Saturday, August 18, 2018

Culinary archaeology, Mari edition

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: BAR Test Kitchen: Mersu. Ancient Syrian date pastries (Megan Sauter). Important research.

Other culinary archaeology experiments have been noted here and here.

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Litwa, Hermetica II

Hermetica II
The Excerpts of Stobaeus, Papyrus Fragments, and Ancient Testimonies in an English Translation with Notes and Introduction

EDITOR AND TRANSLATOR: M. David Litwa, Australian Catholic University, Melbourne
FORMAT: Hardback
ISBN: 9781107182530
Follow the link for details.

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Herman & Rubenstein (eds.), The Aggada of the Bavli and its cultural world

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: The Aggada of the Bavli and Its Cultural World. Notice of a new book: Herman, Geoffrey & Jeffrey L. Rubenstein (eds.). 2018. The Aggada of the Bavli and its cultural world (Brown Judaic Studies 362). Providence, RI: Brown Judaic Studies. Follow the link for additional details.

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PUNIC WATCH, AMONG OTHER THINGS: Volubilis Monument In Morocco (MPHO RANTAO, IOL/iAfrica).
History of Volubilis

Located between the imperial cities of Fez and Meknes, the city of Volubilis was seen as the administrative centre of the kingdom of Mauretania and also one of the most remote cities within the Roman Empire. It was also home for over 20 000 residents.

It is one of the richest sites of this period in North Africa for the great wealth of architectural innovation and influence from the Romans, Libyan and Moor, Punic, and Arab-Islamic cultures as well as African and Christian cultures.

When the Arabs arrived in 708 A.D. they found it populated with Greeks, Berbers, Christians and Jews – many of them descendants of those who fled the persecutions and heavy taxes of the late Roman Empire, with Latin as the main language of communication.
It sounds like it was a busy place. Follow the link for some more details and some nice photos of the ruins and an ancient mosaic.

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Friday, August 17, 2018

John the Baptist and Mandeans in Aramaic and Syriac?

A BLEG FROM THE RELIGION PROF: Neglected Mentions of John the Baptist and Mandaeans in Syriac and Aramaic Sources? James McGrath is asking. If your scholarly work involves Aramaic and Syriac texts of late antiquity, you may be able to help. And he teases us with this:
In this context I can mention that I’ve begun work on one of my next big book projects, which relates to the historical John the Baptist and the question of whether we can usefully bring the Mandaeans and their texts into the picture. I think that the answer to that question is yes, but obviously will need to make that case in detail. Some of the groundwork, however, has already been laid in a work that is soon to appear, and I think that scholars of ancient religion (as well as Semitic linguistics) are going to be blown away by some of the things that I believe will become clear as a result of the publication of the two-volume Mandaean Book of John critical edition, translation, and commentary.
His emphasis. To be clear, these are the details:
The Mandaean Book of John
Critical Edition, Translation, and Commentary

Ed. by Häberl, Charles G. / McGrath, James F.

Aims and Scope

Given the degree of popular fascination with Gnostic religions, it is surprising how few pay attention to the one such religion that has survived from antiquity until the present day: Mandaism. Mandaeans, who esteem John the Baptist as the most famous adherent to their religion, have in our time found themselves driven from their historic homelands by war and oppression. Today, they are a community in crisis, but they provide us with unparalleled access to a library of ancient Gnostic scriptures, as part of the living tradition that has sustained them across the centuries. Gnostic texts such as these have caught popular interest in recent times, as traditional assumptions about the original forms and cultural contexts of related religious traditions, such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, have been called into question. However, we can learn only so much from texts in isolation from their own contexts. Mandaean literature uniquely allows us not only to increase our knowledge about Gnosticism, and by extension all these other religions, but also to observe the relationship between Gnostic texts, rituals, beliefs, and living practices, both historically and in the present day.
Forthcoming from De Gruyter in December of 2018. Cross-file under Forthcoming Book, Mandean (Mandaean) Watch, Aramaic Watch, and Syriac Watch.

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Coptic Job 30 from Karanis

VARIANT READINGS: A Manuscript of Job in Coptic from Karanis. Brent Nongbri tells us about another Old Testament fragment from the Egyptian site of Karanis. The discussion is technical. But this case is a good example of how difficult it can be to date ancient artifacts, even ones that were recovered by scientific excavation in a stratigraphic context.

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Vegetable lambs and vegetable people in the Yerushalmi?

ATLAS OBSCURA has a curious article that cites a strange story purportedly found in the Palestinian (Jerusalem) Talmud: For Centuries, People Thought Lambs Grew on Trees. The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary puzzled scientists and philosophers (Abbey Perreault).
According to Henry Lee, a 19th-century naturalist who wrote rather extensively on the vegetable lamb, the woolly plant first appeared in literature around 436 A.D., in the Jewish text, Talmud Hierosolimitanum. According to Lee, Rabbi Jochanan included a passage detailing the plant-animal that is “in form like a lamb, and from its navel grew a stem or root by which this zoophyte … was fixed … like a gourd, to the soil below the surface of the ground.”

Lee's Vegetable Lamb. Public domain. Click on the image for a larger version.

And it gets weirder:
But there was a more sinister version of the narrative. Lee includes a passage from Rabbi Simeon, who hints that the zoophyte was not a lamb-plant hybrid, but rather a human-plant hybrid. He claims that, according to the Jerusalem Talmud, the ‘Jadua,’ was a plant found in the mountains that grows “just as gourds and melons,” but in the form of a human—with a face, body, hands, and feet. Similar to the vegetable lamb, it was connected at the navel to the stem, which, if cut, would cause the Jadua’s demise. “No creature can approach within the tether of the stem, for it seizes and kills them,” he wrote. ...
The article gives no specific reference in the Talmud. Mr. Lee's book is available on Google Play (see link in the quote), but I am disinclined to pay money to read it, especially since I have no confidence that he gave a reference either.

So, my readers who have expertise in the Yerushalmi, is this a real thing? (Not the vegetable creatures, the Talmudic reference.) If so, would someone please send me the reference?

UPDATE (23 August): Reader Alan Messner kindly e-mails the following:
There is a source, although it is rather speculation about the meaning of words in the Mishna and Yerushalmi. Kilayim 8:5 and the following Yerushalmi associated with this Mishna (73b and 74a) list animals that are either categorized as wild or domesticated. These classifications are needed to differentiate between laws that are different between the 2 groups. The Mishna says the ‘Adnei HaSadeh’ is wild. Rabbi Yosi says that a dead one imparts ‘tumah’ (ritual uncleanliness) like a dead human. According to the logic of it, and most commentaries say that it is a gorilla or orangutan. Some Medieval commentaries speculate (likely based local legend) that it can be a creature that fits the description that you described.
Thanks for that!

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SOTS Booklist 2018

John Jarick (ed.) with Jelle Verburg, Society for Old Testament Study Book List 2018 (= JSOT 42.5) (London: Sage, 2018).

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Thursday, August 16, 2018

Report on the Timna Valley excavation

ARCHAEOLOGY: Edom’s Copper Mines in Timna: Their Significance in the 10th Century (Prof. Erez Ben-Yosef and Dr. Aaron Greener,
Copper has been mined in the Timna Valley since the 5th millennium B.C.E. Recent excavations reveal that the height of activity in the region dates to the 10th century B.C.E. and thus domination of this remote region during this period would have meant control of the lucrative copper industry. Could this be the unwritten backdrop to the Bible’s account of David’s conquest of Edom and Solomon’s great wealth?
This is a nice, accessible report on the important archaeological work in the Timna Valley.

I am skeptical about any direct connection between the discoveries of the excavation and anything in the biblical narrative (cf. here) - unless the excavators find written documents that make such a connection clear. But the thing that interests me most about Timna is that it is one of the early sites (i.e. 10th century B.C.E. or earlier) where conditions may have preserved scrolls or scroll fragments. Textiles and other organic remains from the 10th century have been excavated there.

The conditions at the site are also optimal for the preservation of inscribed ostraca: broken pottery fragments that were used for informal written communications, such as receipts and personal and even business letters. The ink survives best in arid climates. I certainly hope the Timna staff are dipping potsherds to check for writing!

It is also possible that inscribed bullae may show up. A bulla is a piece of clay used (generally with string) to seal important documents. Often an inscribed seal would be pressed into the wet clay to identify the owner. The seal impression could be an image or the written name of the owner or the scribe. The sealed papyrus or parchment documents, of course, would almost certainly have deteriorated and be gone. But the clay seals sometimes survive, especially in a dry climate or if there has been a fire.

Several years ago some bullae from the tenth century B.C.E. were found at Khirbet Summeily. Unfortunately, these did not bear any writing. But maybe we will be luckier next time.

Background on the Timna Valley excavation and related matters is here and follow the links.

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YHWH and metallurgy again

Metallurgy, the Forgotten Dimension of Ancient Yahwism

The Israelite religion appears to be an attempt to extend to an entire nation (and, subsequently, to the whole world) values originally belonging to a small congregation of Canaanite metalworkers and threatened by the rise of a new epoch in which metallurgy lost its prestige and even sustained a demotion. From a theological perspective, the birth of Israel represents the democratization of esoteric traditions founded on a close relationship with the divine reality that was experienced around the furnace.

By Nissim Amzallag
Department of Bible, Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Studies
Ben Gurion University, Beer Sheba, Israel
August 2018
For my part, I find the argument in this essay to be very speculative. The five key points involve indirect connections with metallurgy that could add up to some primal connection with YHWH. Or the apparent connections could just be confirmation bias. They don't seem compelling to me. But read it and see what you think.

Haaretz also published an article on Dr. Amzallag's case, which I noted here. But it is a premium article that has now retreated behind the subscription wall. Likewise, Matthew Richard Schlimm responded to some of his arguments in a recent issue of the Journal of Biblical Literature, which you can read here, if you have access to JSTOR. This is the abstract:
Nissim Amzallag recently argued that words from the Biblical Hebrew root קנא have very different meanings depending on whether they are used in the human or divine context. While “jealousy” is an acceptable translation in the human sphere, Amzallag claims that in the divine sphere these words refer to furnace remelting, signaling that Israel's God was viewed as a smelting deity. There are several problems with Amzallag's argument. By paying closer attention to linguistic evidence and methodological considerations, one finds that in both human and divine contexts words from the root קנא are best understood with the traditional translation “jealousy,” an emotion closely related to anger, rather than the elaborate metallurgical imagery that Amzallag proposes.
As I commented in my earlier blog post, the only way to prove an early connection between YHWH and metallurgy would be to find early texts that made the connection clear. For some thoughts on how that might happen, see that post and the one on Timna that I am going to post immediately after this one.

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Levenson on the Bible's idea of history

MOSAIC MAGAZINE: The Contrast Between the Bible's Idea of History and the Modern Idea. In the Bible there is no solid differentiation but rather fluidity among what we moderns call past, present, and future (Jon D. Levenson).
But, as I see it, “collective Jewish memory” and “the sages’ approach” operate on a paradigm that is incommensurable with “scholarly Jewish history” and with secularity in general, Zionist or otherwise. What I would propose instead is an approach that is dialectical rather than integrative.

That is, rather than imagining a reconciliation of these very different paradigms for relating to the past, we should recognize that there are both gains and losses that come from examining any historical phenomenon as either a committed insider or a disinterested outsider (so far as the latter is possible). Neither discourse in the first person nor discourse in the third person tells the whole story. In matters like those Mechoulan discusses, both unqualified identification and unqualified objectification have their limitations. The whole truth is larger than either traditional memory or modern critical historiography can accommodate alone.
This essay is in response to an earlier one by Eric Mechoulan: “What Is the Meaning of Jewish History?" You can find it on the Mosaic website. But be forewarned that Mosaic has changed its access rules. Non-subscribers can now only read three articles per month for free. Choose wisely!

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Virtual exhibitions

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Virtually Explore Holy Land Artifacts.
From the comfort of your home, you can virtually explore archaeological objects that shed light on Biblical history with the click of a button. Check out the virtual collections below and start your journey today!

These digital projects were made possible with the support of George S. Blumenthal.
The six projects are as follows. Go to the BHD link above for links.
Visualizing Isaiah

Pharaoh in Canaan: The Untold Story

Ashkelon: A Retrospective

Faces of Power: Roman Gold Coins from the Victor Adda Collection

Biblical Archaeology Exhibits: From the Copper Age to the Present

The Digital Dead Sea Scrolls
I have mentioned the Victor Adda Coin Collection here and the Digital Dead Sea Scrolls project many times, such as here.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

UCLA digitizes more St. Catherine’s manuscripts

DIGITIZATION: UCLA Library to host digital archive of ancient Arabic and Syriac manuscripts. Arcadia Fund grant will help open access to rare manuscripts from St. Catherine’s Monastery (Dawn Setzer, UCLA Newsroom).
The UCLA Library and Early Manuscripts Electronic Library have partnered with St. Catherine’s Monastery to digitize and publish online on an open access basis some 1,100 rare and unique Syriac and Arabic manuscripts dating from the fourth to the 17th centuries.

A UNESCO World Heritage site located in a region of the Sinai Peninsula sacred to Christianity, Islam and Judaism, St. Catherine’s Monastery houses a collection of ancient and medieval manuscripts second only to that of the Vatican Library. Some 400,000 images will be created, including of works from Syriac literate culture, which flourished between the third and eighth centuries, and Christian Arabic literature, which appeared in the eighth century as Christian communities adapted to the spread of Islam.

This extensive collection of manuscripts becoming accessible to scholars around the world is thanks to the support of a $980,000 grant from the Arcadia Fund.

Cross-file under Syriac Watch.

The Arcadia Fund has already supported UCLA for the Sinai Palimpsest Project. As I said earlier, I am very pleased to see my alma mater UCLA involved with the work on the manuscripts at St. Catherine's. Follow the last link for more on St. Catherine's Monastery, its manuscripts, and the reopening of its library.

For many other manuscript digitization projects, see here and follow the links

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Did the Israelites ever ban their own cities?

PROF AARON DEMSKY: Was There Ever an Ir Hannidahat (Subverted City)? (
The rabbis claim that a “subverted” or “apostate” city, which Deuteronomy (13:13-18) condemns to destruction, “never was and never will be” (t. San. 14:1). Yet the account in Judges 19-21 of the destruction or ḥerem of Gibeah, its inhabitants, animals, and property, suggests that such “internal ḥerem” was an Israelite practice, and that Gibeah is being presented as a subverted city.
Or, more precisely, the story suggests that the Deuteronomistic Historian thought that it had once been an Israelite practice.

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Online Dictionary of Nature Imagery of the Bible

THE AWOL BLOG: Dictionary of Nature Imagery of the Bible.
The DNI project is interdisciplinary in its approach, and focuses on the nature images encapsulated within the literary compositions of the Hebrew Bible. The Dictionary is easily searchable by the name of the item in Hebrew characters, in transcription, and by its English translation. Each item takes its place within one of the five ecological fields: fauna, flora, landscape characteristics, climate systems, water sources.
The project is based at Tel Aviv University. It is just getting started, but it looks promising.

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Uri Geller Museum?

WAIT, WHAT? Surprise: Uri Geller Museum Built Over Ancient Soap Factory, Vaults (JNi.Media). Okay, it's August and the news is slow.

This soap factory in Jaffa isn't ancient. It's only from the 19th century (C.E.!). But how could I resist that headline?

I know what you're wondering. Yes, the museum will include a great many bent spoons.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Temple Mount Sifting Project is funded! For now.

We did it! Thanks to our three benefactors donors who setup the matching fund, and to all our supporters through our crowdfunding website, we’ve managed to secure our budget for the rest of 2018 and the beginning of 2019. This will allow us to continue the research, complete several research topics and send more articles for publication.

We are thrilled by the support we received from many return donors. This continual support really means a lot and encourages us to keep on going.

This is very good news. That said, they still need money to complete the project (which they estimate involves five more years of work) and to publish their findings. There is still hope that the Israeli Government will help. I very much encourage them to do so.

Past posts on the important work of the Temple Mount Sifting Project are here, which gives basic orientation, and here and oh so many links.

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CFP for ARAM conference on ANE gnostics

The ARAM Society for Syro-Mesopotamian Studies is seeking presenters for its upcoming conference on Ancient Gnostics in the Near East. This conference aims towards a “small g” gnosticism, and will explore not only the Nag Hammadi literature, but also related current of Hermetism, mystery cult, and other phenomena.
At the Oriental Institute, University of Oxford, on 8-10 July 2019. Follow the link for details.

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Crowdsourcing Tischendorf’s Evangelia Apocrypha

AN ARMY OF EDITORS: A full-text edition of Tischendorf’s Evangelia Apocrypha (Tony Burke, Apocryphicity Blog).
What if there was a high-quality full-text edition of Tischendorf’s Evangelia Apocrypha available? Not just available, but openly available for scholars to use in whatever research or digital humanities projects they were involved in? And not just the Latin and Greek text, but the apparatuses too?

We’re closer to that than we have ever been. If you’ve worked with Evangelia Apocrypha, you know that the Greek text uses a distinctive font. This font makes optical character recognition (OCR) difficult because it isn’t like other Greek fonts. However, Bruce Robertson of Mount Allison University in New Brunswick has been working on the problem of Greek OCR ...
His work is online. Go and have a look. The OCR version looks pretty good, but it has many small glitches. There are especially many in the Greek texts. If you are so minded, you are invited to make as many corrections as you want.

Past "An Army of" posts are collected here. Cross-file under New Testament Apocrypha Watch.

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Meditation at the Masada mikvah

ELAINE ROSENBERG MILLER: Mikvah on Masada (Times of Israel, rpt.
Now I, nearly 2,000 years later, stood at the entrance to the mikvah.

My ancestors had wandered Europe for hundreds of years, but they always looked east, towards the Holy Land and their history.

I knew my companions would be coming to look for me. But I wanted to remain, to communicate with the generations who had gone before me.

My mother had survived Auschwitz; my father,It had endured and endured. Just like the Jewish people. Siberia and Tajikistan. Dozens of their family members were sent to Belzec and Majdanek. Some were killed in cemeteries after having been forced to dig their own graves.

And yet, here I was.

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Monday, August 13, 2018

Coming soon: Septuaginta: A Reader's Edition

YOU CAN NOW PRE-ORDER IT: New Reader’s LXX on Sale (Peter Gurry, ETC Blog). I noted the book as forthcoming here.

Also, co-editor William Ross has been posting in advance on the book:





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Magdala photo essay

THE HOLY LAND PHOTOS' BLOG: Magdala — Some Uncertainties (Carl Rasmussen). I have already noted the Bible and Interpretation article by David Gurevich here. But Carl fills out his commentary with photos of Magdala and the Magdala Stone, with links to more photos. So go and have a look.

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On false prophets and miracles

PROF. RABBI MARTIN LOCKSHIN: Can a False Prophet Perform Miracles? (
Deuteronomy 13 discusses the case of a false prophet who does not have a message from God, but advocates worshiping other gods. Oddly enough, the false prophet can successfully perform miracles, or is able to predict the future. How is this possible?
Not surprisingly, this question bothered rabbinic commentators.

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LXX Psalms 32-33 from Karanis

VARIANT READINGS: A Manuscript of the Psalms in Greek from Karanis (Brent Nongbri).
Karanis is located in the Fayum and was excavated between 1924 and 1935 in a project run by the University of Michigan. In a decade of work, some 4,000 papyri and 6,000 ostraca (inscribed ceramic fragments) were uncovered. The excavated materials are now divided between Ann Arbor, Cairo, and regional museums in Egypt. The Psalms fragments are among the pieces now in Cairo.
The stratigraphy is complicated.

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Sunday, August 12, 2018

MOTB to return looted Gospels manuscript to Athens

MORE REPATRIATION: Museum of the Bible and Repatriation (GA 2120) ( Elijah Hixson, ETC Blog). Kudoes to both the MOTB and the BM (earlier post today) for their efforts in returning looted antiquities.

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Ritmeyer draws the Herodian Temple Mount

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: The Temple Mount in the Herodian Period (37 BC–70 A.D.) (Leen Ritmeyer).
This post was originally published on Leen Ritmeyer’s website Ritmeyer Archaeological Design. It has been republished with permission. Visit the website to learn more about the history of the Temple Mount and follow Ritmeyer Archaeological Design on Facebook.
Regular readers of PaleoJudaica will be familiar with Dr. Ritmeyer, his blog, and his expertise in all things pertaining to the Temple Mount and the Jerusalem Temples.

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BM returns looted inscribed votive cones to Iraq

REPATRIATION: British Museum returning looted cones, other antiquities to Iraq. Researchers able to provenance after finding votive objects were identical to others found at temple site in Iraq where British museum does training (AFP via Times of Israel). And by "to provenance" it mean that they found the specific holes in the ground at Girsu (Tello) from which they were looted. Good detective work.

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LONGSTANDING IN THE BLOGOSPHERE: Many years ago I linked a number of times to the Parshablog, by Rabbi Josh Waxmam. I just ran across the blog again and he is still posting on it. His posts deal with the weekly biblical synagogue readings, the current Daf Yomi pages, and related matters. His discussions use a lot of technical terms from traditional Jewish exegesis, but you can usually follow the gist of his argument even if you don't know all the terminology. And the posts are interesting. Go and have a look.

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