Saturday, May 20, 2023

Yarbro Collins, Collected Essays on the Gospel According to Mark (Mohr Siebeck)

NEW BOOK FROM MOHR SIEBECK: Adela Yarbro Collins. Collected Essays on the Gospel According to Mark. 2023. VI, 342 pages. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 497. 129,00 € including VAT. cloth ISBN 978-3-16-161588-7
Published in English.
This volume presents essays by Adela Yarbro Collins on the Gospel of Mark originally published between 1993 and 2021. The earlier ones were written while preparing to write the Hermeneia commentary on Mark, published in 2007. The later ones reflect the author's continuing interest in the interpretation of this Gospel. Major foci of the collection are the genre of Mark and of the passion narrative, and the meaning of the death of Jesus. She approaches the portrayal of Jesus in Mark by analyzing a particularly striking miracle-story, the walking on the water; the title Son of God; Jesus's action in the temple; the messianic secret; and particular aspects of Jesus's Jewishness. Another important topic is the significance of the empty tomb, that is, how the author of Mark envisioned the resurrected life of Jesus. Clues to this are found in the cultural contexts in which the Gospel was written.

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Friday, May 19, 2023

Codex Sassoon sold for $38.1M, is going to Israel

SOLD! Codex Sassoon, oldest near-complete Hebrew Bible, purchased for $38.1 million. Rare, 1,100-year-old manuscript to be displayed at ANU Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv after former US envoy to Romania submits winning bid (JACKIE HAJDENBERG and ASAF SHALEV, JTA via Times of Israel).
The Codex Sassoon, a leather-bound, handwritten parchment volume containing a nearly complete Hebrew Bible, was purchased by former US Ambassador to Romania Alfred H. Moses on behalf of the American Friends of ANU and donated to ANU Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, where it will join the collection, the Sotheby’s auction house said in statement.
Good for Mr. Moses! He did the right thing. I wonder if he is a PaleoJudaica reader? Maybe not. But I have been calling for the buyer to donate the manuscript to a museum in Israel.

Background here and links.

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On the Lachish Letters

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: The Lachish Letters. A Judahite archive from the First Temple period (Nathan Steinmeyer).
The Lachish Letters are a collection of texts excavated at biblical Lachish in southern Israel that date to the years immediately preceding the site’s destruction by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II in the early sixth century BCE, as described in the Book of Jeremiah. Although only a few of the inscriptions remain legible, the information they provide has made them a key to understanding and interpreting historical events surrounding the fall of the Kingdom of Judah in 586 BCE, especially as some may link directly to events recorded in Jeremiah.


A nice brief introduction to this important cache of First-Temple-era Hebrew epigraphic texts.

Some PaleoJudaica posts involving the Lachish Letters are here, here, here, and here. A brief, more ancient, inscribed ostracon was discovered at Lachish in 2015. And then there is the embarrassing story of the fake Darius ostracon from earlier this year.

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Thursday, May 18, 2023

Schiffman on ancient synagogues


This reprint of an article in Ami Magazine gives a brief introduction to Israeli excavations of ancient synagogues.

PaleoJudaica has posts on most of those mentioned. Start at the links and keep going from there: Zodiac synagogue mosaics at Beit Alfa and elsewhere, Masada, Magdala Synagogues and Stone, Hamat Tiberias (Hamat Teveryah), Katzrin, Huqoq, and Umm el-Kanatir.

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On the Queen of Sheba legend

AUDIO (but with a substantial article too): The shapeshifting Queen of Sheba: legends, facts and fictions. Ideas about gender and power have shifted in each retelling of the Queen of Sheba's life, say experts (Pauline Holdsworth, CBC Radio).
Debates over the Queen of Sheba have roiled for centuries. Was she a human or a djinn? A wise woman or a temptress? And — given the lack of archaeological evidence — was she a real historical figure, or a figment of multiple imaginations?
For many PaleoJudaica posts about and involving the Queen of Sheba, start here and just keep following those links. For more on the Kebra Negast, see here. For more on the Queen's hairy legs, see here.

To update the filmography, Amazon's 2022 movie, Three Thousand Years of Longing, with Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba, includes a hairy-legged Queen of Sheba as a character.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2023

More inscriptions in ‘Atiqot

EPIGRAPHIC NEWS: This post is a follow-up to the immediately preceding one, Rock receipt recovered on the Pilgrimage Road. It was about an inscription published in the current issue of ‘Atiqot, the open-access, peer-review journal published by the Israel Antiquities Authority. I noted that the issue had more articles on newly recovered or reevaluated inscriptions. Some of them seem as interesting as the rock receipt and I hope they receive more attention. Meanwhile, it seems worth noting the one of interest to PaleoJudaica here. You can download free pdf files of all of them at the current-issue link: ‘Atiqot 110 (2023).
A New Assemblage of ‘Private’ Stamped Jar Handles from the Mordot Arnona Excavations, Jerusalem (pp. 1–22)

Neria Sapir, Nathan Ben-Ari, Ido Koch and Oded Lipschits

Keywords: Jerusalem, Judah, Iron Age II, administration, lmlk stamped impressions, ‘private’ stamp impressions, Sennacherib’s campaign

The site of Mordot Arnona is located c. 750 m northeast of Ramat Raḥel, on the eastern outskirts of the Arnona neighborhood of Jerusalem. Recent salvage excavations at the site showed that in the late eighth and the first half of the seventh century BCE, Mordot Arnona held great significance in the physical and political landscape of the area south of Jerusalem, serving as an administrative center, as evidenced by its monumental structures and the dozens of stamped jar handles. In this paper we present for the first time a rare corpus of 17 jar handles bearing ‘private’ stamp impressions, one of the largest exposed in excavations in the region of Judah, alongside 124 lmlk stamped jar handles and 33 handles incised with concentric circles. Furthermore, we discuss their role, function and significance in Judah’s administration system on the eve of Sennacherib’s campaign.

For more on LMLK jar handles and seal impressions, see here and links.
From Nasas to Semakhyahu: Two New Engraved Inscriptions from Iron Age Moẓa (pp. 23–31)

Marion Sindel and Haggai Misgav

Keywords: Kingdom of Judah, cult, potters, economy, epigraphy, Hebrew script

Two inscriptions recently found on jar fragments at Tel Moẓa help clarify the reading of two previously uncovered inscriptions at the site. The four ancient Hebrew inscriptions, all inscribed on jars before firing, render a unique formula, where both the sender and recipient are mentioned, representing a new, heretofore unattested category of ownership inscriptions. Drawing both on the stratigraphic and epigraphic evidence, all four inscriptions can be placed in the seventh century BCE, a time when Tel Moẓa appears to have been an important economic and administrative center, as well as a cultic one.

For more on the archaeology of the site of Tel Moza (Tel Motza, Tel Moẓa, Tel Moẓah), start here and follow the links.
Evidence of an Edomite Hebrew Scribal Cooperation from Tel Malḥata: One Ostracon–Two Scripts–Three Scribes? (pp. 33–43)

Stefan Jakob Wimmer

Keywords: Iron Age, Edomite, Hebrew, scribal dialect, epigraphy, Northwest Semitic alphabet, ostraca, numerical systems

Among the epigraphic finds that Itzhaq Beit-Arieh published from Tel Malḥata, Inscription No. 4, the focus of this paper, is unique among the Iron Age ostraca, as it is written in both the Edomite and Hebrew languages. The context of the inscription is clear: a registration of amounts of one or more unknown commodities, with certain amounts described as ‘diminished.’ This paper offers a reassessment of Beit-Arie’s interpretation of the inscription, suggesting that it testifies to interaction and cooperation among several scribes adhering to different scribal dialects. It further discusses the broader implications of the inscription for the research of early Edomite writing.

An Aramaic-Inscribed Cultic Object from Tulûl Mas‘ud, Elyakhin (pp. 45–64)

Rafael Y. Lewis, Nir Finkelstein, Rona S. Avissar Lewis, Esther Eshel, Yuval Baruch, Yonah Maor, Tsadok Tsach and Oren Tal

Keywords: Persian, Hellenistic, cult, epigraphy, Phoenician, ethnicity, copper alloy, metal workshop

A copper-alloy object bearing an incised Aramaic inscription in lapidary script was found on the surface, about halfway up the hill of Tulûl Mas‘ud, in the Sharon plain. The object was recently studied by a multidisciplinary research group of specialists in archaeology, epigraphy, forensic science and analytical archaeology to better understand the artifact in its original cultural and spatial setting. The results attest that the object was probably connected with a nearby Persian-period sanctuary.

Sidonians at Marisa (Maresha) (pp. 65–81)

Dalit Regev

Keywords: Shephelah, Phoenician, Sidonians, ethnicity

One of the most important epigraphical finds of ancient Idumea, which has led scholars to believe that a Sidonian/Phoenician community was present in Marisa during the Hellenistic period (fourth–second centuries BCE), is the well-known inscription uncovered at the site in 1905, reading “Apollophanes son of Sesmaios, Chief of the Sidonians at Marisa.” This inscription was discovered in a large, lavishly painted tomb in the city’s necropolis, allegedly supporting a presence of a Sidonian/Phoenician community in Marisa. Following a comprehensive examination of the material culture from Marisa vis-à-vis that of other Phoenician sites, this commonly-held assumption is put to question. Phoenician pottery, very common in Phoenician cities of the Hellenistic period, such as ‘Akko and Ashqelon, is absent from Marisa, and the Greek onomasticon of Hellenistic Marisa also lacks Phoenician names and includes mainly Idumean and Greek names common in the East. Also, the numismatic evidence from Marisa does not seem to support a Sidonian presence. In this paper I argue that the term ‘Sidonians’ in the Hellenistic context at Marisa implies an instrumental context rather than an ethnic one.

For many PaleoJudaica posts on Maresha and the more recent epigraphic discoveries there, see here and links. Cross-file under Phoenician Watch.
A Nabataean Inscription near ‘Avedat (pp. 121–127)

Ohad Abudraham and Alexander Wiegmann

Keywords: Nabataean, epigraphy, blessing, graffiti, ‘Avedat, personal names, onomasticon

The corpus of surviving Nabataean inscriptions consists of thousands of graffiti written on rock faces and bedrock from Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Egypt, while a few such inscriptions are known from the Negev. The Nabataean inscription presented here was incised in the dark-brown patina of a limestone bedrock outcrop near ‘Avedat, a region dotted with many petroglyphs and inscriptions. The inscription is written in a typical Nabataean signature-type formula, comprising the name of the author preceded by a blessing and ending with the general greeting of well-being. The isolated location of the inscription should probably be connected with the historic Nabataean trade route between Petra and Gaza.

Cross-file under Nabatean (Nabataean) Watch. For some PaleoJudaica posts involving the Nabatean site of ‘Avedat (Avdat, Ovdat), see here and links, here, and here.
A Boundary Stone from Kafr Nafaḥ and the Preservation of Ancient Place Names in the Northern and Central Golan Heights (pp. 149–158)

Danny Syon and Chaim Ben David

Keywords: Golan, boundary stone, Greek, epigraphy, toponomy, private nouns, Via Maris, Kafr Nafaḥ, Roman period, Byzantine period

A Roman imperial boundary stone, erected under Diocletian in c. 300 CE, was reused as a covering stone of a fourth-century CE grave. It bears the Greek names of the villages Ramathana and Kapharnapha, identified as the late Ottoman villages Ramtaniyye and Kafr Nafaḥ. This is the first instance where ancient names were preserved by the modern ones in the central Golan Heights, overturning previous assumptions in this regard. Archaeological evidence from both sites confirms their existence in the Roman and Byzantine periods. It seems that the preservation of the name of Kafr Nafaḥ is due to its location along an important road. Although the original location of the stone remains unknown, its findspot suggests that the boundary between the two villages was near Kafr Nafaḥ.

I noted the discovery of this boundary stone in 2020 here.
Two Greek Inscriptions on Mosaics from the Theater at Shuni (pp. 159–172)

Leah Di Segni

Keywords: Greek epigraphy, epigram, literary puns, metrics, titulature of governors, First Palestine

Two Greek inscriptions, set in a mosaic pavement in the pool adjoining the eastern side of the theater of Shuni, celebrate the foundation of this structure by the otherwise unknown governor of First Palestine Flavius Marcianus Antipater, whose term of office can be dated by his titulature to the second half of the fifth or the early sixth century CE. One of the inscriptions, though fragmentary, can be recognized as an epigram. Both inscriptions exhibit a high level of sophistication, fitting the site where they were found, the location of a renowned Maiumas festival known for its cultural refinement.

I have already noted the article "Not a 'Signet Ring' of Pontius Pilatus," by Werner Eck and Avner Ecker, here.

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Rock receipt recovered on the Pilgrimage Road

LAPIDARY NORTHWEST SEMITIC EPIGRAPHY: 2,000-Year-Old Financial Record Unearthed on Jerusalem’s Pilgrimage Road. The discovery sheds light on the commercial activities of the time and offers a rare glimpse into the daily lives of the city’s inhabitants (Pesach Benson, Israel Today).
The inscription, found on a small stone tablet engraved with letters and numbers, is believed to be a receipt or payment instruction related to commercial transactions during the Second Temple period. It was discovered in an area known for its bustling commercial activity. The find was recently published in Atiqot, a peer-reviewed archaeological journal.
The object was found in debris in a salvage excavation, so it was not recovered in situ exactly. But I see no reason to doubt it is genuine. For one thing, a forger would have come up with something more exciting.

A receipt written on a rock seems straight out of the Flintstones. But there you have it.

As indicated, the underlying article is in the current issue of ‘Atiqot, an open-access journal published by the IAA. You can download the article as a pdf file.

‘Atiqot 110 (2023) EISSN 2948-040X
The Ancient Written Wor(l)d

A Second Temple Period Inscription on a Stone Ossuary Lid from the City of David, Jerusalem (pp. 83–88)

Esther Eshel and Nahshon Szanton

Keywords: Jerusalem, Second Temple period, Hebrew, Aramaic, epigraphy, Jewish, ossuary, payment

A stone fragment bearing a Hebrew or Aramaic inscription was discovered in the debris piled up along the Early Roman period Stepped Street in the Tyropoeon Valley, on the west slope of the City of David hill. The inscription preserves part of a list mentioning proper names and sums of money. Similar lists are known from the Second Temple period, commonly interpreted as payment received or rendered from individuals. This is the first inscription to be found inside the city. It is unclear whether the inscription was connected to the ossuary on which it was inscribed, perhaps by the ossuary craftsman?

The current issue of ‘Atiqot has some other article on new epigraphic finds and analyses. But I will save those for the next post.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Seminar on Comparative Approaches to Apocalyptic Literature (c. 600-c. 900)

H-JUDAIC: EVENT: Comparative Approaches to Apocalyptic Literature In Judaism, Islam and Christianity (c. 600-c. 900).

The event takes place online and here at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, on 5-6 June 2023. Follow the link for the schedule and (free, but required) registration information.

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Looting arrests at Roman-era caves in northern Israel

APPREHENDED: Antiquities robbers caught red-handed looting Roman-era caves. The site in question contained artifacts that are approximately 2,000 years old, dating back to the Roman-Byzantine era, according to the IAA (Jerusalem Post).

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Monday, May 15, 2023

Skepticism concerning the Mount Ebal Tablet

REACTION: Academic article on controversial 3,200-year-old ‘curse tablet’ fails to sway experts. Year after team hails bombshell discovery of oldest Hebrew writing in Israel, details of the find hit a peer-reviewed journal. But some academics don’t see any inscription at all ( MELANIE LIDMAN, Times of Israel). I noted the publication of the article in Heritage Science, with my initial assessment, here. Follow the links from there for earlier posts.

The main takeaway of the ToI article is the response of two specialists who were willing to go on record. Christopher Rollston's reaction was very close to mine:

“The published images reveal some striations in the lead and some indentations (lead is, of course, quite soft and so such things are understandable), but there are no actual discernible letters,” Prof. Christopher Rollston, an expert in Northwest Semitic languages and the chair of the department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at George Washington University, wrote in an email. “This article is basically a text-book case of the Rorschach Test, and the authors of this article have projected upon a piece of lead the things they want it to say.” ...

“I don’t accept all the interpretations that were suggested in the article, and I plan to publish a different opinion in an academic journal,” said Bar Ilan University Prof. Aren Maeir, declining to elaborate further. Meir published the open letter criticizing the announcement of findings in the media prior to academic review on his blog last December.

On his e-mail list, Joseph Lauer points to a Facebook exchange between Lawson Stone (whom I don't know) and Peter van der Veen, one of the authors of the Heritage Science article. Stone raises a number of good points, including the same orthographic concern I raised and more. Joe also notes that Peter van der Veen has further interactions and comments on his Facebook page.

The Jerusalem Post has an article on the story too, but it just repeats the claims of the Heritage Science article without critical analysis: Ancient tablet found on Mount Ebal predates known Hebrew inscriptions. ‘You are cursed by the God’: Israeli-European team of scientists performed X-ray tomographic measurements with different scanning parameters to reveal the hidden text (Judy Siegel-Itzkovich).

My view? It is possible that there are some letters on the "Inner B" surface of the interior of the object. I'm not sure there are, but I would not rule it out entirely.

As for the overall readings proposed in the article, the problems with the spelling (orthography) of the word "curse" (ארור), which I noted, as well as of Yahu (יהו) and "you" (אתה), which Stone adds, raise serious difficulty with the decipherment. Internal and final vowel letters in Northwest Semitic inscriptions are not used until long after the date assigned to this supposed inscription. (The few Ugaritic examples of internal vowel letters proposed in connection with n. 29 do not correspond to normal Ugaritic orthography and have plausible other interpretations.)

I am not persuaded by the case presented in the article for the reading of the inscription as a whole, if there is an inscription.

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Marble shipwreck cargo found by Israeli swimmer

SERENDIPITIOUS SCULPTURE SIGHTING: Ancient Roman-era marble cargo shipwreck found by Israeli beachgoer. The cargo shipment of marble items had been known to the Israel Antiquities Authority for years, but because it was covered in sand, its exact location was unknown (Jerusalem Post).

The story is also covered by JNS with additional photos: Swimmer finds 1,800-year-old marble artifacts near Netanya. The Roman-era ship sank in a storm along with architectural elements likely intended for a temple or theater.

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Sunday, May 14, 2023

Review of Invitation to Syriac Christianity: an anthology

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: Invitation to Syriac Christianity: an anthology.
Michael Philip Penn, Scott Fitzgerald Johnson, Christine Shepardson, Charles M. Stang, Invitation to Syriac Christianity: an anthology. Oakland: University of California Press, 2022. Pp. xxi, 431. ISBN 9780520299191

Review by
Walter Beers, University of Haifa.

... The volume is organized in four parts (“Foundations,” “Practices,” “Texts and Textual Transmission” and “Interreligious Encounters”), each divided into three chapters focused on important themes or generic clusters (“Origin Stories,” “Poetry,” “Doctrine and Disputation”; “Liturgy,” “Asceticism,” “Mysticism and Prayer”; “Biblical Interpretation,” “Hagiography,” “Books, Knowledge, and Translation”; “Judaism,” “Islam,” “Religions of the Silk Road”). Under these headings, the editors provide a diverse set of selections representative of the spectrum of surviving Syriac-language material from its origins in the early centuries of the common era through the “Syriac Renaissance” (12th-early 14th cen.). ...

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BAS 2023 Dig Scholarship Winners

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: 2023 Dig Scholarship Winners. Congratulating BAS’s 2023 Scholarship Winners. Yes, congratulations to the winners!

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