Saturday, June 02, 2018

Philip R. Davies 1945-2018

SAD NEWS: I have received a number of reports that Professor Emeritus Philip R. Davies passed away last Thursday 31 May. He was Professor of Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield until his retirement some years ago. He kept active in the field after retirement and kept up an internet presence too. His Wikipedia page is here. His Sheffield University page is here. And his Academia.edu page is here.

Philip was well known for his out-of-the-box thinking and I learned a lot from him, especially on how to think about the Dead Sea Scrolls. His doctoral dissertation on the War Scroll influenced how I looked at that work, and you can see some of how I used it in my teaching in this online lecture on the War Scroll for my Dead Sea Scrolls class. I also drew on his ideas about the Pesharim and on utopianism and Qumran sectarianism.

I knew Philip for many years and we kept in touch off and on. Our last e-mail exchange was last summer, when we talked about the lead codices and the merits of Islay whiskies. He also appeared from time to time in PaleoJudaica posts. I see that a few years ago I commented, "Davies is usually controversial and always interesting." I think that is a fitting epitaph.

Requiescat in pace.

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More on the Abba tomb skeleton (crucifixion)

OSTEOLOGIST JOE ZIAS e-mails the following:
Professor Pat Smith is correct, along with others, that there is no evidence for crucifixion in the Abba tomb, moreover we asked experts totally unaware of the controversy as to the sex of the skeleton with signs of trauma, all concurred that we are talking about an elderly female.

Following Dr. Haas tragic accident, the material in question was transferred to my lab in the Israel Antiquities Authority and I can state with a high level of confidence that no evidence whatsoever for crucifixion was present.
This in reference to my recent post on the new (apparently) crucified skeleton from Rome. I mentioned the Abba tomb skeleton as another one, possibly of Mattathiah son of Judah, which had been argued to have been crucified. I discussed that in more detail here. But from what Dr. Zias says above, the expert consensus is otherwise.

That leaves us with Yohanan's certainly crucified skeleton and the new one from Rome, which may also have been crucified.

I am grateful to Joe Lauer for putting out a call for clarification and to Joe Zias for contacting us with the updated information.

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On the Mishnah

MY JEWISH LEARNING: Why The Mishnah Is the Best Jewish Book You’ve Never Read. This almost 2,000-year-old text flies under the radar -- but it's immensely important to Jewish life (LEX ROFES AND MJL ADMIN). This is a good introduction to the Mishnah, aimed at the complete novice. It also has some links at the end for further study.

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Hydrogel

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Tape Is Ruining Priceless Art. This New Gel Can Fix It. The common trick to fix a tear has plagued art conservators, but chemists are developing newer and safer methods to restore old art (Sarah Gibbens, National Geographic).
Unwitting conservators of the past used standard sticky tape to try and hold together famous but fragile treasures, such as the Dead Sea scrolls and drawings by filmmaker Federico Fellini. The trouble is that, in addition to ruining the aesthetic integrity of a piece of art, the adhesive on tape can cause discoloration over time. Certain types of tape can even bleed past where they were placed and alter the visual appearance of the work.

Modern art restorers have traditionally used solvents and intense humidity to loosen tape, methods that can damage the piece or present a toxic hazard for restorers. Now, a team of chemists from the University of Florence has developed a new treatment for the sticky affliction that's safe for humans and doesn't damage the art.

The method starts with hydrogel, a type of gel with high water content used in a variety of common objects, from plastics to pills. The hydrogel used by the Italian researchers was between 95 and 98 percent water. The other five to two percent is made of intersperced nano-sized droplets of organic solvents.
Good. In past posts I have flagged the longstanding problem of the use of scotch tape in the early, primitive efforts to conserve the Dead Sea Scrolls. See here, here, and here. I hope this new technology helps to solve the problem.

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Friday, June 01, 2018

Machiela on charity in the Aramaic DSS

VIDEO LECTURE: Charity as a Theme in the Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls, Dr. Daniel Machiela. I don't have time to watch this through right now, but the author and title are very promising, and AJR says it's "terrific." Enjoy!


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A Judeo-Arabic translation of the Mishnah

GENIZA FRAGMENT OF THE MONTH (MAY 2018): Mishnah with Judeo-Arabic Translation: T-S E1.124 (David J. Wasserstein).
These are not the only fragments of Judeo-Arabic versions of Mishnaic tractates, but they all come from a single manuscript and for that reason may have much more to tell us than we might learn from isolated fragments of other manuscripts. On the basis of the pages we have, we can do much to re-construct the shape and appearance of the original manuscript. We can also compute that the entire Mishnah, with its translation, in this single manuscript must have filled nearly 6,000 pages, making for an enormous and, in view of the thickness of the paper, unwieldy, multi-volume copy of the text.
Past PaleoJudaica posts on Judeo-Arabic are here and links. Past posts noting Cairo Geniza Fragments of the Month in the Cambridge University Library's Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit are there and here links.

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The serpent and the Goddess?

THE BIBLE AND INTERPRETATION:
Eden, the Tree of Life and the Wisdom of the Serpent

The essential plot can be understood, not as a struggle between God and the Devil, but as a conflict involving the dynamic, royal, masculine God of the heavens and the primordial Mother Goddess who for millennia had been worshipped as the Mistress of the earth. To be sure, the story is told from the point of view of the former. The serpent is reduced to being the subtlest of the creatures that the Lord God had made. The Goddess is not even mentioned by name, though she is there, as the tree of life, for that is how she was so often depicted among the ancient Canaanites. Indeed, because she was represented in tree form, it is not surprising that Yahweh declared that the tree and its fruit were taboo.

By Jay Williams
Professor Emeritus
Hamilton College
May 2018
Well, maybe. As I read this essay I was thinking about the author's comment early on:
The problem, however, is that the story has too many loose ends, too many confusing subtleties to be so easily unraveled and explained. If it is to be understood as an account of why humans are all sinful, why does the word “sin” never appear in the story?
I think the same objection applies to the author's thesis. If the Goddess is so important in this story, why is she never mentioned directly?

Be that as it may, it's an interesting reading. Toward the end, the essay seems to turn into a manifesto for the revival of Goddess worship. Perhaps that could work for some circles in the twenty-first century.

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On Petra and the Nabataeans

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Solving the Enigma of Petra and the Nabataeans. Who were the Nabataeans? (Glenn J. Corbett). This essay is a very good, brief but detailed, introduction to the subject. As usual, it includes links to relevant Biblical Archaeology Review articles that are behind the subscription wall.

Cross file under Nabatean Watch (Nabataean Watch).

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Thursday, May 31, 2018

Another crucified skeleton?

OSTEOLOGY: How Jesus died: Extremely rare evidence of Roman crucifixion uncovered in Italy. Although attested to in scores of historical writings, this skeleton is only the second example providing tangible archaeological proof of the cruel method of capital punishment (Amanda Borschel-Dan, Times of Israel).
A lesion on the foot of a 2,000-year-old skeleton discovered in a Roman burial site in northern Italy appears to constitute rare tangible evidence of execution by crucifixion, according to an interdisciplinary team of Italian researchers.

Although broadly attested to in historical writings — including the New Testament — it is only the second known archaeological proof of the particularly cruel form of capital punishment practiced by the Romans against criminals, as well as revolutionaries such as Jesus.

[...]
The skeleton shows signs of violence that are consistent with crucifixion, but the evidence is apparently not conclusive. The other, certain, crucified skeleton mentioned in the headline above, is that of one Yehohanan ben Hagkol, on which more here and links.

Also, not mentioned in the article, it has been argued that another skeleton, apparently of one Mattathiah son of Judah, was also crucified. I noted that story several years ago here. I have heard nothing more about it since.

Other past posts on this horrific ancient method of execution are here and links and here.

Also worth mentioning is the recent discussion of the crucifixion gem, which gives one of the earliest artistic depictions of the crucifixion of Jesus.

UPDATE (2 June): It seems that third skeleton mentioned above was not crucified and is not of a man. Details here.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Iran lists Sabean Mandaic script as a cultural heritage

MANDEAN (MANDAEAN) WATCH: Sabian Mandean Script Listed as Cultural Heritage (Iran Financial Tribune). I don't often have praise for the Iranian Government, but in this they have done a good thing. I commend them.

For review: the Mandeans (Mandaeans) are a Middle Eastern Gnostic religious group coming from an Aramaic-speaking background and with an Aramaic liturgy. They believe that John the Baptist was their founder. Their movement can be traced back to late antiquity and perhaps even to the early centuries CE. The term Sabian (Sabean, Sabaean) is often applied to them, but I am not sure of its exact import.

For past PaleoJudaica posts on the Sabean Mandeans start here and links (also here) and follow the links. And there are many other posts on the Mandeans in general. You can find those in the archives. Oh, and James McGrath, call your office.

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Review of Niehoff, Philo of Alexandria

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: Maren R. Niehoff, Philo of Alexandria: An Intellectual Biography. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2018. Pp. xi, 323. ISBN 9780300175233. $38.00. Reviewed by Gretchen Reydams-Schils, University of Notre Dame (reydams-schils.1@nd.edu).
Only every once in a while (and not that often in one scholarly generation) a book comes along that not only changes fundamentally the perspective on its chosen topic, but, through its novel methodology, will have major repercussions for other fields of scholarship as well. Maren Niehoff’s intellectual biography of Philo of Alexandria is such a work.

[...]

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On 3 Maccabees

READING ACTS: What is Third Maccabees? Another installment in Phil Long's current summer series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. Past posts in the series have been noted here and links.

Phil published a series of posts on 3 Maccabees back in 2017. It appears that he is reprinting them now (or at least this one). There may be revisions as well, but I don't have access to the full text of the earlier posts. He has taken them down.

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The menorah in the Bible

ICONOGRAPHY AND EXEGESIS: Why the Menorah Is the Most Enduring of All Jewish Symbols. Unlike the case with nearly every other Tabernacle fixture, the function of the menorah does not cease when the Jewish people no longer possess a Temple (Sarah Rindner, Mosaic Magazine).
At the beginning of this week’s Torah reading of B’ha’alotkha (Numbers 8-12), the Bible gives instructions for the daily kindling of the menorah.

The menorah has long occupied a prominent place in the Jewish imagination. From the time of its placement in the inner courtyard of the Tabernacle in the desert and later of the Temple in Jerusalem, to its rekindling after the Maccabees’ defeat of the Seleucids, to its central position on the Arch of Titus in Rome, to its modern repurposing as the emblem of Jewish revival by the state of Israel, few Jewish symbols have been as familiar or as evocative.

And yet the Bible leaves unstated the significance of the menorah and its seven branches, its importance to the Temple, or its meaning and purpose with respect to the relationship between God and His chosen nation and perhaps beyond. On these matters, an examination of five key scriptural passages can shed light.

[...]
For many past PaleoJudaica posts on ancient menorahs and representations of menorahs, see here and links and here.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

More on the Oxyrhynchus Mark fragment

VARIANT READINGS: Some Observations on the “Provisional Dating” of P.Oxy. 83.5345. Brent Nongbri discusses the initial cataloguing of the Mark fragment (incorrectly) as dating to the first century and the confusing results in recent years. Dr. Nongbri is doing an excellent job of pulling back the curtain to show the inner workings of the discovery, cataloguing, and publication of the Oxyrhynchus papyri over the last century.

Background on that Mark fragment is here and links.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Elisheva's Diary

NEW NOVEL: Elisheva's Diary. The ancient city of Dan in the northern Galilee has generations of stories to tell. In this fast-moving novel, they are brought to life in a story of family love, intrigue and loyalty, then and now (Rochel Sylvetsky, Arutz Sheva).
The ancient city of Dan is located in a beautiful and lush valley in Israel's northern Galilee region. Visiting the area today especially in early spring, is to stop to gaze in wonder at nature's paintbrush splashing light and color with gorgeous abandon.

Dr. Richard D. Small has brought that once vibrant city and its still verdant environs to life, writing a compelling book published by Touchpoint Press and available at Google Books, that juxtaposes life in Israel during the first century B.C.E. with the Israel of today. He does it by means of a fast moving plot in which a young Arab, Musa, digging at the archaeological excavations of ancient Dan discovers an urn containing the diary of Elisheva, who lived in Dan during the Second Temple period reign of Hasmonean Queen Shlomzion.

[...]
If only. Maybe someday.

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On the Words of Ahiqar

READING ACTS: The Words of Ahiqar. Another installment in Phil Long's current summer series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. Past posts in the series have been noted here and links.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

The Melammu Newsletter

THE AWOL BLOG: Open Access Journal: Melammu Newsletter.
The main purpose of the Melammu Project is to investigate the continuity, transformation, and diffusion of Mesopotamian and Ancient Near Eastern culture from the third millennium BCE through the ancient world until Islamic times and after."
The work of the project is often of direct or indirect relevance to ancient Judaism. Its newsletter has recently gone online. The main link given in the AWOL post is dead at the moment. But this one works.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Exhibition on the ancient priestly vestment dye

MATERIAL CULTURE: Linking ancient snails to an Israeli flag in space, a common thread. The elusive dye used to create the biblical blue, 'techelet,' in the Ancient Near East is spotlighted in a new Bible Lands Museum exhibit, 'Out of the Blue' (Marissa Newman, Times of Israel).
It was the color of the sea, the sky, the divine sapphire-hewn Throne of Glory, according to the Tannaite sage Rabbi Meir. It was a color used in the Jewish temples, the hue of its high priests’ robes, and the shade of the blue tassel that the Bible commands be affixed to one’s garments.

But starting in the seventh century CE, the source of the natural dye to produce the biblical tekhelet [blue] — as well as its royal purple counterpart, argaman — faded from history for hundreds of years.

Long sought by Jews to revive the ancient practice of wearing a fringe of techelet, the revered colors were also the subject of other Ancient Near East cultures’ fascination and ritual worship and the source of a hugely prosperous ancient dyeing industry, according to a new exhibit at Jerusalem’s Bible Lands Museum, “Out of the Blue,” which is set to open on June 1.

[...]
Past posts on the tekhelet dye, its ancient uses, and modern efforts to recreate it, are here and follow the links.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

The Beit She'arim Necropolis

ATLAS OBSCURA: Beit She'arim Necropolis. A sprawling ancient Jewish cemetery with over 30 rock-hewn burial caves.
The Roman destruction of Jerusalem’s Second Temple in 70 CE scattered the Jewish people out into the empire, from the Greek islands to as far as modern-day Spain and Portugal. Following this cataclysmic event, Jerusalem’s great assembly of the Sanhedrin, a sort of Supreme Court of the Jewish nation, migrated north to the Galilean city of Bet She’arim.
A nice photo essay, as we have come to expect from Atlas Obscura.

For past PaleoJudaica posts on Beit She'arim (Beith Shearim) see here and links.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

More looting arrests in West Bank

APPREHENDED: LOOTERS ARRESTED FOR ILLEGAL DIGGING AT WEST BANK ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE. Authorities stopped the criminals at an archaeological site south of the Peduel settlement in the West Bank (Jerusalem Post).
During a joint patrol with the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria’s archeology unit, authorities stopped the criminals at an archaeological site south of the Peduel settlement in the West Bank. The criminals were found on site with digging equipment and taken in for questioning by security authorities. Previous excavations at the site uncovered a large monastery and a church with ornate mosaics, among other finds, the unit said.
Sadly, many such stories continue to come up. See here and links, as well as here, here, here, and here.

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Pnina Shor to speak at Denver DSS exhibition

PUBLIC LECTURE: Dead Sea Scrolls Leader to Speak in Denver. Dead Sea Scrolls 70 Years Later with Pnina Shor, Israel Antiquities Authority (Boulder Jewish News).
Monday, June 4, 7:00 pm
BMH-BJ Congregation, Fisher Hall
560 S Monaco Pkwy, Denver, CO
Free Admission
The speaker:
Since its inception in 2010, Pnina Shor has been the head of the Dead Sea Scrolls unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). In this role, she oversees the curatorship, conservation and preservation, exhibition and digitization of the IAA’s more than 20,000 scrolls. ...
Background on the Denver Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition is here and follow the links.

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Monday, May 28, 2018

The Denver DSS exhibition

EXHIBITION REVIEW: Dead Sea Scrolls: From the lowest place on Earth to 'the mile high city' (Jessi Satin, i24 News).
Fast forward 72 years. Twenty of these scrolls, and more than 600 artifacts have traveled almost 7,000 miles to Denver, Colorado for a special six-month long exhibition at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

The exhibition, which holds the largest collection of artifacts from the Holy Land to arrive in the United States, aims to tell the story of the ancient Israelites who wrote the scrolls, as well as the larger story of the development of the Middle East, and of the religious traditions that shaped western civilization.
The headline alone makes this article worth a link. But it's also a nice and detailed review of the whole exhibition, which includes more than just Dead Sea Scrolls.

Background here and links

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Mor Gabriel title deeds returned to Syriac Christian community

MODERN SYRIAC WATCH: Syriac Christians hail return of churches and monasteries (Daily Sabah).
Spreading title deeds on a coffee table, leaders of the Syriac Christian community in southeastern Turkey enthusiastically spoke about how they settled a controversial issue regarding the return of their properties. In 2014, ownership of churches, monasteries and cemeteries belonging to the ancient community were transferred to the state after Mardin, the southeastern city where they are located, was designated as the "greater city municipality." The community fought for their return but faced bureaucratic red-tape and a lengthy legal process. Finally, they were formally handed title deeds yesterday, crediting President Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan for helping them to settle the issue.

Properties were returned to the Foundation of Mor Gabriel Monastery that represents the small community concentrated mainly in Mardin. ....
I have been following the fortunes of the ancient and historic Mor Gabriel Monastery for some time, with emphasis in the last several years on disputed land seizures by the Turkish Government. I am not sure whether all the problems are resolved yet, but this latest report seems to count as good news.

Background here and links.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

On Eldad and Modad

READING ACTS: Eldad and Modad. Another installment in Phil Long's current summer series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. Past posts in the series have been noted here and links.

As for the lost book of Eldad and Modad, it gets even more interesting. There is a good case that this work is quoted (as scripture!) in the New Testament in the Epistle of James 4:5. Richard Bauckham makes the case in MOPT1. I'm away from my desk at the moment, but I will post the full reference when I have the volume in hand.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Digital Syriac Corpus

THE AWOL BLOG: Digital Syriac Corpus. This project has been in progress for a long time, but it has only recently started publishing its work online. It looks very promising. Cross-file under Syriac Watch.

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Sunday, May 27, 2018

Some "Oxyrhynchus papyri" are not from Oxyrhynchus

VARIANT READINGS: The Oxyrhynchus Papyri of Dubious Provenance and Editorial Choice (Brent Nongbri). Excerpt:
But, to bring it back to my original point: If there are such unpublished pieces, the majority of which probably have certain Oxyrhynchite provenance, why are editors choosing to publish pieces of dubious provenance in The Oxyrhynchus Papyri series? I’m genuinely curious.
It's a good question. The questions about the no-longer-first-century Mark fragment just published in the series are helping to draw attention to it.

Dr. Nongbri has been posting a lot lately on the Oxyrhynchus papyri, so go have a look at his blog.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.

Moss and Baden on the no-longer-first-century Mark fragment

CANDIDA MOSS AND JOEL BADEN: Was One of World’s Oldest Bible Passages Found in a Garbage Dump? On Thursday, the Oxford-based Oxyrhynchus Society announced the discovery of a second-century piece of the Gospel of Mark from a dig in an Egyptian garbage dump (The Daily Beast).
Yesterday, the Egyptian Exploration Society, the nonprofit organization that acts as curators of the Oxford-based Oxyrhynchus Society, announced a new discovery: a late second- or early third-century CE fragment of the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark, just published in The Oxyrhynchus Papryi Volume 83 (2018), edited by distinguished Oxford academics Daniela Colomo and Dirk Obbink. In what must be the archetypical example of the expression “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” this pile of ancient refuse has produced one of the oldest fragments of the oldest Gospel story (Mark is believed by scholars to be the earliest Gospel.) This makes it a substantial and significant discovery for those interested in the history of Christianity, the evidence of the dating of the books of the Bible, and the history of book-making. But it also comes with a substantial mystery surrounding its origins, its dating, and its potential connection to the ubiquitous Green family, the owners of Hobby Lobby and the founders of the Museum of the Bible.
This story is labyrinthine but worth trying to follow. As usual, Professors Moss and Baden lay out the evidence as clearly as possible.

Background on this early (but not first-century) Mark fragment is here and links.

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On Queen Helena of Adiabene

DR. MALKA SIMKOVICH: Queen Helena of Adiabene and Her Sons in Midrash and History (TheTorah.com).
Josephus in his Antiquities of the Jews, tells the story of Queen Helena of Adiabene and her sons Kings Izates II and Monobazus II, and how they converted to Judaism in the mid-first century C.E. Rabbinic literature preserves several anecdotes about this family. However, the rabbis knew little about them, and grappled with their insider/outsider status.
Regular PaleoJudaica readers are well acquainted with the intriguing figure of Queen Helena of Adiabene. This essay collects and evaluates the accounts and legends about her.

For past posts on Queen Helena and Adiabene, start here and follow the links.

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On the History of the Rechabites

READING ACTS: History of the Rechabites. Another installment in Phil Long's current summer series on the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. Past posts in the series were noted here and links.

I have argued for a long time that the History of the Rechabites (which is embedded in the Story of Zosimus) is a Christian composition. For specific, see my 2003 conference papers: "Is the Story of Zosimus Really a Jewish Composition?" and "The Rechabites in Patristic and Parabiblical Literature." Phil mentions Chris Knights, who also wrote on this work. He and I corresponded on the subject here and here, also in 2003. Several years ago Dr. Knights published an article revising his position in agreement with mine.

Another project on this text was noted here.

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