Saturday, May 13, 2023

Chatting in Aramaic at the Coronation

ARAMAIC WATCH: The Coronation smalltalk? It was in Aramaic, reveals rabbi Dweck. The Senior Rabbi of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation, Britain’s oldest Jewish community, described the mood as 'buoyant and joyful' (Jonathan Sacerdoti, The Jewish Press).
Britain’s Sephardi leader Rabbi Joseph Dweck has revealed he chatted to the Archbishop of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Aramaic — the language spoken by Jesus — as they were waiting for the coronation to begin.
You never know when your Aramaic will come in handy.

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10 artifacts in the Bible Lands Museum

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: 10 Great Biblical Artifacts at the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem. Artifacts and the Bible (David Moster).

This essay is a re-run, which I linked to a few years ago, but it's worth mentioning again. For more on the Larsa tablet, see here and here.

You will recall the fake dated inscription of Darius I. This museum has a real one.

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Friday, May 12, 2023

A peer-review article on the Mount Ebal tablet

PUBLICATION: Scholars Expound on Mount Ebal Curse Tablet with Oldest Hebrew Text (Etgar Lefkovits, The Jewish Press).
(JNS) A lead tablet found at a site where it is believed the Israelite leader Joshua built an altar, contains the oldest Hebrew text ever found in the Land of Israel as well as the name of God, an academic article published Friday concludes.


This popular article will give you the background from the last year or so.

The academic article has been published in a journal called Heritage Science, which I have not heard of before. It is an open-access, peer-review journal with publications paid for by author subvention (which is not unusual for open-access publishing). Its focus is material science in relation to cultural artifacts (my paraphrase). The article:

“You are Cursed by the God YHW:” an early Hebrew inscription from Mt. Ebal (Scott Stripling, Gershon Galil, Ivana Kumpova, Jaroslav Valach, Pieter Gert van der Veen & Daniel Vavrik, Heritage Science volume 11, Article number: 105 [2023])


In December 2019, an expedition on Mt. Ebal to examine the discarded material from Adam Zertal’s 1982–1989 excavation yielded a small, folded lead tablet. The east dump pile, from which the object emerged, contained the discarded matrix from two structures that he interpreted as altars dated to the Late Bronze Age II and Iron Age I. The earlier and smaller round altar lay underneath the geometric center of the later and larger rectangular altar. The tablet could not be opened without damaging it. A team of scientists performed X-ray tomographic measurements with different scanning parameters. The tomographically reconstructed data were subjected to advanced processing to reveal the hidden text. Epigraphic analysis of the tomographic data revealed a formulaic curse written in a proto-alphabetic script likely dating to Late Bronze Age II. The inscription falls within the literary genre of Chiastic Parallelism and predates any previously known Hebrew inscription in Israel by at least 200 years.

The main area of interest is the supposedly-inscribed inner surface, "Inner B." Due to deformations in the shape of the object, it was not possible to produce a single image of that surface. Instead, the researchers took scans of 46 "planar tomographic slices" of it. There are thus images of many individual supposed letters and a drawing of the whole surface.

When I look at the photos, I sometimes think I can see the "letters," sometimes not. In the best-case scenario, the bits add up to a reconstructed inscription. In the worst case, natural irregularities in the surface are providing a Rorschach test of the epigraphic imagination of the observer. In other words, there are no letters. I honestly don't know which or where in between.

It seems like it would help to see the 46 slices assembled into a single image, but I don't know how possible that is. But looking at individual letter images and trying to place them on the drawing makes it hard to judge whether there is a real inscription there. It doesn't help that the lines of the supposed inscription go right to left, left to right, up to down, down to up, and "boustrophedon" (back and forth in alternate lines, "ox plow" direction).

One point that bothers me a lot is the spelling of "cursed," ארור, = 'rwr = (vocalized) 'arȗr. The spelling I would expect in this period is ארר, 'rr. The vav/w should not be there. Internal long vowels were not spelled out in the Canaanite languages until many centuries later. They appear late in the First Temple period sporadically and only become normal after the Babylonian Exile. I think they may appear earlier in Aramaic, but not that much earlier. I don't think the article addresses this problem adequately.

Anyway, that's my first impression as a rusty epigrapher who is not an expert in the script period in question. I am keeping an open mind at present. I look forward to hearing the judgment of experts like Christopher Rollston.

Meanwhile, I congratulate the authors for getting the first peer-review publication out. Now the conversation can start.

For PaleoJudaica posts on the Mount Ebal tablet, start here and follow the links.

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Thursday, May 11, 2023

Review of Cotton, Roman rule and Jewish life

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: Roman rule and Jewish life: collected papers.
Hannah M. Cotton, Ofer Pogorelsky, Roman rule and Jewish life: collected papers. Studia Judaica, 89. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2022. Pp. xxxii, 607. ISBN 9783110191448

Review by
Shoni Lavie-Driver, Jesus College, Cambridge.

... Overall, this book contains something to appeal to scholars of many different interests—the relationship everyday subjects of the Roman Empire had to the imperial system and its treatment of them; the relationship between culture, language and empire; the legal and administrative functioning of the empire; the evolution of Jewish law; and the history of Roman Judaea and Nabataea-Arabia specifically. None of the papers have been superseded, but some have arguably received less attention than is due. ...

I noted the publication of the book here.

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On publishing unprovenanced artifacts

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: To Publish or Not to Publish? This is No Longer the Question (Morag M. Kersel).

The debate over how, if at all, scholars should handle unprovenanced artifacts is not going away. There are signs that it is just getting going.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Funding approved for development of Samaria/Sebastia

RENOVATION: Israel to turn biblical Sebastia into archaeological park. The capital of the northern Kingdom of Israel will be preserved and prepared for visitors (ETGAR LEFKOVITS, JNS). Also known as Samaria and Tel Shomron.
(May 9, 2023 / JNS) The Israeli Cabinet approved a nearly $9 million budget on Sunday for the restoration and development of Sebastia, a major archaeological site that served as the capital of the Kingdom of Israel nearly three millennia ago.


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Shootings near the Djerba synagogue in Tunisia

VIOLENCE: 4 killed in shooting near Lag Ba'omer fest at ancient synagogue in Tunisia. Thousands of Jewish pilgrims arrive to the island of Djerba every year for Lag Ba'omer festivities (Zvika Klein, Jerusalem Post).
Two visitors and two security guards were killed in a shooting near the ancient El Ghriba Synagogue (also known as the Djerba Synagogue,) in the city of Djerba in Tunisia on Tuesday. It is as of yet unclear if the visitors were worshipers taking part in a pilgrimage at the synagogue.


Reports are still coming in. They currently conflict on how many people were killed and wounded. The most recent information I can find:

At least three killed in attack near synagogue in Tunisia (By Eyad Kourdi and Hande Atay Alam, CNN)

Tunisia: Five people shot dead near synagogue. Israel said one of the two civilians killed in the attack near Ghriba synagogue held Israeli citizenship (Middle East Eye)

The reports agree that the shooter (who was killed by police) was a naval installation security guard.

There have been longstanding concerns about terrorism in Tunisia, including at Djerba in connection with Lag B'Omer. That seems likely here, but it's too early to be sure yet what happened.

For the Ghriba Synagogue at Djerba and the annual pilgrimage associated with it, see here and links.

UPDATE (11 May): More information here:

Djerba Tunisia: Worshippers killed near Africa's oldest synagogue (BBC News)

Tunisia’s Jewish pilgrimage and Tuesday’s shooting, explained (Ben Sales, JTA)

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

Tuesday, May 09, 2023

Lag B'Omer 2023

LAG B'OMER, the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer, began last night at sundown. Best wishes to all observing it.

My 2022 Lag B'Omer post is here with links.

For the biblical and rabbinic background of the holiday, see here and here.

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Introduction to Carbon-14 dating

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Carbon-14 dating, explained (Steve Koppes and Louise Lerner, UChicago News).
Radiocarbon dating, or carbon-14 dating, is a scientific method that can accurately determine the age of organic materials as old as approximately 60,000 years. First developed in the late 1940s at the University of Chicago by Willard Libby, the technique is based on the decay of the carbon-14 isotope. Radiocarbon dating has been used for historical studies and atmospheric science, and triggered archaeology’s “radiocarbon revolution.”


This is a good, reader-friendly introduction to radiocarbon dating. Not surprisingly, the Dead Sea Scrolls are mentioned.

For PaleoJudaica posts on C-14 dating, start here (cf. here) and follow the links.

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

Monday, May 08, 2023

Schwartz, 1 Maccabees (AB; Yale)

1 Maccabees
A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary

by Daniel R. Schwartz

Series: The Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries

504 Pages, 6.12 x 9.25 in, 2 b-w illus.

Published: Tuesday, 26 Apr 2022

A new translation and commentary on I Maccabees that offers a fresh interpretation of the author’s values and purpose

First Maccabees, composed in the second century BCE, chronicles four decades of clashes between Hellenistic Syria and Judea, from Antiochus Epiphanes’s ascent to the throne in 175 BCE to the Hasmoneans’ establishment of an independent Judean state, ruled by Simon and his sons.

In this volume, Daniel R. Schwartz provides a new translation of the Greek text and analyzes its historical significance. In dialogue with contemporary scholarship, the introduction surveys the work’s themes, sources, and transmission, while the commentary addresses textual details and issues of historical reconstruction, often devoting special attention to the lost Hebrew original and its associations. Schwartz demonstrates that 1 Maccabees, despite its Hebraic biblical style and its survival within the Christian canon, deviates from biblical and Judaic works by marginalizing God, evincing scorn for martyrs, and ascribing to human power and valor crucial historical roles. This all fits its mandate: justification of the Hasmonean dynasty, especially the Simonides.

Came out this time last year, but I've only just noticed it.

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Codex Sassoon going on display in New York

FOR SALE: The world’s oldest Hebrew Bible will be publicly displayed in NYC. The Codex Sassoon has a long and mysterious history but remained in Jewish hands for its 1100-year existence (LISA KEYS, JTA via Jerusalem Post).
After stops in London, Tel Aviv and other locales, the world’s oldest nearly complete Hebrew Bible will be on view in New York City beginning on Sunday.

Known as the Codex Sassoon, the book — which was written by a single Jewish scribe on 400 pages of parchment about 1,100 years ago — will be on view at Sotheby’s auction house (1334 York Ave.) by appointment through Tuesday, May 16. The following day, it will be sold at auction and is estimated to fetch between $30 million to $50 million — possibly making it the most expensive book or document ever sold.


For background on the Codex Sassoon, the Sassoon family and their antiquarian collections, and the upcoming sale, see here and links.

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

Sunday, May 07, 2023

Elgvin, Warrior, King, Servant, Savior (Eerdmans)

Warrior, King, Servant, Savior

Messianism in the Hebrew Bible and Early Jewish Texts
Torleif Elgvin

HARDCOVER; Published: 8/4/2022
ISBN: 978-0-8028-7818-2
Price: $ 44.99
383 Pages
Trim Size, in inches: 6 x 9


An exegetical and diachronic survey of messianic texts from the Hebrew Bible and Jewish tradition up through the first millennium CE.

Jewish messianism can be traced back to the emerging Kingdom of Judah in the tenth century BCE, when it was represented by the Davidic tradition and the promise of a future heir to David’s throne. From that point, it remained an important facet of Israelite faith, as evidenced by its frequent recurrence in the Hebrew Bible and other early Jewish texts. In preexilic texts, the expectation is for an earthly king—a son of David with certain ethical qualities—whereas from the exile onward there is a transition to a pluriform messianism, often with utopic traits.

Warrior, King, Servant, Savior is an exegetical and diachronic study of messianism in these texts that maintains close dialogue with relevant historical research and archaeological insights. Internationally respected biblical scholar Torleif Elgvin recounts the development and impact of messianism, from ancient Israel through the Hasmonean era and the rabbinic period, with rich chapters exploring messianic expectations in the Northern Kingdom, postexilic Judah, and Qumran, among other contexts. For this multifaceted topic—of marked interest to Jews, Christians, and secular historians of religion alike—Elgvin’s handbook is the essential and definitive guide.

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Archaeology of Mind in the Hebrew Bible (De Gruyter, open access)

Archaeology of Mind in the Hebrew Bible / Archäologie alttestamentlichen Denkens

Edited by: Andreas Wagner , Jürgen van Oorschot and Lars Allolio-Näcke
Funded by: Schweizerischer Nationalfonds (SNF)

Published: April 27, 2023
ISBN: 9783110742428

Published: April 27, 2023
ISBN: 9783110742183

About this book

Open Access

Research into the Hebrew Bible, Ancient Near East, Philosophy and History have long considered whether thought in the cultural area of the ancient Middle East differs from that in the western Mediterranean. The inclusion of neurobiology, psychology, brain research and evolutionary research will widen this horizon and allow new approaches. This volume provides in depth insides into this Archaeology of Mind in 22 contributions.

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