Friday, August 28, 2015

Review of Horsley, Jesus and Magic

DANIEL N. GULLOTTA: Review: Jesus and Magic: Freeing the Gospel Stories from Modern Misconceptions (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

I haven't read this book, but it sounds like I need to have a look. Some related thoughts are here and links

Payne, A State of Mixture

NEW BOOK FROM UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS:
A State of Mixture: Christians, Zoroastrians, and Iranian Political Culture in Late Antiquity (Transformation of the Classical Heritage) Hardcover – September 1, 2015
by Richard E. Payne (Author)

Christian communities flourished during late antiquity in a Zoroastrian political system, known as the Iranian Empire, that integrated culturally and geographically disparate territories from Arabia to Afghanistan into its institutions and networks. Whereas previous studies have regarded Christians as marginal, insular, and often persecuted participants in this empire, Richard Payne demonstrates their integration into elite networks, adoption of Iranian political practices and imaginaries, and participation in imperial institutions.

The rise of Christianity in Iran depended on the Zoroastrian theory and practice of hierarchical, differentiated inclusion, according to which Christians, Jews, and others occupied legitimate places in Iranian political culture in positions subordinate to the imperial religion. Christians, for their part, positioned themselves in a political culture not of their own making, with recourse to their own ideological and institutional resources, ranging from the writing of saints’ lives to the judicial arbitration of bishops. In placing the social history of East Syrian Christians at the center of the Iranian imperial story, A State of Mixture helps explain the endurance of a culturally diverse empire across four centuries.

Review of MacDonald, Hannibal: A Hellenistic Life

PUNIC WATCH: Hannibal' holds readers' interest (Richard D. Weigel, Bowling Green Daily News).
“Hannibal: A Hellenistic Life,” by Eve MacDonald. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015. 352 pages, $38 (cloth).

Hannibal still has a reputation as one of the greatest military strategists in history. One of the problems in trying to get an accurate picture of his life and career is that virtually all of the sources about him were written by Romans, the people who persisted against his serious threat to their continuance as a Mediterranean power and eventually defeated him, or by others influenced by Rome. Eve MacDonald, an archeologist and lecturer at the University of Reading, produced an excellent biography that attempts to understand Hannibal both within and outside the Roman context.

[...]
An earlier review of the book etc. is noted here and links.

Review of Stoneman, Xerxes

BOOK REVIEW IN THE TIMES HIGHER EDUCATION: Xerxes: A Persian Life, by Richard Stoneman. Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones appreciates a nuanced biography of a complex ruler whose achievements are often ignored.
Xerxes has had bad press. The louche tyrant of the Greek sources and a dupe and comic stooge in the Hebrew Book of Esther would become, in the preposterous Hollywood movie 300: Rise of an Empire, a satanic entity, a proto-Islamic State fanatic. Even in Iran his reputation is, at best, ambiguous. I have met many young Iranians whose names, Kourosh and Dariush, are proudly sported in emulation of the ancient greats, Cyrus and Darius. But I know only one Khashayar, Xerxes. He runs a bookshop in Isfahan. Next time I’m there, I’ll give him a copy of Stoneman’s rewarding life (and afterlife) of Xerxes. I want Khashayar to be proud of his namesake.
The book is:
Xerxes: A Persian Life
By Richard Stoneman
Yale University Press, 288pp, £25.00
ISBN 9780300180077
Published 13 August 2015

More on Horvat Kur

A VOLUNTEER AT THE HORVAT KUR EXCAVATION: Moseley can dig that! (Herald Independent).
NEWBERRY — Newberry native Will Moseley recently took part in an excavation in the ancient synagogue at Horvat Kur in Israel, uncovering a partially preserved colorful mosaic floor.

Moseley was working the Horvat Kur excavation site with Wofford Professor of Religion Byron McCane, four other Wofford students, a Wofford graduate and a host of other college and university students from all over the world who are part of the Kinneret Regional Project.

[...]
Background here.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

No, no one thinks the Gospel of Jesus' Wife proves that Jesus was married

TOO MUCH OF THE MEDIA just doesn't get the current scholarly discussion about the Gospel of Jesus' Wife. The issue, insofar as it is an issue at all, is whether the fragment is a modern forgery or the remains of an ancient manuscript dating to centuries after the time of Jesus which tells a legendary story that involves Jesus having a wife. If the fragment is authentic, it has been suggested that the original text of which it is a copy could date to as early as the second century. I have seen that asserted, but never argued. Still, this is long after any living memory of Jesus.

The current very strong consensus is that it is a modern forgery. I think this is correct beyond any reasonable doubt. But evidently Karen King still wants to defend the authenticity of the fragment — that is that it is an ancient account of an otherwise lost apocryphal legend involving Jesus' wife. We will all be happy to consider any peer-review publication that wants to make that argument, but in the meantime just about all specialists find the case for it being a modern forgery convincing.

Be that as it may, no one, and I mean no one, thinks that this text, even on the remote contingency that it is genuine, provides any information about any putative wife or marriage of the historical Jesus. It's not an issue. Not at all.

Why is that so hard? Yet note the headlines of the following articles on the recent discussion.

Was Jesus Married? Tests On ‘Gospel Of Jesus’ Wife’ Hint It Is Real. The Messiah may have been married to Mary Magdalene (Yahoo News, UK). Not just the headline: the reporting is pretty bad too. "Many believe that this shows Jesus was married instead of celibate - which could impact religions such as Catholicism, where priests are required to be celibate."

Jesus had wife: Gospel origins begin to emerge (Yahoo/News7). The article is more nuanced than the headline, but the accompanying ABC News video segment ("Was Jesus Married? An intriguing clue") completely missed the point, has many inaccuracies, and gives a very misleading presentation of the current discussion.

New Study On Controversial Papyrus Fragment Suggests Jesus Had A Wife (Guneet Bhatia, International Business Times). The article is more nuanced than the headline, but has some garbling.

This is even more evidence that Jesus may have had a wife (Herb Scribner, Deseret News). The accompanying article proceeds as badly as the headline, although it makes a small effort toward the end to nuance its treatment.

Jesus May Have Had a Wife: Origins of 'Gospel of Jesus' Wife' Emerge (Science World Report). I don't know anything about Science World Report, but their name is pretty grand for the quality of reporting in this case.

Did Jesus Have a Wife? Controversial 'Gospel of Jesus' Wife' Papyrus Is Being Investigated (STOYAN ZAIMOV, Christian Post. The actual article is not bad, but it doesn't make clear the preponderance of current scholarly opinion.

Ink In Papyrus Revealing Christ's Marriage May Be Authentic (R. Siva Kuvar, NewsEveryDay). The article makes some effort to present the actual situation.

JESUS MARRIED? GOSPEL OF JESUS'S WIFE IS REAL (Sumayah Aamir, I4U News). The article isn't entirely consistent, but some of it is as bad as the headline. I hope the I4U News articles on technology are more accurate.

Is this proof that Jesus was married? New tests hint that ancient note could be real (Ollie McAteer, Metro.co.uk). Seems to be based on the Yahoo UK article quoted above.

Now I grant you two things. First, sometimes the articles above are less misleading than the headlines. This might exonerate the writers of the articles, but the headlines are still inexcusable. People often learn about news stories just by a quick glance at a headline, and countless people will have come to the conclusion that the Gospel of Jesus' Wife has something to do with whether Jesus actually was married thanks to these headlines.

Second, many of these headlines come from smaller outfits that perhaps don't have the editorial standards of the major mainstream media. Nevertheless, I expect better, for example, from Yahoo, ABC News, and the International Business Times.

So, three lessons here. First, never, ever trust a headline. Second, anyone can set up a "news" site on the Internet, so don't believe anything you read there unless you know the source is reliable. And third, and most disquieting of all, do not trust even the mainstream media about anything they say. There are notable exceptions, but too often their coverage is lazy, sensationalistic, and garbled.

Background here and oh so many links.

Palmyra: commentary

PALMYRA WATCH: no new developments today, but some commentary and background are worth noting.

Historical background: How Ancient Palmyra, Now in ISIS's Grip, Grew Rich and Powerful. A distinctly multicultural trading center grew rich on trade between east and west, until it rebelled against its most powerful customer. (Kristin Romey, National Geographic).
In Palmyra, history is literally written on the walls: across temples and above doorways, encircling funerary monuments and snaking up the towering limestone columns that rise above the Syrian desert some 134 miles (215 km) northeast of Damascus.

These inscriptions were often written both in Greek and Palmyrene Aramaic, a bilingual phenomenon unique to Palmyra. The site is a UNESCO World Heritage site that has been a focus of international attention since May, when the Islamic State (ISIS) seized the territory around the ancient ruins.

The inscriptions provide unique insight into life in a distinctive frontier city where, for centuries, local merchants controlled trade between the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia.

[...]
An editorial: The Crimes of Palmyra (NYT).
Yet it is impossible to read Sunday’s reports of the demolition of one of the best-preserved and grandest relics in the ancient ruins of Palmyra, the Temple of Baalshamin, and not feel anguish at the loss of another irreplaceable monument of our shared past. True, the temple stood near a Roman amphitheater where ISIS is reported to have executed 25 prisoners last month. But to grieve at the loss of a great work of art does not diminish the horror at the loss of human lives, and in tandem they amount to a unified and barbaric attempt to erase not only whole peoples but also their religions, cultures and histories.

[...]

However daunting the struggles of the Middle East, ISIS stands out in the threat it poses to humanity. But for all its well-publicized atrocities, it is neither all powerful nor immune to military and economic pressures from the West. It can and must be stopped, and the United States and its allies cannot relent in their efforts toward that end.
Historical background on cultural destruction: Islamic State's war on antiquities takes leaf out of ancient book (Associated Press and Israel Hayom Staff).
Destruction unleashed by jihadi group on historic sites in area it overruns has not been seen in decades, archeologists say, warn of potential ramification to heritage research • But Islamic State is only following the footsteps of other fanatics.
Background here and links.

The Codex Sinaiticus is going on display at the BM

THIS WILL BE WORTH SEEING: British Library will lend world's oldest bible to British Museum. British Museum exhibition, Egypt after the pharaohs, will feature the Codex Sinaiticus, one of the most important books in the world (Mark Brown, The Guardian).
The British Library is to lend one of its greatest treasures, the world’s oldest bible, to the British Museum for an ambitious and groundbreaking exhibition exploring 1,200 years of Christian, Islamic and Jewish faith in Egypt after the pharaohs.

The Codex Sinaiticus is one of the most important books in the world and has only been lent once, in 1990 – also to the British Museum – when both collections shared the same building.

“It is quite phenomenal they they are able to lend it to us,” said Elisabeth O’Connell, assistant keeper in the British Museum’s department of ancient Egypt and Sudan. “We are absolutely thrilled.”

The codex dates back to the 4th century AD. Handwritten in Greek, not long after the reign of the Emperor Constantine the Great, it contains the earliest complete manuscript of the New Testament.

[...]
Not to take away from the importance of this marvelous manuscript or of the exhibition, but I want to nuance the headline of this article a little. The Codex Sinaiticus once contained the entire Bible and a few other things, but a considerable portion of the Old Testament is now missing. The oldest surviving complete Bible is Codex Ambrosianus B.21, from the late sixth or early seventh century CE.

Some past posts on the Codex Sinaiticus are here and here and links.

DSS coming to children's exhibition

PRESS RELEASE: National Geographic Partners with The World’s Largest Children’s Museum to Create Sacred Journeys Exhibit.
The United States is home to followers of hundreds of religious faiths, yet few know much about their neighbors’ beliefs, practices or traditions. National Geographic Sacred Journeys, a new exhibit, will change that. It opens Aug. 29, 2015 at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.

[...]

Among the artifacts featured in the 7,000-square-foot exhibition are fragments of the Dead Sea scrolls from Qumran, Israel, a large 1,300 pound stone from the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Jewish devotional objects taken into space by former astronaut David Wolf, the trunk Brigham Young carried from New York to Utah, a piece of the Kiswah (a gold-embroidered fabric, which drapes the Kaaba in Mecca), a throne built for the Dalai Lama’s U.S. visit in 2010, a sand mandala created by Buddhist monks at the museum, a replica of the Shroud of Turin, and Ganesh statue (Hindu god of good fortune).

[...]
No word yet on which Dead Sea Scroll fragments will be on display.

About that broken vase ...

THIS ODD STORY IS NOW ODDER: Israel Museum changes account on broken artifact. After initially claiming girl accidentally smashed ancient glass object, officials now say cause of mishap unknown (AP and Times of Israel/Josefin Dolstein).

Background here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Latest on Palmyra

PALMYRA WATCH: Lots of new articles over the last couple of days. Here is a selection:

Witness confirms IS destruction of ancient Syria temple (AP).

UNESCO: Palmyra temple destruction a ‘war crime.’ Irina Bokova laments ‘immense loss for the Syrian people and for humanity,’ says perpetrators must be held accountable (AFP). Not their first or their least.

Watch: What Palmyra looked like in the 1800s, and how the Islamic State is destroying it (Ishaan Tharoor, WaPo).

Images of the Ancient City of Palmyra, the "Pearl of the Desert" ISIS is Destroying (Patrick Sisson, Curbed.com).

Palmyra: Destruction of an oasis of cultural history. Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is considered one of the most beautiful ruined cities in the Middle East. Now the "Islamic State" has seized the area and started destroying these ancient structures (dw.com). A photo gallery.

Background here and links.

Lied blog renovation

LIV INGEBORG LIED is shaping up her blog:
Religion - Manuscripts - Media Culture
A blog on the transmission, use, and transformation of the so-called Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, with a particular focus on the manuscripts containing them, practices and media cultures framing their use in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, and the scholarly paradigms that shape the way we study them today
With a preview of upcoming posts. Watch that space.

Not mainly peasants?

ASOR BLOG: They Were Not Mainly “Peasants.” Towards an Alternative View of Village Life in Greco-Roman Palestine and Egypt (Sharon Lea Mattila). Good. I was getting tired of peasants.

Askeland on the GJW

CHRISTIAN ASKELAND: The Gospel of Jesus Wife — the saga continues ... (ETC). Excerpt:
I have expressed my opinion that the GJW has been so exhaustively proved a forgery, that the matter could be laid to rest. With regard to provenance documents and the identity of the present owner, I had surmised that King had legal or ethical reasons for withholding these. After all, what more could be gained from identifying the forger when everyone knows that the GJW is a fake? Her suggestion that the GJW could be authentic has caused me to reconsider. I would suggest that, if she considers the debate “ongoing,” then she should without hesitation produce the relevant materials. Furthermore, I would suggest that it would be disingenuous of King to conduct further Raman-spectroscopy testing (or the like) in highly-speculative support of authenticity and to simultaneously withhold documents which would almost certainly demonstrate forgery.
He also responds to claims about the ink used on the GJW fragment and the Harvard Lycopolitan John.

Background here and links.

Broken ancient vase better than ever

OOPS! Young Israeli Girl Breaks 2,000-year-old Vase, Museum Says Thanks. The museum said the object has now been repaired and is in better shape than it was before. (Nir Hasson, Haaretz). But please don't do it again.

Oh well. These things happen.

UPDATE (27 August): Curiouser and curiouser.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Barton on how to write a book review

MARGINALIA: The Art of the Book Review: John Barton. How writing reviews is like writing references.. Includes some very entertaining but cruel lines that you shouldn't use.

Editing Coptic manuscript fragments

NEWS YOU CAN USE: On Coptic Literary Fragments and the Principles of Editing Them (Alin Suciu). Scholars who edited the Dead Sea Scrolls faced some similar problems.

Bausi (ed.), Comparative Oriental Manuscript Studies: An Introduction

NEW BOOK ONLINE: Comparative Oriental Manuscript Studies: An Introduction. This looks like an excellent resource. You can read it for free online or order a printed copy if you want one. It is published by the COMSt Network:
The cooperative network Comparative Oriental Manuscript Studies is dedicated to academic dialogue in the field of Oriental manuscript studies with the focus on the Mediterranean and North African cultural areas.
It organizes conferences and workshops; publishes journals and monographs; issues a regular mailing list; and facilitates exchange and cooperation in related fields.
HT the What's New in Papyrology Blog.

Saxby, James, Brother of Jesus, and the Jerusalem Church

NEW BOOK FROM WIPF AND STOCK:
James, Brother of Jesus, and the Jerusalem Church
A Radical Exploration of Christian Origins


BY Alan Saxby
FOREWORD BY James Crossley

Imprint: Wipf and Stock
Category: Biblical Studies

About

James, Brother of Jesus, and the Jerusalem Church opens fresh ground in our understanding of Christian origins through an exploration of the role of James in the founding of the church. Based on the author's doctoral research, that first Christian church, with its roots in the Baptist movement, is shown to be part of the broad contemporary Judaic movement for the restoration of Israel. The events surrounding the death of Jesus (their leader's brother) both confirmed their commitment to Judaic reform and transformed their understanding of it. Despite the impact of that experience, they seem to have had neither knowledge nor interest in the teaching and ministry of Jesus in Galilee.
Set in the world of James, this careful study of the difficulties and opportunities facing Judaic peasants in first-century Palestine proposes that James and his other brothers moved to Jerusalem (where work was available) several years before the final visit of Jesus and, under James's leadership, became the kernel of a growing group of followers of the Baptist that would later emerge onto the page of history as the Jerusalem Church.

The ink of the GJW and the signature of Hans-Ulrich Laukamp

HERE'S HOPING: Origins of 'Gospel of Jesus's Wife' Begin to Emerge (Owen Jarus, LiveScience).
The truth may be finally emerging about the "Gospel of Jesus's Wife," a highly controversial papyrus suggesting that some people, in ancient times, believed Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. New research on the papyrus' ink points to the possibility that it is authentic, researchers say, while newly obtained documents may shed light on the origins of the business-card-sized fragment.

[...]
If the tests show the ink to be ancient, that is interesting, but it doesn't necessarily prove anything. Ancient ink sometimes survives in inkwells and such (see the second update to the post). Add distilled water and you have ancient ink.

This new modern paleographic evidence is potentially important:
After searching public databases in Florida a Live Science reporter uncovered seven signatures signed by Laukamp between 1997 and 2001 on five notarized documents. Anyone can search these databases and download these documents. These signatures can be compared with the signature recording the sale of the Gospel of Jesus's Wife — providing another way to verify or disprove the story of how the "gospel" made its way to Harvard.
And this (for context see the article and this post) strikes me as a very unconvincing argument:
King objected to this conclusion in her Biblical Archaeology Review letter, noting that the John fragment could have been copied in ancient times, long after Lycopolitan went extinct, from a text that had similar line breaks.
But this is more interesting:
"In our first exploration, we did state that the inks used for the two documents of interest [the John papyrus and the Gospel of Jesus's Wife] were quite different. The more recent results do confirm this observation strongly," Yardley told Live Science.
We'll have to see what the peer-reviewed publications have to say. As it stands, the consensus is very much that the Gospel of Jesus' Wife fragment is a modern forgery and many arguments have been advanced to support that conclusion. If Professor King or anyone else want to show otherwise, those arguments will all need to be addressed.

As I've said before, it's always possible that we won the lottery this time and the fragment is genuine. But I don't like to play the lottery.

Background here with many, many links. On the above story, see also Mark Goodacre's NT Blog: The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: A Call for Closure. Guest post by Andrew Bernhard.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Qumran as a meat processing plant?

BIBLE AND INTERPRETATION:
Although de Vaux Was a Divine, He Was Not Infallible

An example of de Vaux’s fallibility is still conspicuously visible at Qumran.

By David Stacey
Field Archaeologist (1975-1987), Jericho Excavations
August 2015
The 2013 book that Dr. Stacey mentions is noted here, with links to additional posts on his counter-narrative work on the archaeology of Qumran.

Interview with Helen Bond

ADVICE FOR FUTURE BIBLIC SCHOLARS: Student and Scholar Spotlight: Dr. Helen K. Bond (Daniel N. Gullotta). Professor Bond offers lots of good advice for PhD students in this interview.

Palmyra's Temple of Baal destroyed

PALMYRA WATCH: Islamic State destroys temple at Palmyra ruins in Syria (AP).

The Daily Mail (JAY AKBAR and TOM WYKE) also covers the story, with more photos and lots of additional background on recept ISIS archaeological depredations in the Middle East:
ISIS destroy ancient temple in Palmyra using dynamite as jihadi group continue their destruction of Syria's heritage
  • ISIS thugs used dynamite to destroy the ancient temple of Baalshamin
  • The beautifully preserved temple had been there for nearly 2,000 years
  • The news comes after the demolition of the ancient Mar Elian monastery
An old post on the archaeology of Palmyra is here with links. And much more on Palmyra and its recent fate is here here and here and links. For more on the assault of ISIS on the past and its caretakers follow the links in those posts and see also the (immediately preceding) related post here.

Report of another archaeologist killed in Syria

COUNTERPUNCH: Two More ‘EverySyrian’ Heroes Murdered While Protecting Our Shared Cultural Heritage (FRANKLIN LAMB).
Curating antiquities or attending international conferences on archaeology have become capital offenses, according to some who claim to be “religious purists.” Two more Syrian nationalists who have served all of us by protecting and preserving our global cultural heritage in this cradle of civilization were murdered within the past two weeks, just six days apart.

Qassim Abdullah Yehya 37, and Khaled al-Assad 83, were two of the 14 committed professionals serving their country and all of humanity through current and past associations with Syria’s renowned Directorate General of Antiquities & Museums (DGAM). As with a dozen of their DGAM colleagues before them, Mssrs. Yehya and al-Assad have also [sic; add "been" - JRD] murdered in the line of duty since the March 2011 Syrian crisis erupted. According to today’s latest UN statistics, more than 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives, utterly devastating their families and loved ones, over the past 53 months of nearly unimaginable carnage.

[...]
According to Dr. Lamb, Qassim Abdullah Yehya was killed in August by "rebels near Douma, a close-in eastern Gouta superb of Damascus." No further information about them is given. The article also contains further details on the death of Khaled al-Assad. Dr. Lamb appears to be in a position to know this sort of information, but I have no verification at this point.

Related post here. More on the murder of Khaled al-Assad by ISIS is here and links.

Sebastia

ARCHAEOLOGICAL POLITICS: At ancient Israel’s capital, politics and neglect squelch historical resonance. For half a century, while quibbling over whose heritage it is, Israel and the Palestinians have both ignored a historical gem at Sebastia (Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel). Excerpts:
The entire saga of preserving and showcasing ancient Sebastia unfolds like a comedy of errors which could only occur in the Wild West Bank. Israel controls the park containing the ancient finds, which is in Area C, but does nothing with it. The Palestinians say they want to control it, but lack the resources to develop it. And while both sides lay claim to the site as their exclusive cultural heritage, it lies neglected, underdeveloped, unexcavated.

[...]

The PA’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities brochure avoids any mention of Israel or a Jewish connection to the site. It notes that Sebastia was “an important administrative and political regional capital during the Iron Age II and III” and was “a major urban center during the Hellenistic period,” but makes no reference to the Israelite Kingdom or the Hasmoneans.

A Palestinian description of Sebastia in a bid to have it listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site goes to even greater lengths to omit references to the city’s Jewish history, referring to it as the former “capital of the northern kingdom during the Iron Age II,” and alluding to Jewish figures such as Omri and John Hyrcanus without explanation.

On the other hand, the Nature and Parks Authority’s site makes no reference whatsoever to the village, home to 3,000 Palestinians, in which the church-turned-mosque is located, to the Church of St. John the Baptist located in the ruins, or to the former Crusader presence in Sebastia.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Mokhtarian, Rabbis, Sorcerers, Kings, and Priests

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Rabbis, Sorcerers, Kings, and Priests: The Culture of the Talmud in Ancient Iran. A new book from University of California Press.

Eyewitness accounts

YOU'D BE SURPRISED. Are Firsthand Accounts More Reliable? (Anthony Le Donne, The Jesus Blog). Josephus was an eyewitness to much of what he wrote about, but contradictory versions of the same events in his works show him not to be a particularly reliable eyewitness. It is often (not necessary always) wiser to use circumstantial evidence and multiple accounts of similar events and situations to make generalizations about the past than to trust the veracity of any single account — even an eyewitness one — of any given event.

The perils of archaeology

BARBARIANS AT THE GATES: Archaeologist's Execution Highlights Risks to History's Guardians. A scholar's brutal death at the hands of ISIS is a reminder that archaeologists can find themselves on war's front lines, protecting artifacts (Mark Strauss, National Geographic).
Asaad’s death is the latest tragedy in a war that, with each passing day, manages to push the boundaries of brutality. And it highlights an aspect of archaeology that is often lost amid accounts of the looting of antiquities: Around the world, in lawless and war-torn regions, archaeologists and museum staffers frequently risk their lives to protect artifacts that have endured for centuries.
Background here and here and links.

Review of Magness, Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit

JAMES MCGRATH: Review of Jodi Magness, Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit.

Earlier reviews of the book are noted here and here.

Those Temple treasures again

STILL LOOKING: Finding the Holy Vessels – Is NOW the Time? (Harry Moskoff, Jerusalem Post).
In the late 1920’s, a Jewish farmer discovers a pit/cave as he is plowing his field in Israel. He is startled, but manages to identify the golden items as the holy vessels as used in the First Temple of Solomon. He draws a makeshift map and travels to New York with all the information on his findings. There he tracks down a certain Rabbi Herman (from the famous book: ALL FOR THE BOSS) and asks him what to do with his new secret. The Rabbi cross-examines the farmer in order to verify the story, then sends his son (from the Mir Talmudic Yeshivah in Poland) over to a great Jewish sage living in Radin with a confidential letter and map, asking his coveted opinion on what to do next. The sage firstly confirms the site and states that the time has not yet arrived to reveal these Temple items, and in fact, all parties will forget the whole thing until many years later, on the day that this Israeli farmer dies.

The fascinating story continues. While studying in Lakewood, New Jersey, Herman’s son suddenly remembers the whole episode in Poland, including the map, and passes everything on to another prestigious member of his family. One thing led to another, and believe it or not, there are those living in Israel today that know approximately where this underground cave lies, the very same one that is part of this authentic story!

Too good to be true? Not at all.

[...]
It's a good story, but until I see some actual golden vessels from the First Temple era, it's just a story. Elements of it remind me of The Treatise of the Vessels, on which you can find many posts here and links.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

That ancient Hebrew (?) seal from Russia again

AVIV BENEDIX: Mysterious Biblical Hebrew Seal Found in Russia with a Name Mentioned 17 Times in the Bible: Elyashiv – Part 1. Mr. Benedix has another Times of Israel blog post summarizing some of what can now be said about that stone seal bearing a Northwest Semitic inscription which was excavated in Russia in the grave of a first-century Sarmatian woman. Two more posts are promised. This post is a bit tongue in cheek, but the facts are correct. He concludes:
So there we have it. We can now confirm that archaeologists in Russia, excavating the 2,000 year old tomb of a female Sarmatian fighter found an ancient seal written in Ancient Hebrew inscribed with the name of an individual with the exact same name mentioned 17 times in the Holy Bible! ‘But what’, you asked cynically, is this not good enough for you? Do you want to know more? Do you want to know if there is a way of accurately dating the seal using archaeology and linguistics? Do we have any scientific or archaeological evidence or sources of the name Elyashiv? And what the Hell was an ancient seal that originated in Biblical Judea doing in Southern Russia anyways? Find out more in the near future in Part 2 and 3.
As I have already noted, I agree that the seal is probably written in Hebrew. And, yes, a close paleographic analysis could certainly determine the date to within a century and probably also its national origin.

Although I was trained as a Northwest Semitic epigrapher and I still follow the field in a general way, it is not my immediate field of interest and I don't have the time to do the work (script charts and such) myself. Like Mr. Benedix, who emphasizes that he is no expert on this material, I certainly hope someone who specializes in such inscriptions will take some serious interest in this remarkable find soon. There is at least a peer-review article begging to be written on it.

Background here, here, and here.

6 Ezra in Greek

CROSSING BORDERS: FRAGMENT OF EARLY CODEX IN GREEK: BOOK 4(6) EZRA. Greco-Roman Egypt, 4th century CE, found at Oxyrhynchus, 4 x 3 in. (10.2 x 7.6 cm), MS. Gr. bib. g. 3(P)r,. This is part of the Crossing Borders exhibition at the New York Jewish Museum. The manuscript fragment is from the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

HT Shayna Sheinfeld and Liv Ingeborg Lied on Facebook.

For more on 6 Ezra, and on this manuscript, see here. Apart from this Greek fragment, which seems to have circulated as an independent work, and a couple of early Latin quotations, the text of 6 Ezra survives only in a Latin translation attached to the Latin text of 5 Ezra and 4 Ezra as the larger work 2 Esdras. On these see this post.

Some recently discovered or little-known fragments of 4 Ezra in various languages are noted here, here, and here.

And by the way, congratulations to Dr. Sheinfeld, who recently successfully defended her PhD dissertation, "Between Destruction and Community: Crisis of Leadership in Life and Literature after 70," supervised by Gerbern Oegema at McGill University.

McCollum on Judeo-Persian, part one

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: On Judeo-Persian Language and Literature | Part One: State of the Field (Adam McCollum).
“In a two-part series, Dr. Adam McCollum addresses the possibilities for the field of Judeo-Persian language and literature. Part One addresses the state of the field and Part Two includes a helpful bibliography and four text samples.”
Past PaleoJudaica posts dealing with Judeo-Persian are here and here and links.

The watermelon and ancient Judaism

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC: The 5,000-Year Secret History of the Watermelon. Ancient Hebrew texts and Egyptian tomb paintings reveal the origins of our favorite summertime fruit. (Mark Strauss).
Much of this epic history has been lost to antiquity. But Harry Paris, a horticulturalist at the Agricultural Research Organization in Israel, has spent years assembling clues—including ancient Hebrew texts, artifacts in Egyptian tombs, and medieval illustrations—that have enabled him to chronicle the watermelon’s astonishing 5,000-year transformation.
There is lots of information about the early cultivation of the watermelon, including more from late-antique Israel, so read it all, but the section on Hebrew texts is as follows. It would have been nice to have chapter and verse references, but at least some specific texts are mentioned.
Paris confirmed that the ancient Hebrew name for watermelons was avattihim. He found a trove of clues in three codices of Jewish Law that were compiled millennia ago in Israel: the Mishnah, Tosefta, and the Jerusalem Talmud. “The rabbis back then didn't sit in the Yeshiva all day,” says Paris “They were out with the people. They knew agriculture.”

The texts on tithing—the mandated practice of putting aside a portion of crops for priests and the poor—were especially informative. For instance, farmers were instructed not to stack avatttihim, but lay them out individually. That’s a key indicator that avattihim were watermelons, since the rinds were notoriously fragile.

The most exciting reveal in the Hebrew writings was a tract, written around 200 A.D., which placed the tithed watermelons in the same category as figs, grapes, and pomegranates.

And what do all of those fruits have in common? They’re sweet. By the third century, the watermelon had graduated from desert crop to dessert. And if sweet watermelons were in Israel, they had likely spread across the Mediterranean.
The modern Hebrew word is the same: אבטיח. More on that here.

Syrian vs. Syriac

SYRIAC WATCH: 42 easily confused English terms that make global travelers look ridiculous (Jake Flanagin, Quartz). This piece explains lots of useful subtleties. I was pleased that the following was among them:
Syrian vs. Syriac

“Syrian” refers to anyone from the modern state of Syria. “Syriac” is a language spoken by groups from Iraq and the Levant known as Assyrians, Arameans, or Chaldeans, who are descended from ancient Mesopotamian peoples. Most Syrians are ethnic Arabs, though some may be Kurdish or Armenian, and most Syrians do not speak Syriac.
It would have been useful to specify that Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic.

Irina Bokova on ISIS

THAT ABOUT SIZES IT UP: UN culture chief: IS systematically destroying heritage sites. Scope of jihadist group’s ‘brutal’ campaign to demolish antiquities unparalleled ‘since the Second World War,’ UNESCO head Irina Bokova says (KARIN LAUB AND ALBERT AJI, AP).

Background here and here and many links.