Monday, February 08, 2016

Review of Laneri (ed.), Defining the Sacred

Nicola Laneri (ed.), Defining the Sacred: Approaches to the Archaeology of Religion in the Near East. Oxford: Oxbow, 2015. Pp. ix, 186. ISBN 9781782976790. $50.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Aren M. Maeir, Bar-Ilan University (

The volume under review is an excellent collection of studies on the archaeology of religion in the ancient Near East, dealing with various cultures, finds, issues and periods, ranging from the early Neolithic period until the Iron Age, and while mostly within the realm of the “classical” ancient Near East, includes a study on ancient Turkmenistan. Most of the papers were originally presented at a session on the archaeology of the ancient Near East at the 8th International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East which was held in Warsaw in 2012. To this several papers were added to broaden the topics and periods covered in the volume.

The first chapter (“Introduction: Investigating archaeological approaches to the study of religious practices and beliefs,” pp. 1-10), by the volume’s editor, Nicola Laneri, provides an overview and introduction to the volume. In the chapter, Laneri very discusses and summarizes issues such as: what is religion?; an overview of the archaeology of religion; previous studies on the archaeology of religion in the ancient Near East; and a general overview of the papers in the volume. One thing that would have improved this introduction, and in particular the discussion of the definition of religion and the archaeology of religion, would have been some reference to those who question the very definitions of religion as used in modern research as formulations based on modern western perceptions of the topic that are perhaps not always relevant for the study of ancient, non-western cultures (e.g. C. Martin, “Delimiting Religion”, Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 21/2 [2009], 157-176).
Most of the essays are about the pre-biblical period, but this one is of interest:
In “Where to Worship? Religion in Iron II Israel and Judah” (pp. 90-101), Beth Alpert Nakhai, discusses the types (national, community, personal) and locations of worship in Iron Age II (10th-6th cent. BCE) Israel and Judah. Differentiating between the various contexts, she attempts to place these within the context of the political and societal developments of this period, such as the formation of two distinct kingdoms, religious reformations, etc. While the overall scheme that she provides seems very likely, the newly published Iron IIA-B temple found at Moza (see S. Kisilevitz. 2015. The Iron IIA Judahite Temple at Tel Moza. Tel Aviv 42: 147-164), just outside of Jerusalem, may call into question some of her (and other scholars’) suggestions regarding the lack of temples in non-urban contexts in Iron Age Judah.

Meghillot XI-XII

NOW OUT: MEGHILLOT Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls XI-XII 2014-2015 (ed. Jonathan Ben-Dov and Menaham Kister). The link leads to a pdf of the English front matter. Purchasing information is here.

HT the IOQS Facebook page and the Orion Center.

Talmudic synopses on demand

Enter Shamma Friedman. For decades, Friedman has been at the forefront of both talmudic philology qua philology (think dusty book filled offices, but also trips to pastoral European monasteries which are home to ancient Talmudic manuscripts) and digital research in the humanities. Since the eighties, Friedman has headed the Saul Lieberman Institute of Talmudic Research of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Friedman and his staff have poured thousands of hours into transcribing almost every single partial and complete manuscript of the Bavli. After years of being available on CD-ROM, the institute’s databank of Talmudic manuscripts went online in 2011 and has become one of the most relied upon tools for scholars of the Bavli. Now, in what will surely be remembered as a watershed moment in the history of talmudic philology, the institute has developed software that can automatically create synopsi. Using the software, synopses of a chapter of the Talmud can be created within the span of just a few minutes, and the day on which scholars will have synopses to the entire Bavli at their fingertips does not seem too far off.
Cross-file under Technology Watch.

Ancient terraces in the Judean Hills?

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Are Jerusalem’s Historic Terraces Really That Ancient? A new study says that most of the agricultural terraces surrounding Jerusalem were built during the Ottoman era. But critics are taking steps to counter the findings (Nir Hasson, Haaretz).
The man-made terraces in the Judean Hills surrounding Jerusalem are at the center of a fierce debate after a new study claimed the agricultural features were mainly built by Arab workers in the past 400 years. Critics dismiss the study and say it merely reflects the most recent building work.

The UNESCO-protected village of Battir, south of Jerusalem, features one of the most famous terraces and became the subject of lengthy legal arguments when the Defense Ministry’s plan to place the West Bank separation barrier through it threatened to ruin postcard sales. The terraces around Ein Karem, the neighborhood of Ramot and other locations were also used as examples arguing against urban development. In several locations in the Jerusalem Forest and Nahal Refa’im, the Jewish National Fund and Jerusalem Development Authority have embarked on projects designed to refurbish old terraces, as well as building new ones.

The power of a man-made terrace lies in its simplicity: It is a series of steps, with the earth held back by a wall of stones to enable tilling the mountainside. Its simplicity actually makes it difficult to date a terrace. In contrast to ancient structures, terraces are not usually part of a wider complex, which might include other artifacts that could be dated.

To add a further level of complexity, the terraces we see nowadays are the result of a never-ending project of building, reconstruction and repairing – a process that has continued for many generations. Thus, even if artifacts are found nearby, it’s difficult to ascertain whether they belong to the time the terrace was originally constructed or to a later time when it was repaired.


Clearly, the study has raised questions regarding the ability of scientific tools to solve archaeological questions. In recent years, archaeology in Israel has been relying heavily on analyses being conducted in laboratories. Some critics claim there is an excessive reliance on these methods, and that even numerical results require interpretation and juxtaposition with archaeological and historical sources, in order to place them in the right context.

More on the legal controversy over Battir (Betar) is here and links.


NEW TESTAMENT APOCRYPHA WATCH: New Bibliographical Resource: “e-Clavis: Christian Apocrypha”. NASSCAL is crowdsourcing the Christian Apocrypha.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

DSS Master's scholarship

UNIVERSITY OF GRONINGEN: Florentino García Martínez Research Master Scholarship, established by Jan Overmeer.
The Qumran Institute of the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies (University of Groningen) is delighted to present the Florentino García Martínez Research Master Scholarship for excellent students. The scholarship is specifically for students in the fields of Hebrew Bible, early Judaism and Dead Sea Scrolls.

The scholarship is € 1,000 and is meant to cover some of the expenses connected with the two-year Research Master programme at the Faculty’s Graduate School.
Follow the link for further particulars. Past recipients of the scholar are noted here and here.

Interview with Zahi Hawass

ASOR BLOG: Interview with Zahi Hawass (Alex Joffe).
Few individuals are so closely identified with Egypt – and ancient Egypt – as Zahi Hawass. Formerly Minister of State for Antiquities, Hawass has been Chief Inspector and Director of the Giza Plateau, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, and has excavated at numerous sites throughout Egypt. He is also the face of Egyptian archaeology, having appeared in countless TV programs that have spread the story of ancient Egypt worldwide. In January Ancient Near East Today editor Alex Joffe had the pleasure of interviewing Hawass in New York City at the opening of the new Discovery of King Tut exhibit.
A recent story involving Zahi Hawass and King Tutankhamun's tomb is here and links.

Still more on saving Iraqi manuscripts

SYRIAC WATCH? Iraqi Jesuit saved 1,000 manuscripts (Catholic Culture).
An Iraqi Jesuit estimates that he saved 1,000 ancient manuscripts, including biblical and liturgical books, from the advance of the Islamic State.

“If Daesh burns down a church we can rebuild it, but the manuscripts are our history,” Father Gabriel Tooma told an international news channel. “If they get destroyed, then we are lost, and our culture will be forgotten.”

The brief article does not specify the language(s) of the saved manuscript, but since Father Tooma is reportedly now running an orphanage and a school in the Aramaic-speaking town of Alqosh in Iraq, it seems likely that Syriac manuscripts were involved.

For a similar recent story about a priest saving manuscripts from the depredations of ISIS in Iraq, see here and here.

Time Scanning Jerusalem

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Time Scanners series provides high-tech look at ancient sites (Jennifer Nixon, Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette).
What is it? Time Scanners, one hour-long episode per set from PBS

How much? $24.99 each

When? Now

They're scanning time? No. They're scanning buildings as a way of taking people back in time. Sort of. Basically, the series uses modern technology to explore ancient sites, trying to solve mysteries and make the structures and people who built them more relatable for the people of today.

Using a mobile laser scanner, which bounces pulses of light off objects to map them, host Dallas Campbell, structural engineer Steve Burrows and their team use their fancy gadgets and meet with local archaeological and history experts to do some high-tech, in-depth exploring:
Along with the Colosseum and Machu Picchu, there is:
Jerusalem: The Temple Mount is examined to see how King Herod's builders managed to create a structure that survived centuries of war and earthquakes. Then the team goes to Herodium, a palace and man-made mountain south of Jerusalem, to find out how it was built and what happened to the palace structures within it.
There's more on the series here.

Third Punic War anniversary

PUNIC WATCH: Lessons from history: the end of the Third Punic War (1985). After 2,131 years of living on a razor's edge, a 1985 'treaty of friendship' marked the end of the Third Punic War. Simran Uppal explains the significance of this long-awaited signing. (Simran Uppal, Cherwell).
The Third Punic War between Rome and Carthage started in 149 BC and ended on this very day, February 5th – but that is, rather bizarrely, 5th February 1985. The Romans took Carthage in 146 BC, but caught up in the general hubbub of razing a city to the ground and sowing its fields with salt, and quite understandably forgot the proceedings for an official end to the war.

This detail passed the world by until the 1960s, when some historian – presumably with too much time on their hands – picked up on it. Eventually, then, the mayors of Rome and Carthage got involved (Ugo Vetere and Chedly Klibi, also leader of the Arab League at the time) and arranged to sign a treaty, 2,134 years after war began, in the Tunisian president’s villa looking out over the Mediterranean.

This actually happened, but cross-file under Can't Make It Up.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

The Dead Sea Squirrels

THAT WOULD BE A GOOD NAME FOR A BAND. OH, WAIT. Meet Delaware County's Dead Sea Squirrels (Brian Bingaman, Delaware County News Network).
Where did that name — a zany spin on the name for a set of ancient Jewish historical and religious parchment/papyrus texts — come from?

“I used to work for a small, independent label in Miami. We’d be stumbling around in a parking lot at 5 in the morning throwing around silly band names. I threw it out there as a joke,” [guitarist/vocalist Bob] Succio said.

Stroumsa, Hidden Wisdom, now online for free

ACADEMIA.EDU: Guy G Stroumsa, Hidden Wisdom: Esoteric Traditions and the Roots of Christian Mysticism (Studies in the History of Religions 70; Leiden: Brill, 1996). This is actually the 2005 revised and enlarged edition. The Amazon book blurb reads:
This book investigates the problem of esoteric traditions in early Christianity, their origin and their transformation in Patristic hermeneutics, in the West as well as in the East. It argues that these traditions eventually formed the basis of nascent Christian mysticism in Late Antiquity. These esoteric traditions do not reflect the influence of Greek Mystery religions, as has often been claimed, but rather seem to stem from the Jewish background of Christianity. They were adopted by various Gnostic teachings, a fact which helps explaining their eventual disappearance from Patristic literature. The eleven chapters study each a different aspect of the problem, including the questions of Gnostic and Manichaean esotericism. This book will be of interest to all students of religious history in Late Antiquity.
The whole book is downloadable for free as a pdf file. For you, special deal!

Horn and Griffith (eds.), Biblical & Qur'anic Traditions in the Middle East

Biblical & Qur'anic Traditions in the Middle East
Authored by Cornelia B. Horn, editor, Sidney H. Griffith, editor
Edition: First Edition

As the threat to the existence and continuation of the diversity of peoples and cultures in the Middle East steadily increases, despair is not the answer. Instead, the contributors to and editors of this volume respond positively with their work to the ever more important and urgent task of intensifying efforts in Europe, the United States, and elsewhere to study with rigor, dedication, and intellectual acumen the profound and foundational heritage of Middle Eastern origins in order to render it fruitful, productive, and enriching for the development of modern life and thought in all its dimensions.

With discussions of Satan's role in Adam's Fall in Islamic and Syriac Christian traditions, stories about Aaron's death, Jewish and Christian stories concerning the matriarch Sarah or interpretations in poetry and prose of the role of the Psalms, with reflections on the spiritual memories of paradise in the Odes of Solomon, or Manichaean magic, only to mention a few of the topics, this book will take your imagination and insights into new depths and to new heights. Scholars from the Middle East, South Africa, North America, and Europe--Tammie Wanta, Herrie van Rooy, Jason Scully, Ben Rosenfeld, Ilaria Ramelli, Robert Phenix, Rebekka Nieten, Giulio Maspero, Aryeh Levene, Cornelia Horn, Angela Harkins, Sidney Griffith, Craig Blaising, and Gaby Abousamra--contribute new evidence and foundational reflections to understanding the diverse relationships between Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. The seeds for this volume's articles were laid at the gatherings of scholars of Syriac Studies at the SBL conferences in New Orleans, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Chicago between 2009 and 2012 and in the context of subsequent international, collaborative projects.

As Sacred Scriptures for the believers, the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Qur'an guide and inspire billions of faithful women and men across the globe. One of the exceptionally fruitful contexts in which the reception, interpretation, transmission of, and engagement with these holy texts flourished was in the Syriac- and Arabic-speaking milieux. The articles in this volume illuminate once more the critical contribution of Syriac Studies more specifically, and Christian Oriental Studies more generally, to understanding important aspects of reading and hearing Jewish, Christian, and Islamic sacred texts in historical contexts. They open the reader's imagination to the contribution of the Middle East for the cross-fertilization of these sacred texts and their interpretation and reception.

This book is the second volume of Abelian Academic's new series: Eastern Mediterranean Texts and Contexts (EMTC). This series takes its readers on journeys through Eastern Mediterranean time and space. Its cutting-edge research illuminates foundational aspects of this formative region of the modern world. Geoffrey Greatrex, Sidney H. Griffith, Cornelia Horn, Guita G. Hourani, Basil Lourie, Robert R. Phenix, Hagith Sivan, and Cynthia Villagomez serve on the series' editorial board.

Upcoming volumes, to be published in 2016 and 2017, will include chapters by Predrag Bukovec, Vicente Dobroruka, Mats Eskhult, Carl Griffin, Blake Hartung, Cornelia Horn, Stanley F. Jones, Robert Kitchen, Tuomo Lankila, Basil Lourie, Robert Phenix, Ilaria Ramelli, Erga Shnerson, Herrie van Rooy, Cynthia Villagomez, and Helen Younansardaroud, among others.

Publication Date: Jan 09 2016
ISBN/EAN13: 069260975X / 9780692609750
Page Count: 320
Binding Type: US Trade Paper
Trim Size: 6" x 9"
Language: English
Color: Black and White
Related Categories: Religion / Christianity / General
The first volume in the series was noted here.

ASMEA Conference 2016 CFP

JAMES MCGRATH: Jewish Christianity and the Origins of Islam #CFP.

Sifting Project photos

PHOTO OF THE DAY: Sifting for Ancient Treasures (The Jewish Express). Actually there are several nice photos. It's always good to see the Temple Mount Sifting Project getting some attention. Background here (cf. here, here, and here) with oh so many links.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Kulik et al., The Bible in Slavic Tradition

The Bible in Slavic Tradition

Edited by Alexander Kulik, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Catherine Mary MacRobert, University of Oxford, Svetlina Nikolova, Cyrillo-Methodian Research Centre , Moshe Taube, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Cynthia M. Vakareliyska, University of Oregon
This volume contains selected papers from an international conference held in 2009 in Varna, Bulgaria. The papers represent major trends and developments in current research on the medieval Slavonic biblical tradition, primarily in comparison with Greek and Hebrew texts. The volume covers the translation of the canonical, apocryphal and pseudepigraphical books of the Old and New Testaments and its development over the ninth to sixteenth centuries. Another focus is on issues relating to Cyril and Methodius, the creators of the first Slavonic alphabet in the ninth century and the first translators of biblical books into Slavonic. The analytical approach in the volume is interdisciplinary, applying methodologies from textual criticism, philology, cultural and political history, and theology. It should be of value to Slavists, Hebraists and Byzantinists.
For past posts on Old Church Slavonic, especially in relation to the Old Testament pseudepigrapha, see here and here and many links

Literal creation stories?

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Should We Take Creation Stories in Genesis Literally? (Robin Ngo). No. Next question?

This BHD post summarizes a a BAR column by Shawna Dolansky which is behind the subscription wall. But I'm pleased to see that it does not neglect that other creation account, the one not found in Genesis. Because dragons!

"Realia" and teaching the NT (etc.)

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Realia and the Teacher’s Toolbox in the Postmodern New Testament Classroom (Richard Newton). The examples in this article could also be readily applied to the postmodern (or whatever) ancient Judaism classroom.

Jehoash inscription R.I.P.?

THE ASOR BLOG: The So-Called Jehoash Inscription: A Post Mortem (Ed Greenstein). Requires free registration to read in full. Excerpt:
Several months after the publication of the tablet and after several scholars had declared the text a fake, the State of Israel put the owner, Oded Golan, and other individuals on trial in Jerusalem district court, for this fraud and for other infractions. After seven and a half years of periodically hearing testimony from 130 witnesses, in March 2012, the judge delivered a 500-page opinion explaining the complexity of the case, in which experts contradicted experts. The judge did not find the Jehoash inscription to be authentic but felt there was enough doubt to acquit the defendant of the major criminal charges. In October 2013 the court ordered the Israel Antiquities Authority to return the tablet to its owner. The tablet was returned the following May.

The judge, overwhelmed by the diverse testimony, was inconclusive. However, the judgment of scholars who read ancient texts and analyze their language and writing is clear: no textbook of ancient Hebrew inscriptions will ever include the so-called Jehoash text; no historian of ancient Israel will ever count the inscription as a source; no grammarian or lexicographer of ancient Hebrew will ever include words, phrases, or forms found in the inscription as genuine data.
Geologists seem to be divided on whether the Jehoash (Joash) inscription could have been faked. Most philologists (myself included) think it is a forgery, but at least one has declined to declare it so, although even he makes no positive case for it being genuine. As usual, if a Semitic philologist ever wishes to publish a peer-review article making such a case, I will have a look at it. Meanwhile, I agree with Ed Greenstein. It's a fake.

Background on the inscription is here and here and many links.


WHICH PROVES YOU SHOULD KNOW THESE THINGS: Chaunte Conquers - Ardenne High Student Is 2016 Spelling Bee Champion (Jamaica Gleaner).
P-s-e-u-d-e-p-i-g-r-a-p-h-a was the word that gave Chaunte the edge over Assana, who was unable to spell it correctly.
Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Archaeological discoveries preserved by nature

ACTUALLY, ALL ARCHAEOLOGICAL DISCOVERIES WERE PRESERVED BY NATURE, BUT THESE ARE INDEED IMPRESSIVE: 5 amazing archaeological discoveries preserved by nature: From Oetzi the Iceman to frozen woolly mammoths (Michael Kuhne, The first item on the list is the Dead Sea Scrolls:
The Dead Sea is a salt lake bordered by Jordan, Israel and the West Bank. It is fed by several tributaries including the Jordan River.

Due to its high salinity and low elevation inside a deep basin, the climate of the Dead Sea region is unique. Atmospheric humidity in the area is relatively low and nearby regions are arid, which provided a very conducive environment for the preservation of the scrolls over the course of thousands of years.

"The fact that they survived for twenty centuries, that they were found accidentally by Bedouin shepherds, that they are the largest and oldest body of manuscripts relating to the Bible and to the time of Jesus of Nazareth make them a truly remarkable archaeological find," according to the U.S. Library of Congress.
The mummies of Pompeii are also on the list. More on them and on the destruction of Pompeii here and links.

2016 Israel Prize winner

Israeli Minister of Education Naftali Bennett has announced that Prof. Edit Doron a professor in the Department of Linguistics and at the Language, Logic and Cognition Center in the Faculty of Humanities at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.will be awarded the Israel Prize for her work in the study of Linguistics.


In its recommendation of Prof. Doron, the Israel Prize Committee said: “Prof. Edit Doron is a researcher at the forefront of linguistics research in Israel and the world, both in general and in formal linguistics, as well as in Hebrew and Semitic languages. Her research deals with a wide range of linguistic phenomena in a variety of languages. In her groundbreaking research she discovered new phenomena in spoken Hebrew today, and in classical Hebrew. Insights from these studies comprise a basis for research in numerous languages studied by the international scientific community. In recent years she turned to understanding the processes that influenced the formation of Modern Hebrew, and in this field she shows how it has evolved a natural evolution of the previous language combined with the great effect of the linguistics of its speakers.”

Some past winners of the Israel Prize have been noted here, here, here, here, here, here (sort of), here, and here.

In Idaho: lecture on Jewish magic

he College of Idaho’s distinctive Craig Neilsen Foundation Lectureship in Judaic Studies is set to host Professor J.H. Chajes from the University of Haifa on Tuesday, Feb. 16. Professor Chajes will present two seminars for C of I students as well as the public lecture “Jewish Magic, Magical Judaism,” which is set for 7 p.m. in Lecture Hall 106 of the Kathryn Albertson International Center on the C of I campus in Caldwell. The lecture is free and open to the public.

The Feb. 16 public lecture will take a fascinating look at the place of magic in Judaism from ancient to modern times. Chajes will begin with an exploration of magic in the Bible and classical rabbinic sources, and then turn to medieval Jewish approaches to magic, examining techniques, critiques and legends. He will conclude with a look at the relationship between Jewish magic and contemporary Jewish culture. The lecture will be followed by a wine and cheese reception.


Ancient canal system near Dead Sea

ARCHAEOLOGY: Roman-era canal system unearthed near Dead Sea.
(Israel Hayom/Exclusive to An ancient canal system used 2,000 years ago to irrigate terraced agricultural plots has been unearthed in an excavation near the Roman-era fortress of Metzad Bokek in southern Israel. The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority jointly conducted the excavation.

Regarding the reference to "persimmon" later in the article, Joseph Lauer commented as follows (inter alia) in his e-mail circulating the article:
We’ve been through this before regarding articles that confuse the afarsemon plant of antiquity, balsam or balm, with the modern Hebrew word for persimmon, also afarsemon. See, e.g., TB Berachot 43a, and Jastrow, Dictionary 109a.

The English article does note, in a translated quote, that the trees “were different from the persimmon trees we know today”.

Shenaton Hamishpat Haivri 28

H-JUDAIC: TOC: Shenaton Hamishpat Haivri 28. Some of the articles deal with ancient Judaic matters.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

The Aristophil collection isn't selling

Albert Einstein's notebook and Dead Sea Scrolls fragments among historic manuscripts struggling to find buyer. The value of the collection amassed by the Aristophil group has been estimated at hundreds of millions of euros (Nick Clark, John Lichfield, The Independent).
It is believed that close to 600 institutions and potential private investors have now been sounded out about a bid. Although the collection would enrich the home of any billionaire, it is hoped that a museum, foundation or gallery will come forward.

But it appears that interest has not been overwhelming. The original deadline for bids, ends on Wednesday but a French court hearing is expected to extend that date.

Sources in the art world suggest the collection may be overvalued, and that a top asking price of €100m might be more realistic.

“Yes, 5 per cent of the collection is extraordinary, but the remaining 95 per cent is insignificant,” one antiquarian bookseller told the Financial Times.
I'm curious to know more about the Dead Sea Scroll fragments in the collection. Not that I'm planning to submit a bid.

Background here and here.

JTS rabbinical grads honored

AWARDS: Jewish Theological Seminary to honor 3 prolific, longtime rabbinical grads. Rabbi David Geffen, along with Professors Lee Israel Levine and Aaron Demsky will receive the Louis Finkelstein Award at the JTS-Schocken Institute for Jewish Research in Jerusalem (Jeremy Sharon, Jerusalem Post).
The Jewish Theological Seminary will on Tuesday honor three rabbinical graduates from 50 years ago who made aliya and went on to excel in their fields of expertise.

Rabbi David Geffen, along with Professors Lee Israel Levine and Aaron Demsky will receive the Louis Finkelstein Award at the JTS-Schocken Institute for Jewish Research in Jerusalem.

Dr Beverly Gribetz, another JTS alumnus, will receive the Solomon Schechter Award for Jewish Education in recognition of her contributions to The State of Israel on Tuesday night as well.

Geffen, Levine and Demsky, were ordained by the JTS rabbinical school in New York in 1965.
Congratulations to all four, but the one of special interest to PaleoJudaica is Lee Levine:
Levine’s work focused on Jewish history and archaeology. He earned a PhD from Columbia University in New York, and was invited in the 1970s to teach at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem by the late archaeologist, politician and IDF Chief of Staff, Yigal Yadin.

Levine taught at the Institute for Archaeology at The Hebrew University and became a professor in 1985.

He wrote 13 books, edited another 12 works, and published about 200 academic papers.

He also founded the Tali network of schools and helped establish the Schechter Institute where he served as its first president.
Some past posts on Professor Levine's work are here, here, here, and here.

YU student research presentations

YESHIVA UNIVERSITY NEWS: Sharing Exceptional Research in Judaic Studies.
Yeshiva College Students Selected to Present at Princeton Jewish Studies Conference
Two Yeshiva College students have been invited to present 15-minute lectures on their research at Princeton University’s inaugural Undergraduate Jewish Studies Conference on February 14, 2016. Yeshiva University is the only institution besides Princeton to be represented twice at the conference, which draws together outstanding students from universities across the country to share ideas and connect with other highly-motivated undergraduates.

Yakov Ellenbogen, a junior majoring in history from Sharon, Massachusetts, will present his work on the demonology of the Ramban, in which Ellenbogen closely examines Ramban’s attitudes on the classification and abilities of demons and how they interact with humanity, comparing those attitudes to those held by Ramban’s non-Jewish contemporaries.


Samuel Berkovitz, a senior at Yeshiva College majoring in Jewish studies from Far Rockaway, New York, will share his research on the prohibition against carrying objects on Shabbat as recorded in Second Temple-era literature, such as the Book of Jubilees or the Dead Seas Scrolls. ...
Congratulations to both.

The IAA responds to Mazar

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Prominent archaeologist claims Western Wall construction will cause irreparable damage. Less than 48 hours after cabinet approved historic overhaul for a gender-neutral prayer space, Hebrew University professor says construction will “absolutely ruin the site” (DANIEL K. EISENBUD, Jerusalem Post).
The significant upgrade to the Western Wall’s controversial egalitarian prayer section at Robinson’s Gate will ruin Judaism’s “jewel of archeology,” an internationally recognized archeologist from the Hebrew University contended Tuesday.

Less than 48 hours after the cabinet approved a historic overhaul for the gender-neutral prayer space, Dr. Eilat Mazar, of HU’s Institute of Archeology, said the construction will “absolutely ruin the site” by turning an irreplaceable archeological landmark into a religious site.

Her objections were covered in yesterday's post, but this article goes into somewhat more detail. And it includes this new information:
Despite Mazar’s scathing rebuke of the project, the Israel Antiquities Authority, which approved and will oversee the expansion, issued a brief statement saying it stands by its position, claiming the construction and resulting changes will be “minor.”

“In reaching the agreement, the IAA demanded measures to continue to maintain the character of the archeological surroundings,” it said.

Meanwhile, the left-wing NGO Emek Shaveh echoed Mazar’s concerns and further condemned the construction as an egregious violation of the Old City’s delicate status quo.

We'll see what happens.

€500K grant for DSS research

Half a million euro NWO/FWO grant for Dead Sea Scrolls research
Were different communities involved in the production and interpretation of these manuscripts more than 2000 years ago?

February 02, 2016

Analysis of the content of the Dead Sea Scrolls has revealed that the different texts present a religiously diverse picture. The development of early Judaism over time is a possible explanation for this – or could there have been different religious communities, to which the scribes of the manuscripts belonged? NWO-FWO has awarded a EUR 500,000 grant for research to Professor Mladen Popović of the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Groningen and Professor Eibert Tigchelaar of the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at KU Leuven.

Generous grant
It has just been announced that Cooperation Flanders, a joint initiative of FWO (the Research Foundation - Flanders ) and NWO (Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research), has awarded a EUR 500,000 grant for research into this. The research project, entitled Models of Textual Communities and Digital Palaeography of the Dead Sea Scrolls, will be led by Professor Mladen Popović from the Qumran Institute of the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Groningen and Professor Eibert Tigchelaar from the Biblical Studies research unit of the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at KU Leuven. The support of NWO/FWO will make it possible for the universities of Groningen and Leuven, with two leading international research centres in the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls, to further intensify their collaboration both now and in the future. Popović and Tigchelaar’s research team will be aided by two PhD students. The research is expected to take four years, and a conference and workshops will also be held.


Tuesday, February 02, 2016

The Western Wall compromise and archaeology

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Reform prayer section to erase last signs of Temple destruction. Archaeologist warns government compromise to expand non-Orthodox Kotel prayer section will destroy priceless Jewish heritage. (Shimon Cohen, Arutz Sheva).
Dr. Eilat Mazar of Hebrew University's archaeology institute spoke to Arutz Sheva about the government's new decision to expand the non-Orthodox mixed prayer section of the Western Wall (Kotel), in the southern part of the Kotel.

Mazar warned that the decision to construct yet another prayer section for Reform Jews, in an expansion of a similar space built in 2013, could prove disastrous for the last remaining area where signs of the destruction of the Second Temple just under 2,000 years ago can be witnessed.

"In the archaeological park at the feet of the Western Wall there is only one section that is exposed and can be viewed. All the rest is underground. This is the southernmost section where the Herodian Quarter from the days of the Second Temple are preserved the way they were," she said.

Mazar added that "in the excavations of my grandfather Professor (Binyamin) Mazar a giant rockslide of the walls that the Romans destroyed on the Temple Mount was discovered."

She noted that the rockslide from the Temple's walls was excavated over the years, and "when they expanded the archaeological park - they moved the southern portion of Herodian road. What remains from all this impressive massive rockslide of these great stones is just a pile of a few dozen meters in a very narrow portion in this section."

The site of the remaining ruins of the Temple walls is exactly the point where the new Reform and Conservative prayer section is planned.

One David Newman has an Opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post which refers to IAA objections to the plan. : Borderline views: The Antiquities Authority’s campaign against pluralism at the Western Wall. Just as the environmentalists may not like turning to the defense establishment for assistance, so we would assume the archaeologists do not like serving the interests of the Orthodox establishment.I cannot find any other references to these objections of the IAA, but Mr. Newman summarizes them as follows:
However, the opposition of the Antiquities Authority to the preparation of a separate space further along the wall for non-Orthodox and mixed-gender prayer on the basis that this will prevent further excavations of one of the most important ancient Jewish sites in Israel, as well as limiting access to those who came to see the archaeology rather than for prayer, serves the interests of the Orthodox community, who are strongly opposed to such forms of alternative prayer.
.He summarizes his own view as follows:
Strange coalitions often emerge when interests are threatened. It is unlikely that in the most recent case of the prayer sites at the Western Wall, such a coalition was planned in advance. But the opposition of the Antiquities Authority to this week’s government decision serves the interests of other lobbyists – in this case the Orthodox community – who must be rubbing their hands with glee at this unexpected intervention against religious pluralism.
I can't say I find the essay particular illuminating. It attempts to explain the political motivations of the various parties involved, which is fine, but it does not respond the archaeological objections to the plan, nor does it refer to Dr. Mazar's objections, which sound more urgent.

To make matters more complicated, the Grant Mufti of Jerusalem, for his own reasons, finds himself significantly in agreement with Dr. Mazar and the Orthodox: Grand Mufti condemns new Jewish egalitarian prayer section at Western Wall. In a press statement he released on Monday, Hussien claimed that the prayer space adjacent to the Western Wall is “the property of the Islamic waqf that was taken by the Israeli occupation in 1967.” (KHALED ABU TOAMEH, Jerusalem Post).

If you are having trouble visualizing the proposed changes, have a look at this article: 3 Maps That Explain The Western Wall Compromise (Ben Sales, JTA).

To be clear, Dr. Mazar does not object to the concept in principle. Rather, because of the archaeological problems with this plan she says "Find another plan." For my part, I am not an expert on the details of the geography of the Temple Mount and its vicinity, but I am very concerned by the objections raised by Dr. Mazar and I would like to see them addressed by someone who is. Perhaps Leen Ritmyer will weigh in on this one?

UPDATE (3 February): More here.

Jewish Law Annual 21 (2015)

H-JUDAIC: TOC: The Jewish Law Annual 21. Some of the articles deal with ancient Jewish law.

More on the new Lod Mosaic

ARCHAEOLOGY: ‘This is the best of the Roman tradition': A new mosaic unveiled in Israel (Apollo Magazine).
A second Roman floor was found at the site of the Lod mosaic in 2009. Archaeologist Amir Gorzalczany, of the Israel Antiquities Authority, tells Imelda Barnard what this recently unveiled discovery reveals about the villa that housed them 1,700 years ago
What does the new mosaic depict?
It’s a very rich, late Roman work, composed of rectangular concentric frames. Inside are nine medallions, octagonal in shape: five of these depict animals fighting or hunting; two depict fish, showing species from the Mediterranean Sea; and two others reveal birds – doves and partridges beside objects, including an amphora and a basket of flowers. Based on the ceramic shards found during the excavation, and on numismatic – as well as artistic – grounds, we have dated it to the 3rd century. This mosaic is the best of the Roman tradition.
Background here. And there are many posts on the first Lod Mosaic and its recent international peregrinations here and links.

Action adventure tales in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Talmud: We Don’t Negotiate With Terrorists. This week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ features captives, kidnappers, and extortionists; ransom, escape, and stonings—and black magic.
If you were to make a movie about the Talmud, the hero would have to be Reish Lakish. Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish, usually referred to as Reish Lakish, had a biography more typical of an action hero than a sage. His first career was as a gladiator in the Roman circus, before Rabbi Yochanan convinced him to devote his life to Torah. In this week’s Daf Yomi reading, in Gittin 47a, there was a story about Reish Lakish that testified to his combination of strength and cunning. Apparently, there was a tradition among gladiators that before one was put to death, he was granted any wish he asked for. When Reish Lakish was about to be killed, then, he asked he asked his captors, “I want to tie you up and have you sit, and I will strike each of you one and a half times.”

Probably they should have smelled a rat ...
Probably. Good story though.

As Mr. Kirsch notes, the attention to the subject of hostage-taking for ransom indicates that it was not an infrequent occurrence. We have seen many stories, not least in these columns, which have shown how difficult it is for us moderns to imagine the brutal and degrading world the ancients took for granted.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Biblical Studies Carnival CXX

BIBLICAL STUDIES CARNIVAL CXX has been published by Tim Bulkeley at Sansblogue.