the cave revealed that at one time it contained Dead Sea scrolls. Numerous storage jars and lids from the Second Temple period were found hidden in niches along the walls of the cave and deep inside a long tunnel at its rear. The jars were all broken and their contents removed, and the discovery towards the end of the excavation of a pair of iron pickaxe heads from the 1950s (stored within the tunnel for later use) proves the cave was looted.

Until now, it was believed that only 11 caves had contained scrolls. With the discovery of this cave, scholars have now suggested that it would be numbered as Cave 12. Like Cave 8, in which scroll jars but no scrolls were found, this cave will receive the designation Q12 (the Q=Qumran standing in front of the number to indicate no scrolls were found).
I say "pretty much" because of this:
Dr. Gutfeld added: “Although at the end of the day no scroll was found, and instead we ‘only’ found a piece of parchment rolled up in a jug that was being processed for writing, the findings indicate beyond any doubt that the cave contained scrolls that were stolen. The findings include the jars in which the scrolls and their covering were hidden, a leather strap for binding the scroll, a cloth that wrapped the scrolls, tendons and pieces of skin connecting fragments, and more."
This isn't phrased terribly clearly, but it seems to be saying that the piece of parchment has no obvious writing on it, but it is being analyzed to find any faded writing that is not obvious.

Despite the lack of scrolls, the discovery of this cave is very important for many reasons explained in the press release.

At present, Operation Scroll has produced inscribed but (so far) unreadable scroll fragments from the Cave of Skulls and now a new scrolls cave at Qumran with what (so far) seems to be just one uninscribed parchment fragment. In one sense, that's a disappointing haul. But in another it is encouraging. It does demonstrate that there are still scroll fragments in those caves. Let's hope a big discovery still awaits the investigators.

There is also the possibility that more scrolls will be found during the new excavations currently underway at Masada. And there's even an outside chance of very old scroll fragments turning up at the ongoing excavations at Timna.

New excavation coming at Kiryat Ye’arim

CUE INDIANA JONES MUSIC: Archaeologists to break ground at biblical site where Ark of the Covenant stood. Israeli and French researchers to excavate ancient site of Kiryat Ye’arim, outside Jerusalem, one of the few unstudied biblical tels (Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel).
One of the few remaining unstudied major biblical sites, where according to the Bible the Ark of the Covenant was kept for two decades, will be excavated by archaeologists this summer for the first time.

Organizers hope the anticipated study of Kiryat Ye’arim (also transliterated as Kiriath Jearim) will shed light on the site’s significance during the Iron Age, the period associated with the biblical account of King David.

Kiryat Ye’arim is mentioned over a dozen times in the Bible as a Judahite town situated near Jerusalem during the period of the judges and King David — the Iron Age, in archaeological terms.

The biblical town is associated with the hill where the Deir El-Azar monastery is situated, next to modern Arab town of Abu Ghosh, 12 kilometers (7 miles) west of Jerusalem’s Old City. A modern Jewish town founded nearby is named after the ancient site.

Spoiler: the Ark of the Covenant is no longer there.

Nevertheless, as the article explains, this will be quite an important excavation.

Tu B'Shevat

COMING TOMORROW: What is Tu Bishvat? Tu Bishvat, sometimes transliterated as Tu B'Shevat, traditionally marks the date on which farmers began calculating the tithing of their fruit crop for the coming year (Simon Rocker. The Jewish Chronicle).

Tu Bishvat, the New Year for Trees, is a minor festival and one of four new years – the others being Rosh Hashanah on Tishri 1, the start of the calendar year on Nisan 1 and the least known, Ellul 1, the new year for tithing cattle in classical days (akin to the start of the tax year).

Unlike the other new years, Tu Bishvat occurs mid-month rather than at the beginning; its name simply refers to the date on which it falls, the 15th day of the eleventh month, Shevat. Although not mentioned in the Bible, it is referred to as Rosh Hashanah L’Ilanot, New Year for Trees, in the Talmud and marked the date on which farmers began calculating the tithing of their fruit crop for the coming year.

It is mentioned in the Bible, sort of, but not specifically as a festival. More on that in a link tomorrow.

UPDATE: Yes, I did mean tomorrow, which is when the festival starts. The post appeared prematurely today, but that was due to a pre-posting that went awry. Apologies for the error.

Jubilees and the Law

READING ACTS: The Law in Jubilees.
What motivated the writer of Jubliees to ground distinctive Jewish practices in the earliest stories in Genesis? Is his motivation to prove to the Gentile world that the Judaism of the Second Temple period is ancient and worthy of respect? Or is he “preaching to the choir,” trying to encourage Second Temple Jews to continue in their practice of Sabbath and festivals?
Good questions. The two options are not necessarily entirely mutually exclusive.

Past posts in Phil Long's series on the Second Temple Period are noted here and links.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

International Septuagint Day 2017

That widely celebrated occasion is upon us again: Happy 11th International Septuagint Day! As I have in the past, I encourage you to take up your well-worn edition of the Greek Old Testament and read a bit today in recognition of this joyful day.
Some past interviews of LXX scholars by William Ross are noted here and links.

And there's also this:

How the Vatican Library celebrates LXX Day (Marieke Dhont, Logos Academic Blog).
In honour of Septuagint Day, I am eager to discuss ancient manuscripts of the LXX, in particular those manuscripts that have recently been made accessible to the public by the Vatican Library Digitization Project. This project greatly improves our access to ancient treasures that further our understanding of the Bible and its history.
With fine photos and commentary. The Vatican knows how to celebrate.

Past PaleoJudaica posts on International Septuagint Day are here, here (it seems I forgot about the post from the previous year), here, here, here, and here.

Open-access Steinsaltz Talmud

TALMUD WATCH: The Babylonian Talmud Is Now Available Free Online in English and Hebrew. The non-profit Sefaria has fulfilled a dream that dates back to Albert Einstein (Yair Rosenberg, Tablet Magazine).
One of the most accessible Hebrew and English translations of the Babylonian Talmud is going open source. Today, Sefaria, an online nonprofit bringing traditional Jewish texts to the internet, announced that it will be posting the entire compendium with the crisp bilingual translation of Jerusalem polymath Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz Even-Yisrael.

For the many PaleoJudaica posts on the Hebrew and English Steinsaltz translation of the Talmud, start here and follow the links. (I have not been able to find any more recent updates on Rabbi Steinsaltz's recovery, but I wish him well.)

The Song of the Sea (Exodus 15:1-18)

RABBI DR. DANIEL M. ZUCKER: Enthroning God in the Temple with the Song of the Sea (
The Song of the Sea begins with defeat of the Egyptians and ends with YHWH’s enthronement in His temple. Comparison with the Epic of Baal and Enuma Elish clarify the genre and purpose of such hymns, and a striking parallel with Solomon’s prayer in 1Kings 8 offers a clue to the original context of this ancient song.
Rabbi Zucker thinks that the Song of the Sea was composed for the dedication of the First Temple at its founding, which is possible. But the song itself, while alluding to a Temple of YHWH, does not mention Jerusalem specifically. (The reference in v. 17 to "the mountain of Your possession" is a mythological term referring to the cosmic mountain and may, but does not necessarily imply Mount Zion.) My teacher, Frank Moore Cross, who is cited in the essay, thought the reference was to the early sanctuary in Gilgal and that the Song of the Sea could have been composed within living memory of whatever event it described. That's possible too, as are a good many other reconstructions. We just don't know.

Frank Moore Cross. "The Song of the Sea and Canaanite Myth" . Pages 112-144 in Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic (Harvard University Press, 1973). See note 12 of Rabbi Zucker's essay for a response.


READING ACTS: Jubilees and the Eternal Covenant.
Unlike Sirach, Jubilees envisions a complete separation from the Hellenistic world. The author of Jubilees does not encourage readers to adopt or adapt Hellenistic practices or thinking along Jewish lines. Unlike Sirach or the canonical Proverbs, wisdom is not rooted in creation, but rather the Law of God as it appears in the Mosaic Law. While Sirach said wisdom was to keep the Law of God, he was never very clear on what that Law might be. The author of Jubilees is quite clear as he re-writes the stories of the Hebrew Bible to establish the antiquity of the boundary markers of the Jewish people.
Past posts in Phil Long's series on the Second Temple Period are noted here and links.

Crowe on Adamic Christology

THE CSCO BLOG: The Last Adam: The Adamic Christology of Early Christianity (Brandon D. Crowe).
Put simply, today little attention is typically given to the possibility that Jesus is presented a new Adam figure in the Gospels. However, this recent dearth of attention is exceptional when we consider the broad scope of interpretive history—quite often in the history of interpretation the Gospels have been read as having a strong Adamic Christology.

In my recent book, The Last Adam: A Theology of the Obedient Life of Jesus in the Gospels, my goal is to consider anew the question of Adam Christology in the Gospels. Taking a cue from the emphasis on Christ as new Adam in the history of interpretation, I look at the Gospels asking where we may find Adam Christology, and what implications this may have for the work of Christ in the Gospels.
Cross-file under New Book from Baker.

Judith Romney Wegner z'l'

SAD NEWS FROM H-JUDAIC: Obituary: Dr. Judith Romney Wegner.
H-Judaic is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Dr. Judith Romney Wegner (1933-2017), one of the pioneers of feminist studies of Rabbinic literature. ...
May her memory be for a blessing.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

The Talmud on posthumous biblical authorship

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Who Wrote the Torah? This week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ Talmud study dives into a foundational puzzle of the religion.
After discussing how to copy a Torah scroll, the Gemara moves on to the more interesting question of who wrote the Torah in the first place. The traditional Jewish answer, of course, is that Moses wrote it at the dictation of God. That is what the Talmud says in Bava Batra 15a: “The Holy One, Blessed be He, dictated and Moses repeated after him and wrote.” But the text of the Torah itself raises a problem for this idea, which is that after Moses’ death, the book of Deuteronomy continues for another eight verses. How could Moses have written a description of his own death? “Is it possible that after Moses died, he wrote ‘And Moses died there’?” asks the Gemara.

To avoid this absurdity, Rabbi Yehuda explains that the last eight verses of Deuteronomy were actually written by Joshua, Moses’ successor. This explains why, when the Torah is read aloud, those eight verses are always assigned to a single reader, not divided up. They form a natural unit because they came from Joshua’s hand. But Rabbi Shimon disagrees, suggesting instead that “the Holy One, blessed be He, dictated and Moses wrote with tears.” It is a beautiful, poetic image—Moses outlining the letters in his own tears, mourning his death in advance.

Actually, the Gemara goes on to point out, the problem of posthumousness is found in several books of the Bible. ...
The passage is more about how property is to be divided, but this is one of the Talmud's many interesting digressions.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Conference on “How the Bible Came into Being"

ETC BLOG: 2017 HBU Theology Conference (Peter Gurry).
This year’s Houston Baptist University Theology Conference is March 2–4 on the topic “How the Bible Came into Being.”
Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphic works receive their due.

Review of Rutherford (ed.), Greco-Egyptian Interactions

Ian Rutherford (ed.), Greco-Egyptian Interactions: Literature, Translation, and Culture 500 BCE-300 CE. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. xiii, 393. ISBN 9780199656127. $135.00.

Reviewed by Felipe Rojas, Brown University (

Publisher’s Preview

The study of cultural interaction as documented in the textual output of Egypt, Greece, and Rome is in flux. Egyptologists, who traditionally had paid less attention to texts written under Ptolemaic and especially Roman rule than to earlier material, have been devoting more of their energies to the arduous duty of editing Demotic papyri. Many such documents provide evidence of Greek-Egyptian cross-pollination, even if the exact nature of that exchange is hard to puzzle out.1 As the editor of one of those texts acknowledges here without despair: “Any conclusion may be overturned tomorrow” (p. 347). Classicists, on their part, have been producing less Hellenocentric readings of textual documents written in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt, and also increasingly sophisticated literary and historical analyses that are informed by theoretical trends outside of classics.2 Many of the contributors to this volume are directly responsible for rocking the Greco-Egyptian textual boat. In fact, beginning nearly two decades ago, the editor himself has been offering challenging studies of Greco-Egyptian literary and cultural interaction.3 This book is of immediate and obvious importance to those working on Greek and Roman Egypt. As I explain below, however, it may also be of interest to those studying cross-cultural contact in the ancient world more generally.

Indeed. Jews in the Second Temple period and late antiquity were also interacting with Egyptians, Greeks, and Greek-speaking Egyptians. A number of articles in this volume (e.g., on the Greek Magical Papyri and on the Oracle of the Potter) look likely to have some background relevance to Judaism in those periods.

Ben Sira and Hellenism

READING ACTS: Sirach and the Greeks. Past posts in Phil Long's series on the Second Temple Period are noted here and links.

Ten Questions with Jacob L. Wright

THETORAH.COM: Ten Questions with a Torah / Bible Scholar: Prof. Jacob L. Wright.
Widely respected for his skills in biblical interpretation, Jacob Wright is Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology and the Director of Graduate Studies in Emory’s Tam Institute of Jewish Studies. His first book, Rebuilding Identity: The Nehemiah Memoir and Its Earliest Readers, was awarded a Templeton prize for the best first books in religion and theology. Wright has edited several volumes and published many articles and essays on a wide range of topics, bringing interdisciplinary perspectives to bear on often neglected aspects of the history of ancient Israel and the formation of the Tanach.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Kratz on the DSS and the Bible

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Insights into the Growth of Biblical Literature from the Dead Sea Scrolls (Reinhard Kratz).
The Dead Sea Scrolls invite us to review our hypotheses concerning form, tradition, religious, theological, and historical criticism. Above all, they allow us to study the means, techniques and trends involved in ancient interpretations of biblical writings, which are documented in various forms. Ultimately, the manuscripts represent a welcome opportunity of control for the methods of compositional criticism. The new evidence not only raises the question of what biblical scholarship and criticism can learn from the Dead Sea Scrolls, but also the reverse.

New "Mikve Path" in Jerusalem park

OPENING THURSDAY: NEW ‘MIKVE PATH’ AT 2000-YEAR-OLD SITE TO BE UNVEILED IN JERUSALEM NATIONAL PARK. "The Ophel constituted an area of transition between the secular and the sacred, and the sacred and the secular." (DANIEL K. EISENBUD, Jerusalem Post).
A pathway between two 2,000-yearold ritual baths (mikvaot) once used by pilgrims to purify themselves before ascending the Temple Mount will be inaugurated at the historic Ophel site in the Davidson Center Archeological Park on Thursday.

Located by the walls of Jerusalem National Park, the Antiquities Authority said on Sunday the “mikve path,” which it described as “experimental, circular and modular,” was constructed and conserved with the help of donations from Australian entrepreneur Kevin Bermeister.

“The path has been highlighted and, in that way, it can be better understood within the historical and archeological complexity of the Ophel site, which was continuously inhabited from the Iron Age to the Crusader period,” the authority said in a statement.


Benefiel and Keegan (eds.), Inscriptions in the Private Sphere in the Greco-Roman World

Rebecca Benefiel, Peter Keegan (ed.), Inscriptions in the Private Sphere in the Greco-Roman World. Brill studies in Greek and Roman epigraphy, 7. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2016. Pp. xviii, 284. ISBN 9789004307117. $135.00.

Reviewed by Claire Holleran, The University of Exeter (

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This exciting new volume has its origins in a panel held at the 2012 Epigraphic Congress in Berlin and contains twelve wide- ranging papers closely focused on the central theme of epigraphy in the private sphere. Such inscriptions are often relegated to the sidelines of scholarship in favour of publicly-inscribed monuments and funerary markers, yet as this volume clearly demonstrates, writing was also very much a part of the private realm in the Greco-Roman world. This writing encompassed a variety of media, some of which tend to be fragile and prone to destruction, such as inscribed graffiti and charcoal writing on walls, while others, including stone inscriptions on statue bases and bronze plaques recording official honours and decrees, are more robust. The volume approaches such writing as a cross-cultural phenomenon and the different media are discussed in a series of chapters which range from Classical Attica to the Late Antique Levant, although a number of papers understandably focus on the Vesuvian sites. The admirably broad chronological and geographical coverage of the papers is reflected in the authors themselves, who are based in Europe, the US, and Australia, and are at a variety of career stages. Given the constraints of space, this review will not provide a detailed description of each chapter (a full list of authors and titles can be found at the end), but will focus instead on two key themes of the volume: definitions of public and private space, and the nature of ancient graffiti.

The volume includes discussions of inscriptions from Dura Europos (on which more here and many links) and Pompeii (on which more here [cf. here and here] and many links)

Nonsense on the Copper Scroll from the AP?

ANOTHER ARK OF THE COVENANT STORY: Lawton resident continues search for Copper Scroll (KALEY PATTERSON , AP). I am very surprised, and indeed have difficulty believing, that the Associated Press would publish this article.

The first paragraphs have a great many errors: the Copper Scroll dates to the first or second century CE, not the sixth century BCE; it's not clear that it is about the Temple treasures, but if it is, they are the treasures of Herod's Temple, not Solomon's; there are 64 locations mentioned in the Copper Scroll, not 57; no authors are mentioned in the Copper Scroll, certainly not Haggai or Jeremiah; there is no mention of the specified Temple/Tabernacle treasures in the last location of the Copper Scroll; any connection with the story in 2 Maccabees is wildly speculative; and, to be specific, there is no mention of the breastplate of the high priest, the altar, or the Ark of the Covenant in the Copper Scroll.

It rather sounds as though someone has been reading the legends in The Treatise of the Vessels and has confused some of its contents with the Copper Scroll.

The article also reports many claims about prominent named Israeli individuals. Notice, however, that it makes no claim that those individuals have verified the stories. At least one of them, Yuval Peleg, is no longer living. It gives us no reason to think that the author of the article has interviewed any of the living people to confirm the claims.

The story of Mr. Barfield's supposed discoveries sounds wildly fanciful to me. The author of the article has not interviewed any specialists in ancient Judaism or the archaeology of ancient Israel for evaluations of the claims. As usual with these things, I will believe exactly as much of it as is verified by Mr Barfield producing some actual ancient artifacts, such as vessels of silver and gold; gems; and, ideally, the high priest's ephod and breastplate, and, of course, the Ark of the Covenant. And once the produced objects are authenticated by real archaeologists and other specialists, preferably in peer-review publications.

This article is published in the Washington Times, apparently on the basis of another article published in The Lawton Constitution in Southwest Oklahoma. The latter article, if it is still there, is behind a subscription wall. I would have ignored the Washington Times article if it were not given an AP byline. Someone please tell me that the article is not really connected with the AP. If the attribution is correct, I shall have to rethink my assumption that AP articles can at least be relied on to do basic fact checking.

As I was finishing this blog post, I checked my own archive and was reminded of Robert Cargill's refutation of Mr. Barfield's claims back in 2009. You can read the details there.

The real story this time around is that the AP has endorsed the current very problematical article published in the Washington Times — if that is in fact what has happened.

For past PaleoJudaica posts on the Copper Scroll, start here (cf. here) and follow the many links.

Ben Sira

READING ACTS: The Failure of Sirach. I thinks one could debate the extent to which Sirach's efforts were a failure. And do 4 Maccabees and the Zealots really belong together in a class of movements? But you can read the post and make up your own minds.

Past posts in Phil Long's series on the Second Temple Period are noted here and links.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

A new dig at Masada

EXCAVATION: Archaeologists get set to dig at Masada, after 11-year hiatus. Tel Aviv University Team will excavate rebel dwellings, Herod’s gardens in month-long expedition at UNESCO heritage site (Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel).
For the first time in over a decade, archaeologists are commencing new excavations atop Masada, studying previously untouched areas of the legendary desert mountain fortress, including the residences of Jewish rebels who met their doom in 74 CE.

A Tel Aviv University team, headed by Roman-period archaeologist Guy Stiebel, will conduct a month-long excavation at the UNESCO World Heritage Site starting on February 5. It will be the university’s first expedition at the site, and the first expedition overall there since 2006.

They start digging today. I hope they find lots of nice things, including more scrolls.

I noted the plan to return to Masada back in November. There are a great many past PaleoJudaica posts on Masada, its archaeology, the story of its fall to the Romans, and the various artistic and other endeavors it has inspired. Check the blog search engine for a full listing, but you can find a number of posts here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and links

Oqimta 3 (2015)

H-JUDAIC: TOC Oqimta 3 - A Journal for Rabbinic Studies. The articles in this volume are in Hebrew with English abstracts and are available online for free.

Earlier volumes have been noted here and here.

Study of the DSS in Jordan

THE JORDAN TIMES: Bringing Dead Sea Scrolls to life (Saeb Rawashdeh).
AMMAN — For those who first fell upon a number of ancient scrolls inside a West Bank cave in 1947, the magnitude of their discovery was slow to reveal itself.

Eventually catching the attention of a biblical scholar and archaeologist, the newly-unearthed documents would “later [be] described as ‘The most important discovery of the 20th century’,” Omar Ghul, an epigrapher from Yarmouk University, explained.
The article goes on to discuss the contents of the Scrolls and the history of their discovery and early study of them. The latter part could benefit from some nuancing and filling out, but the main thing of interest in the article is what it says about the study of the Scrolls currently in Jordan and the Arab world:
While the scrolls have drawn immense attention from both the scholarly world and the public, they have not received enough attention from Arab intellectuals, Ghul said.

An exception is the Jordanian Dead Sea Scrolls Project, which has established a library on the scrolls and has published six books.

The project has given more than 200 talks on the scrolls, delivered mainly at schools by graduate students from Jordanian universities, the scholar highlighted.

While the project has had successes, such as revising school curricula to cover the issue, “the main challenge” that faces Arab involvement in studying the scrolls is “the lack of qualified human resources”, according to Ghul.

In order to study the scrolls, one needs to know the languages in which they were written and the contemporary religious texts, with their cultural and historical background, alongside several other tools of textual investigation.

“Building these capacities should be the main focus of those concerned with pursuing the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls in Jordan and Palestine,” he said.

“This task has been partly fulfilled for years now by the Department of Epigraphy at Yarmouk University, in which graduate students are provided with the basic knowledge they need to get involved in this interesting and challenging academic field.”
This sounds all to the good. I noted an Arabic translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls by the Jordanian Dead Scrolls Project and Yarmouk University back in 2009. And I noted a recent interview with Professor Ghul about Jordanian inscriptions here.

Diaspora Hellenisim

READING ACTS: Hellenization and the Jewish Diaspora.
This struggle to maintain cultural boundaries against the overwhelming force of Hellenism is the “plot” of most of the Second Temple Period.
Past posts in Phil Long's series on the Second Temple Period are noted here and links.

The Apocalypse of Peter

NEW TESTAMENT APOCRYPHA WATCH: When Scripture Becomes Heretical (Eric Beck, CSCO Blog). Excerpt:
The only explicit reason given for excluding the Apocalypse of Peter from the canon is that it was not actually written by the apostle Peter. We have no record of any theological objections to the text’s inclusion in the canon in the early church. As such, it would appear the Apocalypse of Peter was considered orthodox until it was no longer canonical for the majority of Christian communities. It was thus only after the majority deemed the text non-canonical that the universalism within it was further classified as heretical.
I noted the publication of a new edition of the Apocalypse of Peter by Thomas J. Kras and Tobias Nicklas here back in 2004.

It is a little confusing that there are actually two Apocalypses of Peter. The Apocalypse of Peter that is the subject of this article is a second-century work preserved in somewhat different Greek and Ethiopic recensions. There is also a Coptic Apocalypse of Peter preserved in the Nag Hammadi Library. They are completely independent works.