Saturday, October 14, 2023

Alexandria's Graeco-Roman Museum reopens

RENOVATION: Renowned Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria has finally reopened. The renowned Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria has finally reopened its doors after almost two decades of a long and meticulous restoration and rehabilitation process. (Nevine El-Aref, Ahram online).
The Graeco-Roman Museum, built in 1892, was inaugurated by Khedive Abbas Helmy II in 1895 to display Greaco-Roman artefacts discovered at archaeological sites in Alexandria.

It was registered on Egypt’s heritage list for Islamic, Coptic, and Jewish antiquities in 1983.

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Kókai-Nagy & Vér (eds.), Peace and War in Josephus (De Gruyter)

Peace and War in Josephus

Edited by: Viktor Kókai-Nagy and Ádám Vér

Volume 52 in the series Deuterocanonical and Cognate Literature Studies

Published: September 5, 2023
ISBN: 9783111146591

Published: September 5, 2023
ISBN: 9783111146034

About this book

Josephus Flavius’s life was defined by the Jewish war against Rome, about which he wrote his first book as a friend of the imperial family, enjoying the benefits of an end to the conflict. But this dichotomy between war and peace defined not only the life of our author but also the history of all peoples in Late Antiquity, so it is not surprising that war and peace also play a central role in his second book.

A broader theme could hardly have been chosen for this volume, which naturally brought with it the diversity of the studies it contains. At a conference in May 2022 at Selye János University in Komárom – "Peace and War in Josephus" – a distinguished, international group of scholars took up this theme, including Tal Ilan (Israel), Steve Mason (Canada), Jiří Hoblík (Czech Republic), and five Hungarian colleagues: Tibor Grüll, Ádám Vér, József Zsengellér, István Karasszon, and Viktor Kókai-Nagy. Their papers in English or German are complemented by three additional papers from Carson Bay (Switzerland), Marin Meiser (Germany), and David R. Edwards (USA). Together, their work ranges from the historical and literary context to the political and philosophical thought of the author.

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Middlemas, Innovation in Persian Period Judah (Mohr Siebeck)

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Innovation in Persian Period Judah. Notice of a New Book: Middlemas, Jill. 2023. Innovation in Persian Period Judah: Royal and Temple Ideology in Its Ancient Near East Setting. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.

Follow the link for description and ToC and a link to the publisher's website.

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Friday, October 13, 2023

Vesuvius Challenge: we have the first winner

TECHNOLOGY CONTEST: AI reads text from ancient Herculaneum scroll for the first time. Machine-learning technique reveals Greek words in CT scans of rolled-up papyrus. (Jo Marchant, Nature).
A 21-year-old computer-science student has won a global contest to read the first text inside a carbonized scroll from the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum, which had been unreadable since a volcanic eruption in AD 79 — the same one that buried nearby Pompeii. The breakthrough could open up hundreds of texts from the only intact library to survive from Greco-Roman antiquity.

Luke Farritor, who is at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, developed a machine-learning algorithm that has detected Greek letters on several lines of the rolled-up papyrus, including πορϕυρας (porphyras), meaning ‘purple’. Farritor used subtle, small-scale differences in surface texture to train his neural network and highlight the ink.


Congratulations to Mr. Farritor! And to Mr. Nader (see below).

I noted the opening of the contest last March. For many PaleoJudaica posts on the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE and its destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and on the efforts to reconstruct and decipher the carbonized library at Herculaneum, follow the links from there.

There has been one other award so far, with more to be awarded, including the big one:

The Vesuvius Challenge offers a series of awards, leading to a main prize of US$700,000 for reading four or more passages from a rolled-up scroll. On 12 October, the organizers announced that Farritor has won the ‘first letters’ prize of $40,000 for reading more than 10 characters in a 4-square-centimetre area of papyrus. Youssef Nader, a graduate student at the Free University of Berlin, is awarded $10,000 for coming second.
Bit by bit, a letter at a time, whatever it takes. Until we're done.

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How lost was the Gospel of Thomas and for how long?

NEW TESTAMENT APOCRYPHA WATCH: The Long, Long, Afterlife of the Gospel of Thomas (Philip Jenkins, The Anxious Bench).
In my 2015 book The Many Faces of Christ, I challenged what I called the mythology of the lost gospels, the view that they represented any kind of more authentic Christian truth, one suppressed by later institutional bureaucracies. In most cases, I suggested, the lost gospels were far later than our canonical texts, and had no special claim to historical authority. But I also argued that few of those gospels ever had been truly lost, in the sense that the great majority continued to be read and used long after that concealment at Nag Hammadi, around 380 AD. However inconvenient that might be for the attractive myth of a Sacred Truth long hidden but not found, most of those lost gospels enjoyed a long afterlife, and that is even true of the now-venerated Gospel of Thomas. The evidence has always been there for anyone who cares to look for it.

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Lieber on Lieber, Staging the Sacred

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Backstage with Staging the Sacred (Laura Lieber).
My new book, Staging the Sacred: Theatricality and Performance in Late Ancient Liturgical Poetry (Oxford University Press, 2023), attempts to think through what it means to approach liturgical poetry from late antiquity as performed works, i.e., to think of the texts we have in our hands as analogous to scripts or, even more speculatively, the written traces of dynamic, in-the-moment experiences. ...
For PaleoJudaica posts on Prof. Liebers work on late antique Hebrew and Aramaic poetry, see here, here, here, and here, and follow the links.

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Thursday, October 12, 2023

Professor Mary Smallwood, 1919-2023

OBITUARY: Classics professor known for work on Romano-Jewish history (Kay Smith, The Herald, Scotland). HT Rogue Classicism.
Mary Smallwood

Born: December 6, 1919;

Died: September 4, 2023

Edith Mary Smallwood, who has died aged 103, was an outstanding scholar of the history and language of ancient Rome and Greece spreading her erudition through teaching and writing. Her work on the history of Jews under the rule of the Romans was groundbreaking.


Requiescat in pace.

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Wilson-Wright, Jeremiah’s Egypt (SBL)

Jeremiah’s Egypt: Prophetic Reflections on the Saite Period

Aren M. Wilson-Wright

ISBN 9781628374629
Volume ANEM 30
Status Available
Publication Date June 2023

Paperback $39.00
Hardback $59.00

Jeremiah’s Egypt: Prophetic Reflections on the Saite Period is the first book-length work to highlight the importance of Egypt for understanding the historical context and literary development of the book of Jeremiah. Based on a comprehensive reconstruction of Egyptian-Judahite contact in the late seventh and early sixth centuries BCE, Aren M. Wilson-Wright shows that the numerous references to Egypt in the book of Jeremiah are highly personal reactions to the injustices perpetrated by the Egyptian regime and its self-serving Judahite collaborators, some of which such as Jeremiah 25 see Babylon as a means of escaping Egyptian domination. Her analysis reveals that the key choice animating the book of Jeremiah is not Judahite autonomy versus Babylonian domination but rather Egyptian domination versus Babylonian domination. Additionally, Wilson-Wright advances several innovative redactional and text-critical proposals related to the book of Jeremiah and suggests historical anchor points for future redactional and linguistic approaches to dating the text.

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Arch of Titus illuminated with Israeli flag

STATEMENT OF SUPPORT: Arch of Titus, Roman landmark celebrating ancient destruction of Jerusalem, lit up in in tribute to Israel (Ron Kampeas).
(JTA) — When Rome lit up a landmark this week in blue and white following Hamas’ deadly invasion of Israel, it joined many other cities and countries across the globe that have bathed their most prominent buildings in the colors of the Israeli flag, including the White House, the Eiffel Tower and the Sydney Opera House.

The landmark Rome chose, however, isn’t its most iconic building, nor its biggest. But it does hold a special resonance for Jews.


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Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Archaeology and the Babylonian Exile

LEEN RITMEYER has been blogging about the archaeology of the Babylonian Exile:

The Middle Gate. “her gates have sunk into the ground.” (Lamentations 2:9).

The Middle Gate is mentioned in Jeremiah 39.3 as the place where the Babylonian princes came together to celebrate their conquest of Jerusalem. The destruction of Jerusalem was dramatically exposed in the excavations in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem that were directed by the late Prof. Nahman Avigad. After digging down for some 10 m., a large L-shaped fortified wall of the Israelite period was found.


Ezekiel in Babylon. Archaeological evidence for the Babylonian Exile.
In our previous blog, we looked at the Middle Gate as an example of the description in Lamentations 2:9 that Jerusalem’s “gates were sunk into the ground.” We published it on the 1st of September, as that was one of the readings for the day according to the Traditional Daily Reading plan of the Avery Bible app.

Today, on the 5th of September, according to this plan, we begin reading the Prophecy of Ezekiel. From Chapter 1 we understand that Jehoachin, King of Judah, was exiled to Babylon along with Ezekiel and several thousands of Jerusalem’s leading citizens.


For many PaleoJudaica posts on the unprovenanced, but apparently genuine, Al-Yahudu Babylonian cuneiform archive, start here and follow the links.

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Lorber, Coins of the Ptolemaic Empire, Part II (ANS)

NUMISMATICS: Announcing Coins of the Ptolemaic Empire, Part II (American Numismatic Society via the Pocket Change Blog).
Thirty years in the making, Coins of the Ptolemaic Empire, Part II, by Catharine C. Lorber, is the long-anticipated second half of the Coins of the Ptolemaic Empire (CPE) project featuring the coins struck by Ptolemy V–Cleopatra VII.
Follow the link for ToC and ordering information.

For PaleoJudaica posts on Ptolemaic coinage, with my commentary on biblical and Second Temple Jewish connections, start here and follow the links

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

Review of Sharp, Divination and philosophy in the letters of Paul

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: Divination and philosophy in the letters of Paul.
Matthew Sharp, Divination and philosophy in the letters of Paul. Edinburgh studies in religion in antiquity. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2022. Pp. 248. ISBN 9781399503570

Review by
Daniel J. Crosby, Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary.

... Nevertheless, Sharp’s book deserves praise for taking an approach to divine-human communication that challenges well-established schools of thought in the field. Taking cues from the recent work of classicists like Peter Struck,[2] Sharp objects to an “irrationalist premise” that seeks to understand divination in terms of its social function or of the psychology of an ancient (prescientific) mindset. Thus, the reader feels throughout the volume that Sharp is taking Paul’s beliefs and claims about divine messages seriously and sincerely, not as mere rhetorical positions for advancing his own social agenda, which is a refreshing take amid the usual critical work.

Matthew Sharp is my new New Testament colleague at the Divinity School of the University of St. Andrews.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2023

DNA extracted from First Temple-era Israelites?

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: In First, Archaeologists Extract DNA of Ancient Israelites. A rare First Temple-period family burial opens the door to genetic studies on the true origin of the ancient Israelites - and their links to modern Jewish populations (Ariel David, Haaretz).
For the first time, ancient DNA has been recovered from the bodies of ancient Israelites living in the First Temple period, Haaretz has learned.

This achievement, a Holy Grail in the study of lost civilizations, was enabled following the discovery near Jerusalem of a rare family tomb dating to the Iron Age.

So far the collaboration of archaeologists and geneticists has been able to extract genetic material from two individuals, producing partial information, which is a tiny sample indeed. But it promises to pave the way for further research on longstanding questions about the origins of the ancient Israelites, their links to earlier populations living in the Levant, as well as to modern-day Jewish people.


For more on ancient Jewish and Israelite genetics, see here and links,

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The "son of Daedalus" in the Jerusalem Inscription

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Daedalus in Jerusalem. Evidence of a craftsmen’s guild in Jerusalem? (John Drummond).
The inscription was written in square Hebrew script in a formal commemorative style that was executed with the precision of a master engraver. As discussed by Aaron Demsky in his article “Daedalus in Jerusalem” in the Fall 2023 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, the inscribed name likely refers to one of the artisans that operated in the workshop or possibly one of the builders. If so, the fact that Hananiah refers to himself as the “son of Daedalus” raises some intriguing possibilities.
I can't find a correct link for this BAR article, but it is probably behind the subscription wall. In any case, the BHD essay gives a summary of it.

For the Jerusalem Inscription containg the name Daedalus, see here, here, and here.

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Orlov, Divine Mysteries in the Enochic Tradition (De Gruyter)

Divine Mysteries in the Enochic Tradition

Andrei A. Orlov

Volume 11 in the series Ekstasis: Religious Experience from Antiquity to the Middle Ages

PDF & EPUB £91.00
Hardcover £91.00

Published: July 24, 2023
ISBN: 9783111201924

Published: July 24, 2023
ISBN: 9783111195537

About this book

The book represents an in-depth investigation of acquisition, cultivation, and transmission of divine mysteries in Jewish apocalyptic and mystical accounts by focusing on the developments found in early Enochic writings. These accounts deal both with revelations unveiled by God and angels to the patriarch Enoch and with illicit transmission of divine knowledge by the rogue group of the fallen angels, known as the Watchers.

Orlov argues that the map of otherworldly knowledge revealed to Enoch inversely mirrors the map of illicit revelations given by the fallen Watchers to humankind. The study suggests that one of the possible objectives for the parallelism is that, by revealing to Enoch the same divine mysteries that were earlier transmitted by the Watchers, God attempts to mitigate the corruption caused by the fallen angels’ illicit instructions.

This book will be of interest not only for scholars specializing in historical and religious areas, but also for experts in the fields of anthropology, philosophy, sociology, psychology, and gender theory; it discusses several aspects of early and late Jewish religious epistemologies that elucidate the ideological context for the construction and affirmation of social roles and identities in various Jewish milieus.

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Monday, October 09, 2023

A child's undergarment from the Cave of Letters

SARTORIAL MATERIAL CULTURE: 1,900-year-old Knot-Frilled Child’s Gown Discovered in Israel's Cave of Letters (Ashley Cowie, Ancient Origins).
The Cave of Letters in Israel has yielded many artifacts from the famous Bar Kokhba revolt, offering deep insights into Jewish history. Recently, a 1,900-year-old child's nightgown with intriguing "knots" was discovered, prompting speculation regarding their protective significance within ancient Jewish practices and beliefs.


The IAA Facebook post on which this article is based is only four days old, but I'm not sure how recent this discovery is. Another Ancient Origins article on the Cave of Letters from last November mentions the gown too: "There was a skeleton found covered in a colorful mat, as well as that of a child dressed in a tunic." It has a photo. It is the same garment, taken from a different angle.

In any case, it is good to have a more detailed discussion of it.

For many PaleoJudaica posts on the discoveries in the Cave of Letters, see the links collected here (plus here).

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

A hoard of Byzantine-era coins found at Banias

NUMISMATICS: Archaeologists Uncover Hidden Stash of Byzantine Gold Coins in Israel's Golan Heights (unattributed, Greek City Times).
The discovery of the secret stash of Byzantine-era coins in a stone wall in the ancient city of Banias is a significant find for Israeli archaeologists. The coins, made of pure gold, date back to 635 C.E. and feature portraits of Emperors Phocas and Heraclius. Experts believe that these coins were hidden during the Muslim conquest of the area, towards the end of Heraclius' reign.


This discovery was announced a year ago, but it looks like I missed it at the time.

For PaleoJudiaca posts on or involving the site of Banias, see here, here, here, and here. For other Heraclius coins, see here and links.

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

Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah 2023

SHEMENI ATZERET AND SIMHAT TORAH took place this weekend. As I mentioned, I was away and was less than organized in pre-posting. This was not a weekend of joy or celebration, but I wish well anyone who managed to observe some of these holidays.

Again, my thoughts and prayers are with the people of Israel and, especially, the victims of the attack.

Last year's Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah (Simhat Torah) post is here, with links.

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Sunday, October 08, 2023


ON THE TERRIBLE NEWS: I was away. Just got back. The weekend posts were pre-posted.

I want to express my support for Israel, my condemnation of this appalling assault by Hamas, and my prayers for all the victims.

I wish I could do more. But the best contribution PaleoJudaica can make is to continue to blog on ancient Judaism and the bibical world in the coming days.

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

The Project

SYRIAC WATCH: Texas A&M-Led Humanities Project Seeks To Preserve An Endangered Language. The team is working to preserve Syriac, a 2,000-year-old language that once flourished in the Middle East and Central Asia (Reyes Ramirez, Texas A&M University College of Arts and Sciences).
Texas A&M University historian Dr. Daniel Schwartz has devoted the last decade of his professional life to preserving the past — specifically, the culture of a 2,000-year-old language known as Syriac. He and likeminded colleagues from around the world have been working across place, time and cyberspace to safeguard Syriac cultural heritage, painstakingly creating, a cyberinfrastructure to link Syriac literature to their persons, places, manuscripts and key concepts.

This spring, they received another big assist from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) — a three-year, $350,000 Humanities Collections and Reference Resources grant to “preserve and provide access to collections essential to scholarship, education and public programming in the humanities.” The grant marks the team’s third from NEH since 2012.


I have mentioned the Project here and here.

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Strassfeld on transing the Talmud

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Transing the Talmud or Reading the Talmud "Badly" (Max K. Strassfeld).
Max K. Strassfeld. Trans Talmud: Androgynes and Eunuchs in Rabbinic Literature. UC Press, 2023.

My book, Trans Talmud, explores categories of eunuchs and androgynes in rabbinic literature. Eunuchs and androgynes appear extensively in Jewish canonical sources that date to approximately the first six centuries of the common era. ...

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