Wednesday, February 07, 2024

A Grand Prize winner for the Vesuvius Challenge

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: An Ancient Roman Scroll on Pleasure Was Just Decoded Using AI (Will Henshall, Time Magazine).
Papyrologists working with the Vesuvius Challenge believe the scroll contains “never-before-seen text from antiquity,” and the text in question is a piece of Epicurean philosophy on the subject of pleasure. The winning submission shows ancient Greek letters on a large patch of scroll, and the author seems to be discussing the question: are things that are scarce more pleasurable as a result?

... In accordance with the criteria set in March 2023, the winning submission contains four passages of 140 characters each, with at least 85% of the characters in each of those passages recoverable by professional papyrologists. It also contains a further 11 columns of text.

This is an extraordinary achievement. All indications are that this new technology is opening the door to transcribing and deciphering the many hundreds of carbonized scrolls from Heculaneum. With the possibility of thousands more still unexcavated.

The contest was announced in March of last year. The current prizewinners have already won a couple of lesser prizes in the 2023 competition. See here and here. There is a new grand prize for 2024, so let's look forward to more good news this time next year.

Bit by bit, a letter at a time, whatever it takes. Until we're done.

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The latest on muon detection under Jerusalem

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Unable to dig, researchers look to cosmic rays to unlock Jerusalem’s ancient underworld. A Tel Aviv University team is using muon detectors to track powerful particles, hoping to build a 3D map of undiscovered tunnels, chambers and fortifications under the hole-y city (DIANA BLETTER, Times of Israel).
The device, which had been built by the Tel Aviv University team, was designed to capture and register the angular distribution of muons, tiny but powerful particles created when cosmic rays smash into the earth’s atmosphere.

For archaeologists, using particle physics to peer into solid ground offers a tantalizing way to glimpse the history of a city densely packed with strata upon strata of ancient settlement, but just as chock full of religious sensitivities. This makes invasive digs under many of its most important sites — especially the Temple Mount — a fraught, if not impossible, endeavor.

Everything is proceeding as I have have foreseen.

For more on the use of muon detection technology at the Temple Mount and elsewhere, see here and links. And here is an old post that I missed.

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Singing grape pips from the Negev?

ARCHAEOBOTANY: The ancient history of Israeli grape pips and wine. Excavations have given proof of a flourishing wine industry in the Byzantine and early Arab period, especially at sites like Shivta, Halutza, Nitzana, and Avdat (Adam Montefiore, Jerusalem Post).
Prof. Guy Bar-Oz of the University of Haifa is the person responsible for the research. He is a bioarchaeologist at the School of Archaeology and Maritime Cultures. He has been involved in ongoing, groundbreaking research regarding the history of the wine industry in the Negev Desert.
I have posted on this project here and (appears to be the underlying technical article) here. For posts involving the Nabatean (Nabataean) site of Avdat (‘Avedat, Ovdat, Uvdat), see the links collected here.

Cross-file under Ancient Viticulture.

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News about the Coptic Magical Papyri Project

COPTIC WATCH: Love and hate in ancient times: New anthology on 'magical' texts published (Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg press release at
"Magical" texts from Egypt in Coptic script and language are at the center of a research project at the University of Würzburg. They have now been collected and scientifically annotated for the first time in a 600-page book.


This is an announcement of the culminating work of the Coptic Magical Papyri Project, which PaleoJudaica has been following through its blog since its inception. The blog also announced this last autumn.

The new information in this article is the good news that the project has been funded for an additional three years, now under the rubric the Corpus of Coptic Magical Formularies. Congratulations to the project and its researchers. I look forward to following their future work.

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Sunday, February 04, 2024

Trotter, Hellenistic Jews and Consolatory Rhetoric (Mohr Siebeck)

NEW BOOK FROM MOHR SIEBECK: Christine R. Trotter. Hellenistic Jews and Consolatory Rhetoric. 2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, 1 Thessalonians, and Hebrews. 2023. XII, 385 pages. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2. Reihe 600. 99,00 € including VAT. sewn paper ISBN 978-3-16-162475-9.
Published in English.
Christine R. Trotter elucidates how Hellenistic Jewish writers attempted to comfort those living in the midst of and in the wake of persecution and violence. While past scholarship has explored this question primarily in terms of the development of Jewish apocalypticism and afterlife beliefs, Christine R. Trotter takes a comprehensive approach by investigating how Hellenistic Jewish authors engaged with ancient consolatory rhetoric, that is, the means of persuasion intended to move a suffering person out of grief and into joy. Through studies on 2 Maccabees, the Wisdom of Solomon, 1 Thessalonians, and Hebrews, the author explicates how Hellenistic Jewish authors navigated the diverse traditions of consolation within their biblical heritage and Greco-Roman culture. Her work has important implications for the genre of 1 Thessalonians and the dates of composition of the Wisdom of Solomon and Hebrews.

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