Saturday, December 23, 2023

Who stole the baby in that Solomonic case?

DR. HILARY LIPKA: King Solomon Solves the Case of the Two Prostitutes. (
So why aren’t we told which mother actually stole the baby?
It's possible this story has an historical basis, but I tend to read it as a folktale. Be that as it may, my favored interpretation is that Solomon didn't care who the biological mother was. His "dangerous ruse" established which woman would be the better mother to the child. He gave him to her.

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SBL CFP: John the Baptist

RELIGION PROF: John The Baptist Call For Papers (James McGrath). It isn't too early to start thinking about SBL 2024!

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Friday, December 22, 2023

Haaretz's top 2023 archaeology stories

ANNUAL ARCHAEOLOGY LIST WATCH: The Real King David's Jerusalem and Other Biblical Archaeology Discoveries in Israel 2023 (Ruth Schuster, Haaretz).

PaleoJudaica has, of course, posted on most of these stories. For Jerusalem as the upturned archaeological layer cake, see here. For Jerusalem's "Millo," see here. For Hazael's invasion and baked bricks at Gath, see here. For those Temple Mount voids, see here. For extracting the DNA of First Temple-era Israelites, see here. For Yossi Garfinkel's case for a Davidic bureaucratic state, see here. For Jerusalem's mystery monumental moat, see here. And for the the Mount Ebal curse tablet/fishing weight, see here, here, and here.

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The three Jewish revolts against Rome

HISTORY: The Roman-Jewish Wars: Jewish Resistance vs Roman Might. Temples were torched, cities sacked, and their people devastated. The Roman-Jewish Wars were the Jewish people’s desperate, but ultimately futile, fight to resist Roman expansion (Kieren Johns, The Collector).
During a span of seven decades in the 1st and 2nd centuries, the Jewish people challenged Roman power in the eastern Mediterranean. The Roman-Jewish wars were the backdrop for some of the most dramatic and tragic episodes from ancient history, from the sack of Jerusalem to the siege at Masada.


A quite detailed account of the three revolts, especially the first, on which we have the most information.

Today, by the way, is the "minor fast" of the Tenth of Tevet. It memorializes the beginning of the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, as well the victims of the Holocaust. An easy and healthy fast to all those observing.

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CFP: Annual UCL-KCL Biblical Studies Workshop

H-JUDAIC: Annual UCL-KCL Biblical Studies Workshop.
We are pleased to announce the next UCL-KCL Workshop on Biblical Studies, which will be an online event. The keynote lecture will be given by Prof. Peter Machinist of Harvard University, on the theme of 'Assyria and the Hebrew Bible: A Reassessment'
Follow the link for information on submitting a paper proposal. The event takes place on 20 May 2024.

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Thursday, December 21, 2023

On Matthew's Nativity story

'TIS THE SEASON: The Story behind the Nativity Scene (Prof.Meira Z. Kensky,
Nativity scenes are peaceful and idyllic. However, Matthew’s story of the magi bringing gifts to the newborn Jesus, set in the time of King Herod, foreshadows the gospel’s themes of political rivalry, violence, and the death of Jesus.
For many posts on the Star of Bethlehem and the Magi, start here and follow the links. For a recent PaleoJudaica post on the prologue to the Gospel of John, see here.

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The Star of Bethlehem and ancient astronomy

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: What Was the Star of Bethlehem? How ancient astronomers observed the heavens (Nathan Steinmeyer).
Thus, we arrive at a twofold problem. First, ancient astronomers placed critical value on many astral phenomena that fall outside the purview of modern astronomy, including things as mundane as the weather. Second, interpretations of these events could vary greatly, even between individual astronomers who could choose which phenomena they focused on and which they did not.

Unfortunately, the Gospel of Matthew is of little help in pinning down what the Star of Bethlehem may have been. Despite the interpretive efforts of numerous scholars, Matthew’s description remains too vague, allowing for an incredible array of possible explanations before one even considers the many other phenomena that the ancients would have factored into their understanding of the sky.

I know I said that the Star of Bethlehem was already covered for this year. But this new BHD essay is worth noting for its focus on ancient astronomy.

For PaleoJudaica posts on the many explanations of what the Star of Bethlehem might have been, plus who Matthew's Magi may have been, see here and links. As I have said before, I think the Star story is based on a midrash on Numbers 24:7. I do not exclude the possibility that it was an actual celestial phenomenon, but I've not seen any proposals that have convinced me. If you're interested, follow the links and see what you think.

Cross-file under 'Tis the Season.

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On (not) apprehending the light

THE ANXIOUS BENCH: When The Darkness Did Not Grasp The Light (Philip Jenkins).
How, then, do we decide which meaning is intended in John’s Prologue? Overcome or understood?
I agree with Professor Jenkins that John probably intended the Greek word as a double entendre.

Cross-file under 'Tis the Season.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2023

2023: A big year for Egyptian archaeology

YEAR-END RETROSPECTIVE: 2023 Yearender: A year of heritage (Nevine El-Aref, ahramonline).
Enhancing the tourist experience, digitising the services provided at archaeological sites and museums, exploring and conserving Egypt’s heritage, and opening new cultural attractions all took place this year, writes Nevine El-Aref
PaleoJudaica noted many of the discoveries and developments mentioned in the article. These include the new Egyptian Book of the Dead manuscripts; the reopening of Alexandria's Greco-Roman Museum; the new chamber in the Great Pyramid; the Saqqara embalming workshops; and the reopening of the Ben Ezra synagogue.

PaleoJudaica also posted on a couple of Egyptian discoveries not mentioned in the article: the Buddha statue at Berenike and the tombs excavated at Oxyrhynchus.

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Schiffman on 10th century BCE Judean archaeology


Links to a pdf reprint of his article in Ami Magazine.

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The BAS 2024 Dig Guide

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Dig Into the Holy Land This Summer! BAS launches its 2024 Digs Guide (Nathan Steinmeyer).
Whether you’re interested in the worlds of Kings David and Solomon, want to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and the apostles, or work in an ancient Phoenician city, we’ve got an archaeological dig for you. For each dig, we provide an in-depth description, including location, historical and biblical significance, and the goals for the upcoming season. You can also learn all about the dig directors and professors who will lead your summer adventure.
Keep an eye on the travel advisories. Let's hope archaeological volunteering will be on in the summer.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Beth Horon

TOURISM: Unique Sites of Israel: Biblical Beth Horon. (Nosson Shulman, The Jewish Press).

As the article notes, Judah the Maccabee's first major victory took place on the ascent to Beth Horon. See 1 Maccabees 3:13-26. Judah also killed Nicanor in battle in the vicinity of Beth Horon (1 Maccabees 7:39).

The article also mentions the defeat of the Roman army by Jewish rebels at Beth Horon in 66 CE, early in the Great Revolt (Josephus, Jewish War, 2.19.2-9).

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McGrath on the Mandaean Convention In San Antonio

RELIGION PROF: Mandaean Convention In San Antonio (AAR/SBL Recap) (James McGrath).

With news about this convention, which evidently took place alongside the annual AAR/SBL conference, and also about Prof. McGrath's recent book, The A to Z of the New Testament.

Cross-file under Mandean (Mandaean) Watch.

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UNESCO grants enhanced protection to Gaza's Saint Hilarion Monastery

ISRAEL-HAMAS WAR: Ancient Saint Hilarion Monastry in the Gaza Strip gains enhanced protection from Unesco. The archaelogical site, which dates back to the fourth century, has reportedly sustained damage during the ongoing Israel-Hamas war (Sarvy Geranpayeh, The Art Newspaper).
Due to the impossibility of assessing the damage on site, Unesco experts have been monitoring the situation remotely “using satellite data and information transmitted by third parties”, a Unesco spokesperson says. “Unesco is particularly concerned about the situation of the ruins of Saint Hilarion.”

At a meeting on 14 December, Unesco’s Committee for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict decided to grant provisional enhanced protection to Saint Hilarion—the highest level of immunity against attacks established by the 1954 Hague Convention and its Second Protocol.

For more on the Saint Hilarion Monastery, see here and links. My comments there still apply, more than ever.

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Monday, December 18, 2023

More on that bulla of Jeroboam II. Fake or real?

NORTHWEST SEMITIC EPIGRAPHY? 'Fake' Seal Impression of Biblical King Jeroboam Is Authentic, New Study Says. A nuclear scientist buys a suspect seal impression in the flea market. It's real, study finds: An official's smaller, cruder copy of the roaring lion seal of Jeroboam II, king of ancient Israel (Ariel David, Haaretz).
A team of researchers subjected the minuscule artifact, measuring just 23 by 19 millimeters (0.9 by 0.7 inches) to a battery of scientific tests, many of which had not yet even been developed when the bulla surfaced in Be'er Sheva. And although unprovenanced artifacts from the antiquities market are always suspect, the scientists found no evidence of forgery, the team reports in a recent paper published in Tel Aviv: Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University. (An earlier report on their research was published in the Hebrew journal Eretz Israel in 2021).
I noted the first announcement (before any of the journal articles) in 2020 here.

This time I'm going to inject some skepticism.

Do you remember the Darius ostracon? The exciting artfact found on the surface at Lachish that referred to King Darius I and even included a date? It wasn't long ago. It seemed too good to be true, but ...

But a few weeks later, after the IAA had put the potsherd through multiple scans and laboratory tests, including at the Dead Sea Scrolls Lab, Ganor called Levy and told him the potsherd was believed to be authentic.
Guess what? It was too good to be true. It was a modern showpiece for use in teaching that someone had carelessly dropped at the site after a demonstration to students.

If an object passes all the tests, that just tells us that it has not been demonstrated (yet) to be a fake. It does not prove it is genuine. The authors of the new study acknowledge this.

In the last link above, I commented:

What are all those scans and laboratory tests worth if they can't even identify a modern pedagogical showpiece that wasn't intended to fool anyone? This is a major hit to their credibility.
Let's not forget that now. The tests got fooled bigtime earlier this year.

Am I indulging in hyperskepticisim? Maybe. But keep reading.

In the copy and photographs of the original Megiddo seal there is small chip or hole that is visible directly under the chest of the lion, a tiny area that was probably damaged already in antiquity. The chip has no iconographic meaning – it is simply a defect, Münger tells Haaretz. And yet that same defect appears in the seal impression from Be'er Sheva, even though we know that this imprint must have been made from a smaller copy of the original artifact.

How could both seals carry the same defect? This could support the scenario that a modern forger created the bulla, copying the chip in the original seal because he was unaware that it was a defect, he says.

There are ways of getting around this problem, but it is a substantial piece of evidence that the bulla (seal impression) is a fake or forgery.

Where do we stand then?

I accept the bulla as provisionally genuine. It is not nothing to have passed all those tests, some of which, as article notes, had not been devised at the time it was bought. At the same time, fakes can sometimes pass the tests. And there is good evidence on other grounds that the object is a fake.

So, I have my doubts, but provisionally genuine. But no historical reconstructions should use it for evidence without flagging the problems with it. Any historical reconstruction using it is on shakey ground. That is true in general for the use of unprovenanced artifacts.

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Nabatean varia

NABATEAN (NABATAEAN) WATCH: A couple of recent articles deal with Nabatean matters.

Rise of Nabataeans: A connection to trade, geographic reorganisation (Saeb Rawashdeh, Jordan Times).

AMMAN — The emergence of the Nabataeans is connected with the incense trade between southern parts of the Arabian Peninsula and the Mediterranean ports. First historical records on the Nabataeans appear in 4th century BC while before that period the Qedarites, the dominant Arab tribe of the Persian period, controlled the south from the Hijaz and all of the southern Palestine with a local centre at Lachish. The Qedarites established frankincense trade on their territory and they stepped on the historical stage when they became the main traders of frankincense from the Arabian Peninsula to the Mediterranean World.


Ancient scrolls reveal astonishing information about the life of a Nabatean woman, who lived in the first century AD in Petra (oguz kayra, Arkeonews).
The documents are now in the possession of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and Professor Hannah Cotton-Paltiel of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is an expert on them.

“Abi-adan is a Nabatean woman and the two documents are interesting because she’s selling the same orchard to one person and then to another,” she explained.

I'm surprised to find that I have never posted on Abi-adan. Two of the documents in the Babatha archive pertain to her. For more details, see this review by Elizabeth Shanks Alexander of Philip Esler's book Babatha's Orchard: Businesswomen Before Bar Kokhba (Jewish Review of Books).

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Démare-Lafont & Fleming (eds), Judicial Decisions in the Ancient Near East (SBL)

Judicial Decisions in the Ancient Near East

Sophie Démare-Lafont, Daniel E. Fleming, editors

ISBN 9781628374858
Volume WAW 43
Status Available
Publication Date November 2023

Hardback $90.00
Paperback $50.00
eBook $50.00

This volume presents the first broadly inclusive collection, with accessible text and English translation, of documents related to judicial decisions in the ancient Near East, the oldest setting for such writing in the world. The texts in this volume belong to various genres, especially legal records and letters, and span almost two thousand years. With such varied material, the work depends on the expertise of specialists in each setting, from the Sumerian of early Ur to the late Akkadian of Babylonia under the Persians. The collection brings together not only 183 transliterated texts and new translations but also introductions and commentary that place these legal documents in their historical and social contexts. A glossary of legal terms, a concordance of texts included, and an index of legal terms makes this an invaluable tool for students and scholars across disciplines. The contributors are Dominique Charpin, Sophie Démare-Lafont, Daniel E. Fleming, Francis Joannès, Bertrand Lafont, Brigitte Lion, Ignacio Márquez Rowe, Cécile Michel, and Pierre Villard.

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Sunday, December 17, 2023

Gertz, Studien zum Buch Genesis (Mohr Siebeck)

NEW BOOK FROM MOHR SIEBECK: Jan Christian Gertz. Studien zum Buch Genesis. [Studies on the Book of Genesis.] 2023. XII, 397 pages. Forschungen zum Alten Testament 175. 154,00 € including VAT. cloth ISBN 978-3-16-162380-6.
Published in German.
This volume includes studies by Jan Christian Gertz in which he addresses the history of the origin and interpretation of the Book of Genesis, the significance of the biblical Primeval History in the context of the literary and intellectual history of the ancient Near East, and the question of the relationship of Genesis to the subsequent Exodus narrative.

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Oxford Summer School in Greek Palaeography

THE ETC BLOG: Oxford Summer School in Greek Palaeography (Peter M. Head).
The ninth Lincoln College International Summer School in Greek Palaeography will be held on 29 July - 3 August 2024. ...

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