Saturday, April 29, 2017

Ancient Mesopotamian beer

THE ASOR BLOG: Potent Potables of the Past: Beer and Brewing in Mesopotamia (Tate Paulette and Michael Fisher).
In ancient Mesopotamia, people knew how to appreciate a good beer. They appreciated their beer often and often in large quantities. They sang songs and wrote poetry about beer. Sometimes they got drunk and threw caution to the wind.

Beer was a gift from the gods, a marker of civilization, a dietary staple, a social lubricant, and a ritual necessity. It was produced on a massive scale and was consumed on a daily basis by people across the socio-economic spectrum. It was indeed “liquid bread,” a fundamental source of sustenance. But what gave beer its distinctive power and appeal was its inebriating effects.

I know what you're wondering. The answer is yes:
There have been a number of efforts to recreate Mesopotamian beer. In the late 1980s, for example, the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute teamed up with Anchor Brewing Company to brew a beer called “Ninkasi,” inspired by the Hymn to Ninkasi but brewed using modern equipment. More recently, the excavators of Tell Bazi have used replica ceramic vessels to recreate the beers once brewed at the site. Since 2012, we have also been involved in a collaborative brewing effort, joining the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago with Great Lakes Brewing Company in Cleveland, Ohio. Drawing on written and archaeological evidence, we have done our best to employ authentic ingredients, equipment, and techniques – resulting in a beer that we call “Enkibru,” always tasted alongside “Gilgamash,” a companion beer brewed with the same ingredients but modern brewing equipment.
Be on the lookout for these at your local craft beer place. Maybe. Who knows?

For other attempts to resurrect ancient Near Eastern and ancient Israelite beers, see here and links. And for similar efforts to reconstruct ancient Israelite wine, see here and links. Cross-file under Technology Watch.

More ancient economics from AJR

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Pliny’s Prices: Signs of Economic Thought in the Early Empire (David B. Hollander).
Taken together, Pliny the Elder’s comments suggest a relatively sophisticated understanding of price formation. Historians have been reluctant to attribute much in the way of ‘economic thought’ to the Romans, but Pliny betrays distinct signs of at least “proto-economic thinking.” Although today the best-known Roman economic policy is probably the shortsighted debasement of Imperial silver coinage, the Natural History suggests that at least some elite Romans had a good sense of how the market functioned.
Pliny the Elder's Natural History also preserves the only ancient description of the Essenes by a gentile. See, for example, here. Pliny died during a daring attempt to rescue his friends from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE.

Past essays in this series were noted here and here.

Review of Biblical Aramaic: A Reader & Handbook

THE ARAMAIC STUDIES TODAY BLOG: A New Tool for Teaching and Studying Biblical Aramaic (Steve Kaufmann).
A review of Biblical Aramaic: A Reader & Handbook, Hendrickson, 2016, described by the publisher as “an essential tool for everyone who wants to read the Aramaic portions of the Bible with ease, understanding, and enjoyment.”

Cross-file under Aramaic Watch.

The temple and the wall in Ezra-Nehemiah

The Art of Negotiation in Ezra–Nehemiah

Yet it is ethically problematic to turn a blind eye to, or excuse, the exclusion or expulsion of local persons and family members simply because Ezra or Nehemiah declare them to be a threat. Rather than accepting the authors’ perspectives wholesale, we might begin by asking what the ancient writers were trying to say and why.

See Also: Negotiating Power in Ezra-Nehemiah (SBL Press, 2016).

By Donna J. Laird
Adjunct, Ashland Theological Seminary
April 2017
I noted the publication of the book here and here.

Grad Conference on Talmud and Philosophy at Yale

TOMORROW: Talmud & Philosophy Grad Conference (Yale) This link leads to a flyer with the schedule at the Jewish Philosophy Place Blog. The call for papers from last year has further details. The full title is "Talmud and Philosophy Between Athens and Pumpeditha."

Friday, April 28, 2017

More on the latest (?) "ancient" Torah from Turkey

AND THE JERUSALEM POST YAWNS: 1,500-YEAR-OLD TORAH RECOVERED FROM TURKISH SMUGGLERS. In addition to the Torah, many other historical artifacts belonging to the Hellenistic and Seljuq periods, including statues, stone rubbings, jewelry, and coins were recovered (Daniel K. Eisenbud et al., Jerusalem Post).
An ancient Torah estimated to be 1,500-years-old was seized from smugglers in Ayvalik, a western resort town in Turkey, the Anadolu news agency reported on Tuesday.

In addition to the Torah, many other historical artifacts belonging to the Hellenistic and Seljuq dynasty periods, including statues, stone rubbings, jewelry, and 200 ancient bronze and silver coins were recovered.

Turkish law enforcement detained two suspects and later released them on probation, and believe the smugglers brought the artifacts from Istanbul and Bingol, an eastern Turkish province.

The Torah, inscribed on leather, was handed over with the other artifacts to the Balikesir Museum Directorship.

I assume that this is the same "gold-plated" ancient Torah that was reported by Turkish media earlier this week (see here). Or maybe it's another one. There's no mention of gold-plating on this one and no date was specified for that one. But it would be a bit rich if there were two in one week.

In any case, I'm calling Bullgeschichte. I don't doubt that the Turkish police have seized some antiquities from smugglers, and well done to them for doing so. And there may well have been a Torah scroll among them, but I don't believe it was 1,500 years old. That would be the oldest complete Torah scroll in existence by many centuries. The oldest ones verified so far are in the range of 700 to 800 years old (see here and here). The oldest complete Torah manuscript is the Leningrad Codex (a little after 1000 CE) and the oldest substantially preserved but incomplete one is the famed Aleppo Codex (c. 930 CE). For more on both, see here and links.

If this scroll were actually 1,500 years old, i.e., from c. 500 CE, it would be a monumental discovery not much less significant than the recovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This would be true even if it were badly damaged but still recognizable as a scroll. But the reports just say this is a leather scroll and give no indication it is damaged. And there is still no photograph. Yes, the Jerusalem Post article has a photo, but the caption explains that it is of a different, much more recent scroll. Always read the fine print.

Sadly, the probability of a 1,500-year-old leather Torah scroll surviving relatively unscathed to the present is pretty close to zero. Now, yes, it is possible that some smugglers found such a scroll in Turkey in a jar in a cave or something and the police caught them and we won the lottery. But given the track record of reports coming out of Turkey about massively significant biblical antiquities finds, that's not the way to bet.

The really disappointing thing about this Jerusalem Post report is its ho-hum attitude, as though there's nothing particularly significant about the claim of the recovery of a Torah scroll from 500 CE. That indicates that the writers have no sense of the field or what counts as an extraordinary claim. And no biblical scholar was consulted to comment on the story. How much effort would a phone call or two have taken? Daniel K. Eisenbud normally does good reporting on stories about antiquities, but I'm not impressed this time.

As always, no one would be more delighted than I to learn that my skepticism this time was unwarranted. If a real 1,500-year-old Torah Scroll has really just been discovered in Turkey, then let's have photographs and let's set scholars loose on it. Bring it on. But I shall be very surprised indeed if that's where this story goes.

Past posts on dubious reports of biblically-related antiquities finds in Turkey have been collected in the previous post on (I assume) this one here.

Lim, When Texts Are Canonized

When Texts Are Canonized (Brown Judaic Studies) Paperback – May 5, 2017 by Timothy H. Lim (Author [i.e. Editor])

How did canonization take place, and what difference does it make?

Essays in this collection probe the canonical process: Why were certain books, but not others, included in the canon? What criteria were used to select the books of the canon? Was canonization a divine fiat or human act? What was the nature of the authority of the laws and narratives of the Torah? How did prophecy come to be included in the canon? Others reflect on the consequences of canonization: What are the effects in elevating certain writings to the status of 'Holy Scriptures'? What happens when a text is included in an official list? What theological and hermeneutical questions are at stake in the fact of the canon? Should the canon be unsealed or reopened to include other writings?


• Essays that contribute to our understanding of the complex processes of canonization
• Exploration of early concepts of canonicity
• Discussion of reopening the New Testament canon
The release date is 5 May, but Professor Lim reports on Facebook that he has already received an advance copy.

Coloring the Arch of Titus

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: The Arch of Titus’s Menorah Panel in Color. A glimpse of what ancient Rome looked like (Megan Sauter).
Today the Arch of Titus appears colorless, but how did this monument look in ancient Rome?

Using technology, an international team of scholars has digitally restored a panel from the Arch of Titus to its original color—offering us a glimpse of what ancient Rome looked like. Steven Fine of Yeshiva University, Peter J. Schertz of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and Donald H. Sanders of the Institute for the Visualization of History detail their restoration efforts in the article “True Colors: Digital Reconstruction Restores Original Brilliance to the Arch of Titus,” published in the May/June 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
As usual, this article is behind the subscription wall. But you can get a good idea of its contents from this brief BHD essay. Aside from the yellow of the menorah, the coloring is educated guesswork.

There have been many, many past PaleoJudaica posts on the Arch of Titus. This one noted the announcement of the discovery of the yellow pigment back in 2012. I have posted some of my own photos of the Arch of Titus here. Some other recent posts are collected here and here, and follow the links. You can find more by running "Arch of Titus" through the blog search engine.

Review of Bockmuehl, Ancient Apocryphal Gospels

Bockmuehl, Markus. Ancient Apocryphal Gospels. Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 2017.

I am typically leery of studies of Christian apocrypha that come from conservative or Evangelical perspectives (I have written about such works in SBL Forum and her eon this blog). Scholars with faith commitments typically do not treat the texts objectively and sympathetically as expressions of Christian belief that are equally as valid as canonical texts; they frequently disparage the contents of apocryphal texts and spend much of their time lauding and defending the canonical texts against some perceived liberal-scholar pro-apocrypha bogeyman. But I was pleasantly surprised by Bockmuehl’s introduction. Granted, it is not empty of conservative rhetoric (the series is subtitled “Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church” after all), but the book is nevertheless a worthy and up-to-the-minute survey of the texts that draws upon and points readers toward a deep base of Christian apocrypha scholarship.

Past posts on this book are here and here.

The watchers and their women in art

REMNANT OF GIANTS BLOG: Foetal Dystocia resulting from Watcher-Human Sex: Eric Ondina’s Art (Deane Galbraith).
In a piece entitled “Fall of the Watchers”, artist Eric Ondina has managed to capture an aspect of the myth of sex between Watcher angels and human women that usually gets glossed over in renditions of the story.


Cross-file under Contemporary Art. Some recent PaleoJudaica posts dealing with the legend of the watchers are here, here, here, and here.

NSEA panel at 2017 ESSWE conference

CONFERENCE NOTICE: NSEA PANELS AT THE 6TH INTERNATIONAL ESSWE CONFERENCE (Sarah L. Veale at the Network for the Study of Esotericism in Antiquity Blog).
The preliminary schedule for the 6th International ESSWE Conference in Erfurt is out. We are happy to report that the Network for the Study of Esotericism in Antiquity has two panels scheduled, both on the first day of the conference (Thursday, June 1st).

For your convenience, the NSEA panel schedule is below.

The NSEA hopes to see you in Erfurt!
Esotericists seem to like long acronyms. NSEA is as above. ESSWE stands for the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism. This looks like a good panel.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Discoveries at Caesarea

ARCHAEOLOGY: Unique mother-of-pearl menorah etching found in ancient Caesarea. Tablet decorated with candelabrum, likely part of a box for a Torah scroll, uncovered in ancient Roman temple; dates to circa 4th-5th century (Ilan Ben Zion with Stuart Winer, Times of Israel).
A 1,500-year-old mother-of-pearl tablet inscribed with a six-branched menorah, which was likely part of a box housing a Torah scroll, was recently found at the ancient Roman city of Caesarea, on Israel’s coast, archaeologists announced Wednesday.

The artifact, the first of its kind made of the precious material bearing Jewish iconography, was among an assortment of discoveries made by the Israel Antiquities Authority amid new excavations carried out as part of the restoration of the ancient port. It was found close to a Roman-era temple dedicated to Augustus Caesar that was constructed by King Herod in the first century BCE, but dates to the fourth or fifth centuries CE.

The find was made just a few days before the Jewish festival of Passover, which began on April 10, said Israel Antiques Authority archaeologist Peter Gendelman.

A fragment of a Greek inscription was also found.

Other articles are also reporting that the excavation found the head of a Roman-era figurine of the healing-god Asclepius. An article by Nir Hasson in Haaretz has good photos of all three artifacts: Archaeologists Uncover Ancient Entrance to Caesarea in Israel. 'Herod’s megalomaniac spirit hovers over Caesarea': Discoveries lend credence to the Roman historian Josephus’ the 'Wars of the Jews.'. Hasson's article reports that some of the ruins may be of a temple of Augustus mentioned by Josephus:
The Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus wrote of a temple atop a hill above the harbor. The temple, devoted to the emperor Augustus and the goddess Roma, did not survive the ages. As with many sacred compounds elsewhere, a Byzantine church was built on the same grounds, then another temple and finally, a Crusader church. But recent excavations found the base of a large altar that stood close to the entrance.

“Josephus relates how the Romans who conquered Jerusalem planted their banners [the flags of the victorious legions] across from the gate, followed by offering a sacrifice. This could be a similar arrangement,” says Dr. Peter Gandelman, who heads the dig along with archaeologist Mohammed Khater.

Most beautiful

In his book “Wars of the Jews," Josephus waxes prolix on the wonders of the Caesarea temple: “On a hilltop across from the entrance to the harbor was Caesar’s temple, prominent in its size and beauty. It contained a gigantic statue of Augustus which was no less magnificent than the statue of Zeus in Olympia, on which it was modeled. There was also a statue of Roma, equal in beauty to the statue of Hera in Argos,” he wrote.
If the Haaretz article has gone behind the subscription wall, you can also find good photos with an AFP article in the Daily Mail: Israeli archaeologists find altar dedicated to Augustus Caesar and mother-of-pearl tablet inscribed with a menorah at Mediterranean port.

A week ago I noted the announcement of a NIS 100 million project to renovate the ancient Caesarea harbor. That post also collects some links to recent past posts on the archaeology of Caesarea.

Tsiyyonut and tsiyyon

YONA SABAR: Hebrew Word of the Week: tsiyyonut "Zionism." This word is a modern coinage, but this column has some interesting philological background on the the biblical word tsiyyon, Zion, on which it is based.

Postnatal purification in Leviticus etc.

DR. RABBI ZEV FARBER: The Parturient’s “Days of Purity”: From Torah to Halacha (
In reference to the parturient, the Torah speaks of a 33 or 66 day period of דמי טהרה “blood of her purity” as distinguished from a 7 or 14 day period “like menstruation.” What is the difference between these two periods according to Leviticus and how did later groups such as rabbinic Jews, Karaites, Samaritans, and Beta Israel understand it?

Hatra retaken from ISIS

THE MOSUL CAMPAIGN CONTINUES: Iraqi forces seize ancient site of Hatra from IS. Full extent of terror group’s damage to well-preserved ruins at UNESCO world heritage site unclear (AHMAD AL-RUBAYE, AFP). Hatra was an important Aramaic-speaking city on the Silk Road in late antiquity. The archaeological site was bulldozed by ISIS in March of 2015.

Past posts on Hatra since it was captured by ISIS in 2014 are here, here, here, here, and here. Some past posts pertaining to the Mosul Campaign are collected here (cf. here).

Albert Henrichs 1942-2017

SAD NEWS: Albert Henrichs, professor of Greek literature, dies at 74. Classical scholar was known for his edition of Manichaeism tract (Kathleen M. Coleman, The Harvard Gazette).
Henrichs’ most stunning coup was his discovery of a minuscule 192-page book, written in Greek in the fifth century A.D. Henrichs had carried the text — four lumps of ancient leather ― in a cigar box from Cologne to Vienna, where an expert conservator gradually unpeeled what turned out to be a sensation for the history of religion: a detailed tract about Manichaeism, a rival of Christianity, founded in Mesopotamia in the third century by a young mystic called Mani, whose autobiographical account of his divine revelations is quoted in the text.

Henrichs was just 26. His subsequent publication of the codex with the papyrologist Ludwig Koenen established his reputation as a Wunderkind of classical scholarship.
Requiescat in pace.

A couple of past posts pertaining to the Cologne Mani Codex are here and here. Cross-file under Manichean Watch (Manichaean Watch).

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Review of Stronk, Semiramis' Legacy

Jan P. Stronk, Semiramis' Legacy: The History of Persia according to Diodorus of Sicily. Edinburgh studies in ancient Persia. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016. Pp. 552. ISBN 9781474414258. £120.00​.

Reviewed by Christopher Tuplin, University of Liverpool (

This book consists of annotated translation of 178 non-contiguous sections of Diodorus I-XL, four discursive chapters, bibliography, and indexes of classical sources, modern authors and general themes. The Diodorus sections are those that deal with what Stronk defines as “Persian history”.

After general remarks about Diodorus’ enterprise and a useful description of salient MS traditions, the bulk of the introduction is devoted to sources. Stronk is a source-maximizer, arguing that Diodorus produced his text by a process involving more than one principal source per book, several secondary sources, personal additions and the imposition of stylistic unity: he was not Stylianou’s “epitomator [who] would always seek to simplify his task”. The impression created is a far cry from e.g. the view that non-Sicilian bits of XI-XV are essentially Ephorus.1 But how far a genuinely alternative view of Diodorus as weaver of multiple sources can be demonstrated remains moot: with only 55 pages, Stronk does not have space to show much working or offer many proofs. The survey is a valuable starting point for those wishing to pursue the topic and the recent scholarship, but it functions less as a framework for annotation of the translation than as an ostensive demonstration of Stronk’s vision of Diodorus’ intellectual enterprise. It is an intellectual enterprise for which Stronk has some respect. As in his work on Ctesias, Stronk is dealing with an author whom he considers to have an unjustifiably low reputation. It is certainly true that no other single Greek work contains such a wide range of Persian history, and there is merit in having this brought home by presentation of the material between the covers of a single book.

I noted the publication of the book in 2016 here and an essay by Dr. Stronk on his work here. Past PaleoJudaica posts on Diodorus are collected in the latter post.

Leprosy in P and in Mesopotamian rites

DR. YITZHAQ FEDER: Tzaraat in Light of Its Mesopotamian Parallels (
Notwithstanding its lengthy coverage of tzaraat (צרעת, biblical “leprosy”), why does the Torah omit discussion of its cause (sin?), its infectiousness, and its treatment? Comparison to the Mesopotamian rituals pertaining to a strikingly similar disease (Saḫaršubbû) shows that these omissions were far from accidental.

Galley slaves and Leviathans in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: WHEN YOU BUY A COW (OR A BOAT) WHAT DO YOU GET FROM THE SELLER? WHEN IS IT YOURS? AND WHAT REALLY IS A COW ANYWAY? This week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ Talmud study goes straight to the essence of the matter. Plus, ‘fish tales’ and 750-mile-high waves.
Before Pesach, Daf Yomi readers were exploring the rules governing real estate transactions in Tractate Bava Batra, such as what exactly is included when you purchase a field or a house. During the holiday, Daf Yomi readers began Chapter Five, which applies the same sort of inquiry to various types of movable property. To avoid the kind of ambiguity that can give rise to litigation, the rabbis dictate exactly what the buyer is entitled to receive when he purchases items ranging from a ship to the head of a cow. They go on to explain what action the buyer must take to officially gain possession of the item—a process known as “pulling.”

The Talmud says that the sale of a ship does not include the galley slaves. As I have remarked before, the world of the ancients took for granted a level of cruelty and brutality that we can scarcely imagine today.

The passage also includes some entertaining tall tales:
The chief dish in this heavenly feast will be the flesh of Leviathan, the biblical sea creature around which Judaism developed a whole mythology. Rav explains that when God first created the earth, He made a male and a female leviathan, but He realized that if beasts of such enormous size reproduced, “they would have destroyed the entire world.” To prevent this, “He castrated the male and killed the female, and salted her for the righteous in the future.” This kind of folk belief is very different from what most American Jews learn as Judaism today. In our reformed, rationalized faith, there is no room for heavenly banquets on giant sea-monsters. And the proximity of these ostensibly religious tales to outright absurdities, like the one about the 750-mile-high wave, does not exactly inspire confidence. One of the most fascinating things about the Talmud, I have found in my Daf Yomi reading, is the way the same rabbinic minds can embrace both the most rigorous logic and the most florid fantasies.
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

3rd edition of Sokoloff's Dictionary of Jewish Palestinian Aramaic

THE ARAMAIC STUDIES TODAY BLOG: A New Edition of DJPA (Steve Kaufmann).
Just a brief note to alert readers to the appearance of a “Third Revised and Expanded Edition” of Sokoloff’s A Dictionary of Jewish Palestinian Aramaic by Bar-Ilan University Press, Ramat Gan, 2017.

Cross-file under Aramaic Watch.

Looting arrest near Nablus

APPREHENDED: Police uncover antiquities trove in West Bank bust. Palestinian suspect arrested; artifacts confiscated include Hellenistic and Roman-era coins, jewelry and ceramics (Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel).
A Palestinian man suspected of smuggling hundreds of antiquities was arrested early Tuesday morning by Israeli police in a village outside Nablus in the West Bank.

A police spokesman said officers working in cooperation with the Civil Administration’s archaeological unit searched the suspect’s house in Hawara and found a trove of antiquities mostly dating to the Hellenistic, Second Temple and Roman periods “estimated to be worth thousands of dollars.”

Among the antiquities were “hundreds of coins from various historical periods, jewelry and pottery,” police said.

This happens a lot. Reports of looting arrests so far in Israel and the West Bank in 2017 have been noted here, here, here, and here. As I've said before, these are just the arrests. Presumably most looters get away with it most of the time, which means that the full scale of the looting is probably considerably larger.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Perrin on apocalyses and Aramaic in the DSS

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: The Inception and Idiom of the Apocalypse in the Qumran Aramaic Texts (Andrew Perrin).

Over the years scholars have increasingly noted that the preponderance of ancient Jewish apocalyptic literature was penned in Aramaic, not Hebrew. Statements of this nature are found as early as the 1979 Uppsala conference and as recently as the 2012 Nangeroni meeting of the Enoch Seminar. In view of this, the Aramaic texts that have been the subject of this forum provide a new space to explore how ancient Jewish writers at once contributed to the development of the apocalypse and deployed it to advance ideas on a host of topics ranging from history and empire, to temple and priesthood, to identity and otherness, to name but a few. While research on the Qumran Aramaic texts has only recently come to the fore in Dead Sea Scrolls studies, there are at least four items within these materials that illumine the formation and background of ancient Jewish apocalyptic literature. These are outlined here with select examples in order to point the way forward for future conversations on the intersection of apocalypses and Aramaic in the Qumran library.

For more on this topic, see Dr. Perrin's book, The Dynamics of Dream-Vision Revelation in the Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015), on which more here, here, and here.

AJR continues to publish its essays for Aramaic month apace. Earlier essays in the AJR series on the Dead Sea Scrolls (in honor of the 70th anniversary of their discovery) are noted here and here and links.

Review of Kaizer (ed.), Religion, Society and Culture at Dura-Europos

Ted Kaizer (ed.), Religion, Society and Culture at Dura-Europos. Yale classical studies, 38. Cambridge; New York: Pp. xxii, 310. ISBN 9781107123793. $99.99.

Reviewed by Graeme Clarke, Australian National University (

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

This handsomely produced and richly indexed set of essays originated from a colloquium held at Durham University in 2008. Its focus is on aspects of life in the small town of Dura-Europos on the west bank of the Middle Euphrates on the fringes of the Roman Empire, especially during its last century of occupation as a Roman fortress town before its destruction in the course of the 250s CE, the period from which we have the best evidence. Its first two centuries of life as a Greek town are unfortunately largely lost as foundation debris and one chapter only deals specifically with life at Dura-Europos for the long period when it was effectively under nominal Parthian control (c.100 BCE – 165 CE): “Dura-Europos: A Greek Town of the Parthian Empire,” by Leonardo Gregoratti. Even so, there are problems enough in trying to delineate a society which was so culturally diverse, literate in a wide range of languages and dialects (but with Greek dominating), and devoted to an astonishing array of divinities, including a community of (not strictly orthodox?) Jews and a conventiculum of Christians. Border-town Dura-Europos may have been, but its destruction enables us to recover, as nowhere else, the rich texture of multi-cultural life on the periphery of the high Roman Empire.

The ancient Jewish community at Dura Europos receives attention, as does the remnants of ancient Palmyrene Aramaic there. Background on Dura Europos is here with many links. Background on Palmyra and Palmyrene is here with many links.

53 biblical persons mentioned in inscriptions

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: 53 People in the Bible Confirmed Archaeologically. A web-exclusive supplement to Lawrence Mykytiuk's BAR articles identifying real Hebrew Bible people. I noted the 2014 version of this article here. Follow the link there for more on Professor Mykytiuk's work on ancient Northwest Semitic inscriptions and the Hebrew Bible. This updated version of the article adds three new confirmed names to the list. But it does not specific which three are the new names.

"Discarded History" opens this week

EXHIBITION: Genizah treasures to go on exhibit (posted by San Diego Jewish World).
CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND (Press Release)– Treasures from the world’s largest and most important collection of medieval Jewish manuscripts – chronicling 1,000 years of history in Old Cairo – will go on display in Cambridge this week for a six-month-long exhibition at Cambridge University Library.

Discarded History: The Genizah of Medieval Cairo opens to the public on April 27 and provides a unique and unparalleled window into the daily life of men, women and children at the centre of a thriving city over the course of a millennium.

From the 9th to the 19th century, the Jewish community of Fustat (Old Cairo) deposited more than 200,000 unwanted writings in a purpose-built storeroom in the Ben Ezra synagogue. This sacred storeroom was called the Genizah. A Genizah was a safe place to store away any old or unusable text that, because it contained the name of God, was considered too holy to simply throw out.

But when the room was opened in the late 19th century, alongside the expected Bibles, prayer books and works of Jewish law – scholars discovered the documents and detritus of everyday life: shopping lists, marriage contracts, divorce deeds, a 1,000-year-old page of child’s doodles and alphabets, Arabic fables, works of Muslim philosophy, medical books, magical amulets, business letters and accounts. Practically every kind of written text produced by the Jewish communities of the Near East throughout the Middle Ages had been preserved in that sacred storeroom.


Dr Ben Outhwaite, Head of the Genizah Research Unit and co-curator of the exhibition, said: “This colossal haul of writings reveals an intimate portrait of life in a Jewish community that was international in outlook, multicultural in make-up and devout to its core; a community concerned with the very things to which humanity has looked for much of its existence: love, sex and marriage, money and business, and ultimately death.

“The Genizah collection is undeniably one of the greatest treasures among the world-class collections at Cambridge University Library. We have translated most of these texts into English for the first time – and most are also going on display for the first time, too. With Discarded History we hope to make this medieval society accessible and recognisable to a modern audience.”

The Cairo Geniza is important also for the study of late antique Judaism, with lots of early fragments of rabbinic texts and piyyutim (liturgical poetry) etc. It also preserves many fragments of early versions of the mystical texts in the Hekhalot literature. Likewise, fragments of late antique and medieval Jewish magical literature. It even contains a few fragments of Second Temple-era Jewish texts, such as the Damascus Document, Ben Sira, and Aramaic Levi.

I noted the upcoming exhibition here last December, with links to older posts on the Cairo Geniza (of which there are many). More recent posts on the Geniza are here, here, here, here, here, and here. The website of the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit at Cambridge University is here.

Erbil update

STILL THERE: As War Destroys Ancient Iraq, Erbil Works to Rebuild Citadel (Ulf Laessing, Reuters).
Erbil, Iraq: High on a rocky outcrop, just 50 miles from the fighting that is wrecking historic sites across Iraq, workers are busy laying out floor tiles, determined to save at least one ancient structure amidst the turmoil.

The team is rebuilding the last remains of the fortified citadel in the Iraqi-Kurdish capital of Erbil, constructed on top of the world’s longest continuously-occupied site according to UNESCO, parts of it up to 8,000-years-old.

While ISIS sends out suicide bombers and snipers in Mosul to the east, the authorities in Erbil are already looking ahead to the day when they can pull in more visitors.

“We not only want to preserve the citadel but also revive it,” said Dara al-Yaqoobi, head of the project. “Around 14 sites are ready for visits. More will come as this is a long-term plan.”

Although this article does not mention it, Erbil is the site of ancient Adiabene. Queen Helena ruled there and she and her family converted to Judaism in the first century CE. More on Erbil/Adiabene here and links (cf. here and here).

Monday, April 24, 2017

Yom Shoah uMeshoah in Zephaniah

PROF. EHUD BEN ZVI: Memories Evoked by Yom Shoah uMeshoah (
Reading the Book of Zephaniah and remembering a day of desolation and devastation in association with a utopian day to come.
In Israel (etc.) Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, was yesterday (27 Nisan).

The Rephaim as ancient ghosts?

REMNANT OF GIANTS IS BACK after a long spell behind a subscription wall. A new post flags some new information that may be relevant to our understanding of the biblical Rephaim: JoAnn Scurlock: Evidence from Babylon that “Rephaim” refers to the long dead?
I spotted an interesting observation about Rephaim from JoAnn Scurlock, in “Mortal and Immortal Souls, Ghosts and the (Restless) Dead in Ancient Mesopotamia”, Religion Compass 10, no. 4 (2016): 77–82 (79). She is discussing how Ancient Mesopotamians treated the dead.

Past PaleoJudaica posts pertaining to the Rephaim are here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Jack on the resurrection, history, and myth

CSCO EASTER SERIES: The Resurrection: History and Myth (PT. 3).
In this final video of our “Resurrection” series, Dr. Alison Jack discusses the important differences between history and “myth” as it relates to the resurrection.
The earlier videos in the series were noted here and here.

Zealots and Sicarii

READING ACTS: Roots of the Rebellion: Zealots and Sicarii.

A couple of thematically related PaleoJudaica posts are here and here. Past posts in Phil Long's series on the Second Temple Period are noted here and links (cf. here).

Gold-plated Torah worth millions seized in Turkey!!!!!!

HERE WE GO AGAIN: Gold-plated ancient Torah seized by Turkish security forces in anti-smuggling drive (Daily Sabah).
An ancient Torah, estimated to be worth at least $3 million, was recovered in an anti-smuggling drive in southern Turkey's Adana last week, the Interior Ministry announced Monday.

Alongside the gold-plated Torah, which is written on gazelle skin, an ancient decree was also seized in the operation, the ministry said in a statement.

Authorities, however, did not elaborate on the details of the operation or whether they were questioning any of the suspects.

The Torah's place of origin could not be initially determined and it will now be examined by experts to find out when it was actually written.
Yes, yet another supposedly priceless biblical manuscript has turned up in Turkey. It's pretty hard to fathom how the Torah could be both "gold-plated" and "written on gazelle skin." My guess is that "gold plated" is a dodgy translation of some Turkish phrase that refers to gold leaf or gold lettering. If so, the manuscript is probably something like this one. But without a photo, it's hard to tell. Count me skeptical about the gold plating and the reported valuation.

I commend the Turkish police for keeping the pressure up on smugglers, but I wish that the Turkish media would hold back on these breathless announcements. They can at least wait until these supposedly priceless manuscripts are actually examined by the abovementioned experts.
Previously in 2012, police in Adana had confiscated a 1,900-year-old Torah, which was smuggled in from Syria.
Yes, I noted this story here when it came out and there is more on it here. The accounts are very far-fetched and the manuscript has never been authenticated.
Another Torah, believed to be 600-years-old, was confiscated in Istanbul in April 2016, when a suspect tried to sell it to undercover police officers.
I don't recall this story, but I may just have decided that it wasn't interesting enough to mention.

We regularly encounter reports of supposedly ancient and priceless biblical manuscripts being apprehended in Turkey. In addition to the above two stories, see here, here, and here. In each case follow the links for the full story. None of these manuscripts has so far lived up to the extravagant claims made in the announcements.

VR apps for ancient Jerusalem

LEEN RITMYER: Virtual Jerusalem. I have already noted the Lithodomos app here and links. The BYU app is new to me.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Did Jesus use weed?

READING ACTS: Jesus and Cannabis? You will probably not be surprised to hear that the evidence for a connection is extremely weak. And by extremely weak I mean there isn't any. Likewise for Moses and cannabis. But the relationship of the Archangel Metatron to weed is another matter.


YONA SABAR: Hebrew Word of the Week: navi’ “prophet.” Another important biblical word.

Where did boy Jesus hang out with the sages?

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH? Twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple at Passover (Leen Ritmyer).
This Temple Court was separated by the Nicanor Gate from the Court of Women, which lay to the east of the Temple. Buildings, called gates, surrounded this complex. In front of the gates was a terrace (ḥel – pronounced chel with the “ch” sounding guttural as in the Scottish “loch”) of 10 cubits wide, which was reached by a flight of steps of half a cubit high and deep. This terrace bounded the wall of the gate buildings on their southern, western and northern sides.

It is on this ḥel that we get our first glimpse of Jesus after the birth narratives in the Gospels. Scripture is silent about his youth although it is clear from the observations of nature and Biblical history later attributed to him by the Gospel writers that he absorbed every spiritual and historical lesson that was provided by his upbringing in the countryside around Nazareth.
Although there is no doubt that there was an historical Jesus, I do not insist that this particular event actually happened in his life. There is no way to know. The point of the story in Luke 2:41-52 is that even when Jesus was not yet an adult (at age 13), he showed precocious learning and wisdom that impressed even the sages of Jerusalem. But Luke or his source may well have had this spot in mind as the location of the story.

Wilke, Farewell to Shulamit

Wilke, Carsten L.

Farewell to Shulamit
Spatial and Social Diversity in the Song of Songs

Series: Jewish Thought, Philosophy, and Religion 2


Aims and Scope
The Song of Songs, a lyric cycle of love scenes without a narrative plot, has often been considered as the Bible’s most beautiful and enigmatic book. The present study questions the still dominant exegetical convention that merges all of the Song’s voices into the dialogue of a single couple, its composite heroine Shulamit being a projection screen for norms of womanhood. An alternative socio-spatial reading, starting with the Hebrew text’s strophic patterns and its references to historical realia, explores the poem’s artful alternation between courtly, urban, rural, and pastoral scenes with their distinct characters. The literary construction of social difference juxtaposes class-specific patterns of consumption, mobility, emotion, power structures, and gender relations. This new image of the cycle as a detailed poetic frieze of ancient society eventually leads to a precise hypothesis concerning its literary and religious context in the Hellenistic age, as well as its geographical origins in the multiethnic borderland east of the Jordan. In a Jewish echo of anthropological skepticism, the poem emphasizes the plurality and relativity of the human condition while praising the communicative powers of pleasure, fantasy, and multifarious Eros.