Saturday, April 07, 2018

Elgvin, The Literary Growth of the Song of Songs ...

NEW BOOK FROM PEETERS PRESS: The Literary Growth of the Song of Songs during the Hasmonean and Early-Herodian Periods (Contributions to Biblical Exegesis & Theology) (by Torleif Elvgin, 2018).
The author presents a reedition of the Qumran Canticles scrolls, demonstrating that turn-of-the-era 4QCanta,b contain variant recensions of Canticles, substantively shorter than the Masoretic text. Many textual variants display earlier and more original readings, suggesting that Canticles was finalized only around the turn of the era.
The archaeology of post-exilic Judea, Perea, and Jerusalem is brought in dialogue with the texts. The Hasmonean Jewish kingdom, rapidly expanding from 112 B.C.E., is suggested as historical background for the growing collection of love songs, some toponyms only giving meaning in this period. The capital of the new Jewish state allowed more open relations between men and women and stimulated a land romanticism reflected in many songs. In this milieu Jerusalem scribes collected and edited human love songs and coloured them with allusions to biblical texts, thereby inviting a symbolic (double) reading: both on earthly love and the relation between God and his people.
One last one for Passover 2018.

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AGAIN FOR PASSOVER: Enallage in the Bible (Prof. Marc Zvi Brettler,
“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, for your love is better than wine” (Song 1:2). The Song of Songs opens with this sudden shift in person, an ungrammatical syntactic substitution called enallage. How common is this literary device, and why is it used?
For the connection between Passover and the Song of Songs, see here.

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Lundhaug and Jenott (eds.), The Nag Hammadi Codices and Late Antique Egypt

NEW BOOK FROM MOHR SIEBECK: The Nag Hammadi Codices and Late Antique Egypt. Ed. by Hugo Lundhaug and Lance Jenott. [Die Nag Hammadi Kodizes und das spätantike Ägypten.] 2018. XII, 508 pages. Studien und Texte zu Antike und Christentum / Studies and Texts in Antiquity and Christianity 110. 99,00 €. sewn paper. ISBN 978-3-16-153973-2.
Published in English.
This volume showcases the new trend in scholarship to treat the Nag Hammadi Codices as sources for Christianity and monasticism in late antique Egypt rather than for Gnosticism. The essays situate the Nag Hammadi Codices and their texts in the context of late antique Egypt, treating such topics as Coptic readers and readings, the difficulty of dating early Greek and Coptic manuscripts, scribal practices, the importance of heavenly ascent, asceticism, and instruction in Egyptian monastic culture, the relationship of the texts to the Origenist controversy and Manichaeism, the continuity of mythical traditions in later Coptic literature, and issues relating to the codices' production and burial. Most of the essays were originally presented at the conference “The Nag Hammadi Codices in the Context of Fourth- and Fifth-Century Christianity in Egypt,” organized by the ERC-financed project New Contexts for Old Texts: Unorthodox Texts and Monastic Manuscript Culture in Fourth- and Fifth-Century Egypt (NEWCONT), at the University of Oslo in December 2013.
Cross-file under Gnosticism Watch.

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How not to use the Book of Enoch

DEANE GALBRAITH CALL YOUR OFFICE: 17-year-old already at high height, five inches shy of Gentle Giant (Cory Davenport,
CANILLO, ANDORRA – A young man in Andorra is possibly on his way to meeting Robert Wadlow's record as the tallest person ever to have proven to have existed.

Liam Andreu is currently eight and a half feet tall, around five inches short of Wadlow's height of eight feet 11 inches at the time of his death at the age of 22. Andreu, however, is 17 years old. To celebrate his birthday, Andreu wishes to go to Marseilles where a team of French and Swiss specialists will remove an out-of-control tumor situated on his pituitary gland in a fashion nearly identical to the exceedingly-rare conditions required for Wadlow's enormous growth spurt, which lasted nearly his entire life.
Although I'm always happy to see the Book of 1 Enoch get some attention, the particular use of it below is unhelpful, as everyone else recognizes.
Cost of the surgery is estimated to be around $65,000 despite Andorra having progressive public health policies and some of the best hospitals in Europe. [Liam's mother] Emma Andreu said most of the village has come together with portions of their savings to help the young man, including Bishop Simon Bordeaux, who is unsure of the origins of the young man's height.

“They say it's because he has a tumor on his pituitary gland, but I suspect it is something much more, supernatural,” Bordeaux said. “I believe the boy is a descendant of one of the Watchers discussed in the Book of Enoch.”

The Book of Enoch is a non-canonical text attributed to ancient Hebrew mystical texts describing a man named Enoch encountering fallen angels banished to Earth. The descendants of those beings were said to have produced a race of giants, known as “the nephilim.” Among the nephilim is said to be the Philistine warrior, Goliath.
I commend the "Bishop" for contributing to the young man's medical fund, but not for his exegesis of 1 Enoch. I hope Mr. Andreu is able to raise the money he needs for the treatment for his condition.

Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch and Watchers Watch.

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Friday, April 06, 2018

Literal interpretation of the Song of Songs

STILL FOR PASSOVER: Song of Songs: The Emergence of Peshat Interpretation (Dr. Barry Dov Walfish,
The Song of Songs is a collection of love poetry. The Rabbis read it as an allegory of the relationship between God and the Jewish people. Only in the Middle Ages, in Spain and Northern France, did scholars begin to pay attention to the plain (Peshat) meaning of the text. Some went as far as dropping the allegory altogether and treating it as love poetry, as it was originally intended.
If I have this right (it's not my area of expertise) — the Song of Songs is customarily read on the Sabbath that falls during the intermediate days of Passover or, as this year (beginning this evening), on the seventh day of Passover. So some Song of Songs themed items have been coming in.

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Four or five cups of wine?

STILL FOR PASSOVER: Five Cups of Wine at the Seder? (Dr. Menachem Katz,
Talmudic manuscripts reveal the existence of a forgotten, fifth cup of wine at the Passover Seder.

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Apocryphal Resurrection

ONE MORE FOR EASTER: Christ’s Resurrection in the Apocryphal Gospels (Rick Brannan).

Another Easter blog post on the Gospel of Peter was noted here. Cross-file under New Testament Apocrypha Watch.

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James Francis Strange (1938-2018)

SAD NEWS: Epilogue: USF professor was a real life Indiana Jones (Paul Guzzo, Tampa Bay Times).
He was Tampa’s own Indiana Jones.

James Francis Strange never carried a bullwhip, saved damsels in distress or kept the Nazis from acquiring religious relics that could conquer the world.

But like the movie character, he was a biblical archaeologist who wore a dusty brown fedora, worked as a professor when not digging for artifacts, and even discovered an ancient sacred Jewish ark.

Dr. Strange — a religious studies professor at the University of South Florida since 1972 and a former dean of its College of Arts and Letters — died March 23 from complications of cancer. The native Texan was 80 and still teaching at USF.

Requiescat in pace.

Also, still for Passover, The Ancient Near East Today has reprinted a 2014 essay by Professor Strange: Jesus’s Passover. The essay is about how Passover was celebrated at the time of Jesus. It does not address the question of whether Jesus' Last Supper was a Passover Seder. More on that here.

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Thursday, April 05, 2018

A royal tomb at Megiddo from c. 1600 BCE

ARCHAEOLOGY: Untouched for 3,600 years, ‘royal’ tomb may change what we know about Canaanites Located at the crossroads of civilization, a Tel Megiddo burial chamber includes a diadem-bedecked male skeleton, and hints that bones did not always rest in peace (AMANDA BORSCHEL-DAN, Times of Israel). While we're on the topic of Megiddo, it seems worthwhile to mention this story from last month. The discovery is from a period much earlier than PaleoJudaica's usual interests, but elements of it contribute to a point I've been making for a couple of years.
The intact Tomb 50 gives [archaeologist Melissa] Cradic an unprecedented chance to observe — Pompeii-like — a burial frozen in medias res.

Cradic said that at the mouth of the chamber, there is “abundant evidence of care and feeding of the dead through food deposits (animal bones, charred organic remains) found in situ in plates and bowls that were positioned carefully near the three intact bodies.”

She also describes “relatively dense deposits of fragmented animal bones, charcoal, cooking installations, and imported Cypriot pottery directly above the tomb, which could indicate ongoing commemoration at the grave-site after it was sealed.”
Archaeologists have found a sealed and untouched tomb at Megiddo from c. 1600 BCE, and some organic remains survived inside it. This tomb shows, first, that even heavily excavated sites like Megiddo still have surprising and exciting discoveried hidden in them. But it also shows that organic remains could last a very long time in environments that are now being excavated.

I have pointed before to the substantial organic remains uncovered at Iron Age Megiddo and Timna. The new ones at Megiddo are some five centuries earlier still. They may amount more to organic "residue" ("charred organic remains") rather than linen cloths or textiles, but they contribute to my point. There is no reason why scrolls could not have survived from the Iron Age (1200-600 BCE) in Israel and nearby. If they were buried in jars or just sealed in an arid environment, they, or fragments of them, could still be there.

I think there is more chance that remnants of a cuneiform archive could turn up at Megiddo or Hazor. Isolated cuneiform tablets have been found at both. But we have ample demonstration that conditions at Megiddo could also preserve very fragile organic remains, including scrolls.

It may well be that, in the coming years, scrolls or scroll fragments from the Iron Age will be excavated at one of these sites. The so-called Jerusalem papyrus may or may not be a forgery. But there may be more coming from scientific excavations.

Watch this space. You heard it here first.

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Legio lecture at Laramie

THE UNIVERSITY OF WYOMING: UW Religion Today: Romans, Jews and Christians at Legio, Israel: Early Evidence for Christianity in Ancient Palestine (Paul V.M. Flesher).
But, what of the Christians who stayed in Israel in the first century; did they flourish? That is a good question. The historian Eusebius mentions bishops in Jerusalem, Caesarea and Maximianopolis, but we know little about the Christians they led. Did Christianity flourish and increase in Israel after Jesus’ resurrection, maintain only a small presence or die out? We know surprisingly little. While archaeologists have made extensive finds and excavated churches from the time of Constantine and his successors, there have been few finds from previous centuries.

So, when archaeologists announced the excavation of a Christian prayer hall near the ancient site of Megiddo in Israel 12 years ago, initial expectations hoped that here, finally, were archaeological remains of the early Christians of Israel. In the end, however, it turned out to be something totally different. The prayer hall showed that Christians not only served in the Roman army, but they were accepted and their worship acknowledged as legitimate.

Megiddo, what the New Testament calls Armageddon, was located at the crossroads of important ancient roads for more than two millennia. After the city mound was abandoned, the area continued to be inhabited and, by the first century, a village of Jews and Samaritans known as Kefar Othnay had grown up at the crossroads.

When the Roman Empire decided to station a legion in Palestine, it settled on these crossroads as the place from which most of Palestine could be quickly reached. Ultimately, six Roman “highways” linked this location to the rest of the province, including Jerusalem, Galilee, Ptolemais and Caesarea.

The 6th Roman Legion spent 170 years in this base, known as Legio. Situated next to Kefar Othnay, it became the site’s name from the early second century to the end of the third century.
I have been following the excavation of the Sixth Legion Roman camp ("Legio") at Megiddo for some time. It is also known as the Megiddo Prison excavation. For past posts see here and here and follow the links. One note of caution: there seems to be some doubt about the early (i.e., third century) date of the mosaic that refer to "God Jesus Christ." Larry Hurtado has more on that. See here.

Later this month there will be a lecture in Laramie by Matt Adams, Director of the Albright Institute, on the Legio excavation. Hopefully he will address this question.

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Was the Last Supper a Passover Seder?

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Was Jesus’ Last Supper a Seder? (Jonathan Klawans). For Passover and, belatedly, for Easter. This is the full text of an article published in BAR in 2001. It is still very informative.

I am less skeptical than Professor Klawans about Jaubert's theory that Jesus and his followers observed Passover on a different date than that observed by the Jerusalem authorities. There is some reason to infer that such situations also arose for the Qumran sectarians, who seem to have observed the same solar calendar. But this is just a possibility. I am not saying it is right.

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Biblical Studies Carnival 145

ZWINGLIUS REDIVIVAS: The March Madness Edition of the Biblical Studies Carnival (Jim West).

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Wednesday, April 04, 2018

YHWH and Asherah at Kuntillet Ajrud

EPIGRAPHY AND MONOTHEISM A Strange Drawing Found in Sinai Could Undermine Our Entire Idea of Judaism. Is that a 3,000-year-old picture of god, his penis and his wife depicted by early Jews at Kuntillet Ajrud? (Nir Hasson, Haaretz).
More than four decades after its excavation wound down, a small hill in the Sinai Desert continues to bedevil archaeologists. The extraordinary discoveries made at Kuntillet Ajrud, an otherwise nondescript slope in the northern Sinai, seem to undermine one of the foundations of Judaism as we know it.

Then, it seems, "the Lord our God” wasn't “one God.” He may have even had a wife, going by the completely unique "portrait" of the Jewish deity that archaeologists found at the site, which may well be the only existing depiction of YHWH.

First, I don't think these discoveries undermine anything in Judaism, even if the more creative interpretations of the evidence prove to be correct. The Bible makes it quite clear that in the Iron Age II (the monarchical period) the idea of monotheism hadn't entirely caught on in ancient Israel and it would not succeed definitively until after the Babylonian exile.

The remarkable discoveries at Kuntillet Ajrud are not recent news. I remember discussing them with interest in postgraduate seminars in the early 1980s. But the material has since been published and the discussion continues to move forward. This long article gives a summary of the current state of play.

Some past PaleoJudaica posts on Asherah at Kuntillet Ajrud and related matters are here, here, here, here, here, and here.

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Aramaic inscriptions in a Roman-era Jordanian tomb

(EPIGRAPHIC) ARAMAIC WATCH: Findings from Irbid's Bait Ras tomb are 'unique in region' (Hana Namrouqa, Jordan Times).
AMMAN — Studies and excavations on Irbid Governorate’s Bait Ras tomb revealed that the archaeological site is "unique on a regional level", featuring Greek and Aramaic inscriptions and many frescoes, archaeologists said on Tuesday.

The Bait Ras tomb happened to be "virtually intact", the archaeologists said, indicating that it dates back to the Roman period, specifically in the period from 1st-3rd century AD.

The Jordan Department of Antiquities (DoA) and the USAID’s Sustainable Cultural Heritage Through Engagement of Local Communities Project (SCHEP) shared the Bait Ras tomb project’s initial findings and future plans during a ceremony at the site of the tomb.

Discovered by sheer accident in November 2011, the tomb’s walls are covered with elaborate paintings and inscriptions of significant historical value, DoA General Director Monther Jamhawi said.

This is the first I have heard of this site. The report says that 52 inscriptions in Greek and Aramaic as well as "dozens" of frescoes were recovered in the tomb. I hope we hear more soon.

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Frilingos on the Infancy Gospels

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Why Do the Infancy Gospels Matter? (Christopher A. Frilingos).
As I studied the infancy gospels, I began to wonder if something had been overlooked in the intense scholarly focus on the figures of Jesus and Mary. That something, I concluded, was the depiction of familial relationships.


In my book, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph: Family Trouble in the Infancy Gospels, I use the term family gospels instead of “infancy gospels.” The new terminology puts a spotlight on the dynamics of household relationships in the accounts. ...
Cross-file under New Book and New Testament Apocrypha Watch.

I have more on some of the Infancy Gospels here.

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The sages and Second Isaiah on the Exodus

IT'S STILL PASSOVER: An Ideal Exodus? (Hakham Dr. Isaac Sassoon,
At the Seder we commemorate our ancestors’ departure from Egyptian bondage and express gratitude for the inestimable gift of freedom. And yet, some ancient rabbis, and prophets before them, could not ignore the affliction and hardship that befell Egyptians as well as Israelites at various stages of the story. And so for the future they envisioned a kinder redemption.

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Was it the resurrected Jesus walking on water?

BELATEDLY FOR EASTER: Walking on the Water, Revisited (Philip Jenkins, The Anxious Bench).
Rudolf Bultmann and others suggested that other early Resurrection appearances survive in the Gospels in the form of stories that are now associated with Jesus’ lifetime. Actually, that sort of confused reshuffling is all the more likely given what I said above about the forgotten parts of the earliest creeds. When the gospels were written, the writers had a lot of stories to deal with and didn’t exactly know what to do with some of them.

The Transfiguration (Mark 9) is the best known example of such a possible “displacement.” Here, though, I’m referring to the famous scene when Jesus is seen walking on the water (Mark 6: 47-51, Matt. 14.22-33, John 6.16-21), which is generally listed among the miracles Jesus performed during his lifetime. Plenty of scholars through history have noted the resemblances between this scene and the acknowledged post-Resurrection appearances, especially that in John 21.
Could be.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Moses' horns are back in the news

TRANSLATION AND ICONOGRAPHY: Why Even Some Jews Once Believed Moses Had Horns. It is often said that this is a simple matter of mistranslation, but Vulgate author Saint Jerome would not have made such a crude mistake (Elon Gilad, Haaretz).
Hence, Jerome must truly have believed that Moses came down from Mount Sinai with horns, and not radiant. Since Jerome was living in the Holy Land at the time and consulted with Jews when working on his translation, he must have been informed by them that Moses indeed had horns. This may be a bit hard to believe, but we in fact know that some Jews did believe that Moses was literally horned.
John Meade also has a post at the ETC Blog on the ancient biblical translations and Moses' horns: Why Does Michelangelo's Moses Look Like That? He agrees that Jerome knew what he was doing when translated Exodus 34:29 the way he did. Whether that was the correct translation remains debated today.

In PaleoJudaica's early days there was some discussion about the origins of the tradition that Moses had horns. You can follow that discussion here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and, more recently, here (link has rotted; sorry) and here. The link has rotted in the last post too, but you can see the carving of the horned Moses at Rossyln Chapel here.

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More on the de-mining of Qasr Al-Yahud

PILGRIMAGE MINEFIELD: Clearing Land Mines From the Spot Where Jesus Is Said to Have Been Baptized (Isabel Kershner, New York Times). Belatedly for Easter, sort of.
Now, in an effort to rehabilitate and open up the rest of the site, the Halo Trust, a British-American mine clearance charity, has begun a mine-clearing operation with the cooperation of the Israeli National Mine Action Authority, working under Israel’s Ministry of Defense, and the Palestinian Mine Action Center under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority.

The project is being jointly funded by the Ministry Defense and Halo, which has raised more than $1 million so far, and it will probably take at least a year.

Despite the political awkwardness of working in occupied territory, the Palestinians and Israelis share an interest in promoting Christian tourism. Both Israel and the West Bank boast major Christian sites like Nazareth and Bethlehem, and the pilgrim trade is lucrative.
I have been following this story for a while, but this New York Times piece covers it in considerable detail and is worth a read. Qasr Al-Yahud is one possible site for the baptism of Jesus. Despite the current danger, it is an increasingly popular pilgrimage site and tourist attraction.

Background here and links,

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Giant resurrected Jesus

REMNANT OF GIANTS: Jesus’ Resurrection and Giants (Deane Galbraith). Belatedly for Easter.

Cross-file under New Testament Apocrypha Watch.

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Monday, April 02, 2018

Archaeological petition vs. Temple Mount prayer plaza

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: The archaeologists versus the Kotel plan. 'Jewish history is being trampled to satisfy a religious minority that hasn't been satisfied in the past-and likely won't be in the future' (Arutz Sheva).
Robinson Arch Compound is an archeological garden, a legally-mandated antiquities site, located at the foot of one of the important entrance gates to the Temple Mount and built during the Second Temple period. It extends around the foundations of the gate, the merchants' shops next to them, and the mikvahs, among the most impressive in the world, once intended for pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem during festivals.

Since news of the intention to prepare a prayer plaza at Robinson’s Arch, the archaeological community has been in a rage, strongly opposing the move. The present petition is the culmination of the archaeologists' struggle that has been going on for years against the platform, established as a wound in the heart of the impressive archaeological site. "Four rounds of chipping away at the site have turned it from a magnificent place to one where the ruins are trampled under plates and iron ... There is no doubt what the end of the site will be after the huge works planned and approved, since in the end - even with the best of intentions - it will be destroyed definitively and completely, and its very exposure will be will be an eternal disgrace," the petition states.
As of last summer, the plan had been suspended. I don't know what its status is now.

Background here and links.

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Passover priestly blessing at Western Wall 2018

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Tens of thousands flock to Western Wall for priestly blessing. US Ambassador David Friedman takes part in Jerusalem ceremony as throngs make traditional Passover pilgrimage (Times of Israel). This ritual is an annual Passover event. Last year's post, with links, is here.

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On the eating of Matzah

PASSOVER IS HERE: Why Do We Eat Matzah in the Spring? (Dr. Yael Avrahami,
To mark the new year of grain and ensure the bountiful wheat harvest to come. But why do we remove all our chametz (leaven)?
For more on the probability that a spring new year was celebrated in ancient Israel, see here and links.

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60 Minutes interviews Brent Searles

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: 60 Minutes’ to feature UK prof who developed a way to decipher ancient scrolls (KARLA WARD, Lexington Herald Leader).
The idea that a blackened, 2,000-year-old rolled-up papyrus scroll could somehow be unfurled and read today almost seems like a miracle.

It even seems that way to Brent Seales, the University of Kentucky computer science professor who came up with a way of doing it.

On Sunday night, Seales and his work will be featured on an episode of the longrunning CBS news magazine show “60 Minutes.” The show airs at 7 p.m.

The show ran last night. You can read the transcript at the link in the quote above. It's good to see 60 Minutes taking notice of the important work of Professor Seales, on which more here and links. Follow the links there for more on the recovery of the text of the charred Leviticus scroll. For more on his work on the Herculaneum scrolls, see here and links. And for still more on the site of Herculaneum and its carbonized scrolls, see here and here and many links.

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Sunday, April 01, 2018

What is Biblical Archaeology?

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: What is biblical archaeology? [Extract] (Eric H. Cline, OUP Blog).
In the following excerpt from Biblical Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction, Eric H. Cline explains the interests of biblical archaeologists, and explores the types of questions that those in the field set out to answer.
This book was published back in 2009, so I'm surprised to see OUP publishing an excerpt from it now. But it's nice to have anyway.

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The Syriac Heritage Museum in Erbil

SYRIAC WATCH: In pictures: Syriac Heritage Museum showcases Iraq’s rich Christian past (A.C. Robinson, Rudaw).
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Just across the street from the oldest church in Ainkawa, a Christian neighborhood of Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, sits the Syriac Heritage Museum, showcasing snippets of history from the different Christian denominations of Iraq.

“This museum is one of the most important museums in the Middle East because the Iraqi Christians are a minority and their history is being lost,” the museum’s director, David Nadhir Dinkhan, told Rudaw English. “We must try to preserve our history.”

The three main Christian denominations in Iraq are Chaldean, Catholic and Orthodox.

After receiving permission from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)’s Ministry of Culture to open the museum and collect remnants from across Iraq and Kurdistan, construction began on the Syriac Heritage Museum in 2009. It opened its doors in October 2015.

Regular readers may recall that Erbil is the modern name of the site of the ancient Kingdom of Adiabene, which was ruled by the Jewish convert Queen Helena in the first century C.E. More on the House of Adiabene is here and links

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A Passover Haggadah from the Cairo Geniza

PASSOVER IS HERE: Cairo Genizah Project Reveals 11th Century Passover Haggadah (JNi.Media).
An ancient Haggadah from the Cairo Genizah, probably from the 10th-11th centuries CE, opens a window to the Jewish customs of the Middle Ages: the Passover Seder guidelines are written in Judeo-Arabic (Arabic in Hebrew letters, similar to Yiddish); the blessing for washing hands, “al netilat yadaim,” is expressed as “al rechitzat yadaim”; and this Haggadah follows the Eretz Israel tradition, which disappeared around the 12th century.

For many, many past posts on the Cairo Geniza, start here and here and follow the links.

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Easter 2018

HAPPY EASTER to all those celebrating. My 2016 Easter post contains links leading to biblical and related passages concerning Easter and to correct information on the origin of the word. And this post gives biblical references for the Passion narrative.

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