Saturday, September 10, 2022

Review of Drucker, Inventing the Alphabet

PHOENICIAN WATCH: Easy as ABC. What were the origins of the alphabet, before the Greeks? (Katherine McDonald, History Today). A review of:
Inventing the Alphabet: The Origins of Letters from Antiquity to the Present
Johanna Drucker
University of Chicago Press 384pp £32

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Burns & Goff (eds.), The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Codices (Brill)

The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Codices

Selected Papers from the Conference “The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Codices” in Berlin, 20–22 July 2018

Series: Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies, Volume: 103

Volume Editors: Dylan M. Burns and Matthew J. Goff

The discoveries of Coptic books containing “Gnostic” scriptures in Upper Egypt in 1945 and of the Dead Sea Scrolls near Khirbet Qumran in 1946 are commonly reckoned as the most important archaeological finds of the twentieth century for the study of early Christianity and ancient Judaism. Yet, impeded by academic insularity and delays in publication, scholars never conducted a full-scale, comparative investigation of these two sensational corpora—until now. Featuring articles by an all-star, international lineup of scholars, this book offers the first sustained, interdisciplinary study of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Codices.

Prices from (excl. VAT): €139.00 / $167.00 Hardback

Copyright Year: 2022

E-Book (PDF)
Availability: Published
ISBN: 978-90-04-51756-1
Publication date: 08 Aug 2022

Availability: Published
ISBN: 978-90-04-51302-0
Publication date: 11 Aug 2022

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Friday, September 09, 2022

Rollston on the new Hebrew scroll fragment

EPIGRAPHER CHRISTOPHER ROLLSTON has now weighed in on the newly announced "Ishmael Papyrus": The Old Hebrew Ishmael Papyrus: Tapping the Brakes (Times of Israel Blogs).
At this time, therefore, I simply wish (at this preliminary stage) to mention certain things that need to be considered as part of the totality of the discussion of this find….and things which (therefore) require that we refrain from drawing too many rapid conclusions, or making too many problematic assumptions. In other words, I hope that we can “tap the brakes” a little with regard to this “find.”
He gives his reasons for skepticism in detail. One point is that he finds elements of the script anomalous for the period. I leave that question to him.

He raises many other valid concerns, some of which I have also raised in earlier posts.

Regarding the following, I will repeat a point I have already mentioned:

The press reports seem to suggest that this radiometric dating confirms the antiquity of the inscription itself. However, I would emphasize that the antiquity of the medium of an inscription certainly does not demonstrate that the inscription itself is ancient. After all, ancient potsherds, ancient leather, and ancient papyrus (the last of which is the most relevant in this case) are all available, either on ancient tels (in the case of potsherds) or on the antiquities market (in the case of leather and papyrus). Modern forgers can, have, and still do, use such ancient media to produce forgeries in the modern period (and forged inscriptions have been a constant, for several millennia, believe it or not).
(His italics.) Rollston is correct in principle, of course. My question is, how easy is it to acquire blank leather and papyrus dating as early as the Iron Age II (i.e. c. 700 BCE in this case)? I would think there would be very little of either available. But I could be wrong. Are there specifice examples of such early blank writing materials?

Background here and here.

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Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (1926-2022)

SAD NEWS: I join many others in the UK and the world mourning the passing of Queen Elizabeth II at the age of 96. The United Kingdom's longest reigning monarch, her remarkable life encompassed perhaps the most significant and challenging century in human history.

Again with many others, I extend my best wishes to the new British monarch, King Charles III, who comes to the throne in a time of many continued challenges.

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New project on the Penn Aramaic incantation bowls

ARAMAIC WATCH: The story the bowls tell (Penn Today).
In an ambitious new project, historian Simcha Gross and Harvard’s Rivka Elitzur-Leiman are studying hundreds of ancient incantation bowls housed at the Penn Museum. They hope to better understand the objects and eventually, build a database of all these bowls worldwide.
As the article notes, the corpus of nearly 300 Babylonian Aramaic incantation bowls from Nippur is especially important because they were recovered in a scientific archaeological excavation.

James Montgomery's 1913 edition, mostly of the best preserved ones (about 15% of the corpus), is out of copyright and is available at the Internet Archive: Aramaic incantation texts from Nippur.

It is great that the remaining, more difficult, bowls in the corpus are now receiving attention.

For many PaleoJudaica posts on the ancient Babylonian Aramaic incantation bowls, start here (cf. here and here) and follow the links.

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King Solomon's "throne" in Jerusalem?

MATERIAL CULTURE: The Strange Story of 'King Solomon’s Throne’ Found in Jerusalem. Did a group of amateurs unearth a monumental Iron Age toilet seat over a century ago in the heart of biblical Jerusalem? A modern-day archaeologist lifts the lid on a bizarre mystery (Ruth Schuster, Haaretz).

For more on other ancient toilets found in Israel and elsewhere, as well on ancient intestinal parasites, see the links collected here. Cross-file under Latrine News.

For more on European archaeology in Jerusalem in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, see here and links, plus here.

UPDATE: Links now corrected!

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Thursday, September 08, 2022

More on the new Hebrew scroll fragment

UPDATE: Extremely rare document from the First Temple-period repatriated to Israel. The extremely rare document, composed of four torn lines, will be presented for the first time to the public at the First Judean Desert Conference that will be held next week at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem. (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs). This is the original press release from the Israel Antiquities Authority. (HT Joseph Lauer.) It contains additional information. One important detail that I did not see in yesterday's press coverage:
The Dead Sea Scrolls Unit conserved the papyrus and documented it with the modern multispectral system used to monitor the state of the scrolls.
In order to confirm that the document was genuine, a small sample was radiometrically dated in the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot. The sample provided a date similar to that determined by the paleographic evaluation (based on the letter forms), thus consolidating the dating towards the end of the First Temple period.
The C-14 dating of the fragment is an important piece of evidence in favor of it being a genuine ancient artifact.

It is true that forgeries have been made using ancient materials. But I would be surprised if there is any blank parchment from the late Iron Age II available for such a purpose.

That said, we had exactly the same situation with one of the other two First Temple-era scroll fragments. The Jerusalem Papyrus was carbon dated to around the same time. Nevertheless, Northwest Semitic epigrapher Christopher Rollston had reservations about its genuineness, based on anomalies in its script. I don't know whether that debate was resolved. For details, follow the link.

I would be interested in hearing what Professor Rollston has to say about this latest discovery. Unfortunately his blog appears to be down – or at least I can't access it.

I would now say that there is a good case that this new scroll fragment is genuine.

This article by Amanda Borschel-Dan in the Times of Israel also has new details about the process of recovering the fragment: Ingathering of the exiles? Extremely rare First Temple-era papyrus repatriated. 2,700-year-old inscribed papyrus, a letter to ‘Ishmael’ written in early Hebrew script, joins only two others from biblical times. But that’s just the beginning of the story.

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What else is in the Qumran caves?

NOTE: I prepared this post a few days ago. Events have overtaken it before I got around to posting. I post it now, unrevised. The discussion seems prophetic, doesn't it?

IT'S WORTH ASKING THE QUESTION: What other secrets are hidden in the Qumran caves? Besides the Dead Sea Scrolls, the caves may contain items from the First Temple (GARY SCHIFF, Jewish News Syndicate).

If an article headline speculates on what might be found in the future at a site, it's a good bet that it's not reporting any actual new finds.

Nevertheless, we all like to speculate. Here are some comments on the speculation in this article.

Regarding items from the Temple, David Yehuda, an author involved in historical research on the subject, has been involved for decades with the work at Qumran. He cited several ancient documents that cross-reference each other, noting that all seem to point to Qumran as an area that may contain items of great significance, possibly from the Temple.

As an example, the Copper Scroll, which sits in a museum in Amman, Jordan, lists many locations—a number of which seem to point to the Qumran area—where certain items from the First Temple were supposedly hidden before the exile.

I have not encountered David Yehuda before.

As for the Copper Scroll, it is possible that it lists hiding places treasures from the Herodian Temple after its destruction in 70 CE. No one thinks it lists treasures from the First Temple hidden before the exile. The Copper Scroll was produced many centuries after the destruction of the First Temple. For many other PaleoJudaica posts on th Copper Scroll, start here and follow the links.

Yehuda also notes that the Kabbalistic book Emek HaMelech, written by R. Naftali Ben Yaakov Elchanan in 1648, lists hidden items from the First Temple. Yehuda points out that, according to the text, the location where these items were hidden was inscribed on a copper plate.

The Copper Scroll was evidently flat when it was first made, but then coated with clay and rolled like a scroll. The clay was presumably added to seal the surface to prevent oxidation. The care that its authors took to preserve it for the future is remarkable in and of itself. Further, Yehuda says, according to Revue Biblique there were two marble tablets found in the basement of a museum in Lebanon that contain the same text as that written in Emek HaMelech.

The relevant part of Emek HaMelech is the same text as the Treatise of the Vessels. I published the first complete English translation of it in 2013. Much as I love this text, it is late – somewhere between post-Talmudic and early modern. It doesn't tell us anything about the actual fate of any of the treasures of either Temple. For many PaleoJudica posts on the Treatise of the Vessels, start here and follow the links.

As for the larger interest of the article, who knows what could still be found in the Qumran caves? People are still looking (cf. here). Those particular caves have been explored very throroughly. I would be surprised by any major discoveries. The could still be odd scraps left.

The Judean Desert caves in general have also been searched pretty thoroughly. But I would not entirely exclude the possibility of important new finds in them. From as early as the First Temple? I doubt it, but who knows? The earliest discovery of artifacts in a Dead Sea cave was from the Chalcolithic period (4th millennium BCE; the Nahal Mishmar hoard).

I have occasionally pointed out that even some very early sites have preserved surprising amounts of organic material. That seems to point to conditions that could preserve scroll fragments. For the Timna Valley excavation (10th-century BCE) see here and links and here and links. For the Megiddo excavation, see here and links. Megiddo Tomb 50 dates to c. 1600 BCE. Textiles dating to c. 1100 BCE were also preserved in a jar at Megiddo.

Do I think it is likely there are scrolls from 1100 BCE buried in jars somewhere at Megiddo? No. But there is evidence that it is possible, so we may hope.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2022

A new First-Temple-era Hebrew scroll fragment?

NORTHWEST SEMITIC EPIGRAPHY: Ancient Hebrew letter from First Temple period returned to Israel - watch. The letter written in ancient Hebrew, originally found in the Judean Desert caves, ended up in Montana and was then returned to Israel (Jerusalem Post).
A letter written in ancient Hebrew dating back to the First Temple period, around the sixth or seventh century, was returned to Israel on Wednesday. It was probably found in the Judean Desert caves.

Archaeologists estimated that it dates back to the sixth century BCE which joins two other documents in this time period in the Israel Antiquities Authority Dead Sea Scrolls collection. The script on the extremely rare ripped document starts with "To Ishmael send...", hinting that it is a fragment of a letter.


[UPDATE (8 September): More here. I now think that this fragment is probably genuine.]

[UPDATE (9 September): Epigrapher Christopher Rollston has published some concerns about the papyrus. He makes many good points. I have replied provisionally to one of them. Developing ...]

This is potentially an extremely important discovery ... but ... you knew this was coming ... we should be skeptical of its authenticity.

It is unprovenanced. The owner reports that it was sold to his mother by an antiquities dealer in the 1960s. It was not recovered in a scientific excavation. There is no indication that the dealer even claimed to know its place of origin, although we may learn more about that in time.

As I have said for a long time, our default assumption should be that an unprovenanced inscription is a forgery unless and until scholars present a credible case that it is genuine.

All that said, it could be the real thing. I very much hope that my initial skepticism turns out to be wrong and that someone makes a solid case for its authenticity. I look forward to hearing more next week.

Meanwhile, all praise to the owner for turning it over to scholars for analysis.

I may have more to say later, but that's all I have time for today.

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Maurais, Characterizing Old Greek Deuteronomy as an Ancient Translation (Brill)

Characterizing Old Greek Deuteronomy as an Ancient Translation

Series: Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism, Volume: 203

Author: Jean Maurais

Much can be learned about a translation’s linguistic and cultural context by studying it as a text, a literary artifact of the culture that produced it. However, its nature as a translation warrants a careful approach, one that pays attention to the process by which its various features came about. In Characterizing Old Greek Deuteronomy as an Ancient Translation, Jean Maurais develops a framework derived from Descriptive Translation Studies to bring both these aspects in conversation. He then outlines how the Deuteronomy translator went about his task and provides a characterization of the work as a literary product.

Prices from (excl. VAT): €139.00 / $167.00

Copyright Year: 2022
E-Book (PDF)
Availability: Published
ISBN: 978-90-04-51658-8v Publication date: 27 Jun 2022

Availability: Not Yet Published
ISBN: 978-90-04-51657-1
Publication date: 01 Aug 2022

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Tuesday, September 06, 2022

Archaeology, history, and the Book of Daniel

BIBLE ARCHAEOLOGY REPORT: Top Ten Discoveries Related to the Book of Daniel (Bryan Windle). HT Todd Bolen at the Bible Places Blog.

This is a good list of archaeological discoveries that illuminate the Book of Daniel.

They do not, however, show that the book was actually written in the sixth century BCE. They don't even imply that.

Specialists are united in dating the book to the second century BCE, sometime around the Maccabean revolt.

Bryan Windle writes: "This late date is assumed largely on the basis of the presupposition of modern scholars that supernatural fore-telling of events is not possible," Sometimes people have made this argument, but it isn't very strong and it isn't the primary argument for a second century date. Who could know whether supernatural foretelling of events is possible or not?

It is fair, however, to invoke the Sagan standard that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." I don't see anything like extraordinary evidence that Daniel was composed in the sixth century. Quite the contrary. But again, that is not the chief argument.

The primary argument for the second century date of Daniel is that the predictions in the book are meticulously accurate (one could even say supernaturally accurate) up to the Maccabean Revolt, but then they go wildly wrong.

All indicators are that the author was writing during the revolt, made predictions after the fact (the most accurate kind), then made real predictions. The real predictions, predictably, went wrong. I have made the case for this with one passage (there are others) here, here, and here.

The second-century writer did draw on earlier Aramaic legends, especially in chapters 2-6. More on that here, here, here, and here.

For more on the Nebo-Sarsekim tablet, see here and links. For more on the Esagila, see here. There is a new book on the Ishtar Gate by Helen Gries. (HT the Bible Places Blog again.) For more on the Nabonidus Chronicle and on Belshazzar, see here. There are many PaleoJudaica posts on the Cyrus Cylinder - start at the link in the last sentence. For Danielic apocrypha in the Dead Sea Scrolls, see here.

As for the Qumran fragments of the Book of Daniel itself, yes, some of them may have been copied within fifty years of the Maccabean Revolt and the book's composition. But does it hold up to argue that "There simply is not enough time for the book to have been composed, circulated and accepted as canonical in such a short period of time." Nope. Fifty years is a long time, not far off an average lifespan in antiquity.

I make no claim about canonicity in this period. It's hard to know what that would even have meant. But certainly the book could have been circulated and accepted by many Palestinian Jews as a genuine revelation quite quickly - in weeks or months during the revolt. And once a group of people accept a book as divine revelation, confirmation bias makes it very difficult to get them to un-accept it. It is entirely plausible that the book could have been widely copied, read, and believed in fifty years later.

The fact that some predictions went wrong wouldn't have had much effect. When prophecy fails, many followers will just adjust their understanding of the prophecy and continue to believe. There is some evidence that this was already happening in the early years after the publication of the book. It looks like there are recalculations of the end date appended to the book (12:11-12, cf. 8:14).

The whole history of the interpretation of Daniel involves each generation trying to make the predictions fit the current situation.

I am teaching an honours course on the Book of Daniel again this semester, so all these matters are on my mind.

Despite my criticisms, I am grateful to Bryan Windle for collecting this interesting archaeological material pertaining to the Book of Daniel.

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Re-dating the Ashkenazic "genetic bottleneck?"

ARCHAEOGENETICS: 17 people found in a medieval well in England were victims of an antisemitic massacre, DNA reveals (Tom Metcalfe, Live Science).

This article is about a discovery in Norwich, England. It is of considerable importance in itself, but it is outside the date range of PaleoJudaica. I note it because the genetic analysis of the excavated remains has potential implications for our understanding of Jewish genetics as early as late antiquity:

The modern Ashkenazi population has a greater-than-usual incidence of certain genetic disorders, such as Tay-Sachs disease and some hereditary cancers, he said; and the genetics of four the people in the well in Norwich showed the same frequency of such disorders, although there's only a very limited number of victims from which to draw such conclusions.

The cause of these disorders was thought to be a "genetic bottleneck" probably caused by a drop in the population between about 600 and 800 years ago, he said. But their frequency in the victims meant the genetic bottleneck must have happened much earlier, possibly as early as the late stages of the Western Roman Empire from the fifth century, he said.

My bold-font emphasis. For more on Ashkenazic genetics, and ancient Jewish and Israelite genetics in general, see here and links, plus here, here, here, and here.

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Monday, September 05, 2022

Ivory plaques from First-Temple Jerusalem

DECORATIVE ART: First-Temple Period Decorated Ivories Found in City of David. (David Israel, The Jewish Press).
An extraordinary treasure was unearthed in Jerusalem: ivory plaques from the First Temple period, the first of their kind to be found in Jerusalem. They were discovered in the excavations of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University at the Givati Parking Lot in the City of David at the Jerusalem Walls National Park, funded by the City of David Foundation.


The ivories will be on display next Tuesday, September 13, at the 23rd Conference of the City of David Studies of Ancient Jerusalem. They will also be displayed in October at the Jerusalem Conference of the IAA, Tel Aviv University, and the Hebrew University.

The article mentions that the site also produced residue of ancient vanilla-flavored wine. More on that here. For more on ancient ivory plaques in the Middle East, see here.

For more on the Nathan-Melech bulla, also discovered there, see the links here. And follow the links from there (plus here) for additional posts on the many discoveries at the Givati Parking Lot excavation.

UPDATE (6 September): Todd Bolen comments on the story here.

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The Iraqi Jewish archives and Iraq's anti-Israel legislation

IRAQI JEWISH ARCHIVES WATCH: Iraqi Jewish archives need to be returned to Iraqi Jews - opinion. The Iraqi Jewish Archive is now at grave risk at the hands of an Iraqi government that has criminalized relations with Jewish people (CAROL BASRI, SARAH LEVIN, Jerusalem Post).

This story has been quiet for a while. For background, including some information about Ms. Basri, one of the authors of the current article, see here. For many PaleoJudaica posts going back to the discovery of the archives in 2003, follow the links from there.

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Sunday, September 04, 2022

Phoenician sarcophagus exhibition in Malta

PHOENICIAN WATCH: A Valletta museum unveils an ancient Phoenician sarcophagus. Sarcophagus excavated in Rabat makes its debut at Museum of Archaeology (Times of Malta).
A Phoenician stone sarcophagus excavated last year at G─žajn Klieb, on the outskirts of Rabat, is one of the major attractions at an exhibition which has just been inaugurated at the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta.

The exhibition brings to light the results of months of painstaking studies by a multidisciplinary team researching the sarcophagus and two other tombs discovered in the area, as well as their contents.


For more on the sarcophagus, see here. Malta makes many contributions to Phoenician and Punic archaeology. See the archives for details.

Cross-file under Punic Watch, if you define Punic broadly as Mediterranian colonial Phoenician, rather than narrowly as Carthaginian.

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