Saturday, February 09, 2008

THE NEW ISRAELI TWO-SHEKEL COIN is based on an old model:
New 2-Sheqel Coin Circulates in Israel Dec. 8
By Richard Giedroyc, World Coin News
February 07, 2008

Look through the Krause Standard Catalog of World Coins catalog and you'll see Israel's 2-sheqel coins are non-circulating legal tender commemoratives composed of silver.

As of Dec. 8 there is a new kid on the block - a circulating 2-sheqel coin meant to favor consumers rather than collectors. The Bank of Israel issued the new circulating coin through commercial banks in hopes of reducing the cost of issuing future coins and currency. The low value 2 sheqel is hoped to make cash transactions on small purchases more efficient by reducing the number of coins needed.


The coin is a silver-colored nickel-plated piece designed by Ruben Nutels. The reverse has a theme based on designs appearing on ancient Jewish coins. The reverse of the 2 sheqel mimicks a coin of Hasmonean ruler Jan Hyrcanus (127-104 BC). The 2 sheqel depicts two cornucopia and a pomegranate, the cornucopia filled with fruits and sheaves while being wrapped in ribbons.
That should be John Hyrcanus and his reign begain 134 BCE, not 127. An image of what seems to be the coin referred to is here.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Israel's freshest face in archeology works underwater
By Karin Kloosterman
February 06, 2008

Before the devastating 2004 Boxing Day tsunami hit Asia, Beverly Goodman had an impossible time explaining her research to peers. Since the catastrophic tidal wave struck, she has been able to remove about 10 slides from her presentation.

She makes no light of the event, but was surprised to see how overnight the world had educated itself about this unique force of nature, which was then, and remains today, an important focal point of her research.

Goodman, 33, is an underwater archeologist who has invented new underwater coring methods to better understand climatic events at sea and in lakes. Her research tracks historical changes in the environment - such as tsunamis - and how these changes have impacted people and coastlines.

Her research may give science new clues about the coastal environment in the context of global warming. Are the seas rising? Could a melting glacier break off and create a tsunami? Will storms and floods increase as the earth warms?

Goodman's questions might be more local in nature, but her work has global significance by adding to the information science holds about earth events and climate change.

Sifting through broken shells and sediment from coring samples, she has determined that at least three ancient tsunamis struck Israel's port of Caesarea in the past. Concurrently, she also works in the Red Sea's Gulf of Aqaba to determine how local flood cycles and sea levels have changed over time.


Thursday, February 07, 2008

TWO BLEGS: Both regular and recent readers will be aware that I'm translating a Hebrew text for the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project which contains legends about the hiding of the treasures of Solomon's Temple before it was destroyed by the Babylonians. It's called Massekhet Kelim, the Treatise of the Vessels. I'm currently writing the introduction, and two questions have come up which I think are worth asking PaleoJudaica readers. One is easy and one is a long shot.

1. The easy one is this. Josephus gives a date for the completion of Solomon's Temple in Antiquities 8.61: three thousand one hundred and two years after the creation of Adam. The Treatise of the Vessels gives a similar, but not identical date from the creation. Can any readers tell me if any rabbinic texts also give a date for the building of Solomon's Temple in relation to the creation? How about Josippon?

2. This is the hard one. One of the two textual sources for the Treatise of the Vessels is inscribed on two marble plaques that seem to have been made in Beirut. (The other source is Jellinek's Bet ha-Midrasch, II, xxvi-xxvii and 88-91.) J. T. Milik in his article "Notes d'épigraphie et de topographie palestiniennes," RB 66 (1959): 550-75 writes the following:
Un doublet de ce "Traité des vases sacrés" se lit sur les plaques de Beyrouth. C'est M. l'abbé Jean Starkey qui m'en a raconté l'histoire. Il y a un bon nombre d'années, on lui montra dans une maison de Beyrouth plusieurs plaques de marbre gravées de lettres en relief. Il semble qu'elles étaient destinées à une synagogue de Syrie ou du Liban. Elles contenaient le texte entier d'Ézéchiel mais sur les deux dernièrs plaques se trouvaient inscrites l'histoire d'un trésor du mont Carmel et les descriptions d'autres cachettes sacrées. M. Starkey photographia l'avant-dernière plaque (pl. XIV) et copia quelques lignes de la dernière. Il m'a passé aimablement ces matériaux et j'ai réussi à identifier une grande partie du texte des deux plaques avec le Traité des vases susmentionné.
That translates more or less into:
A doublet of this "Treatise of the Holy Vessels" is read on the "plaques of Beirut." It was his Reverence Jean Starkey who recounted to me the story. A good number of years ago someone showed him in a house in Beirut several plaques of marble engraved with letters in relief. It seems that they were intended for a synagogue of Syria or Lebanon. They contained the entire text of Ezekiel, but on the last two plaques were found inscribed the story of a treasure of Mount Carmel and the descriptions of other sacred caches. Mr. Starkey photographed the next-to-last plaque (pl. XIV) and copied some lines from the last. He has kindly passed these materials to me and I have succeeded in identifying a large part of the text of these two plaques with the above-mentioned Treatise of the Vessels.
Milik then published Starkey's photograph and transcription of the plaques.

My question is, have any PaleoJudaica readers ever encountered these plaques or any word of them? I would be grateful for any information anyone can supply about their whereabouts after 1959 and especially now.

As I said, this is a long shot, but it seems worth a try. Incidentally, I have already checked the catalogue of the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts in Jerusalem and the only manuscript of this text they have on record is copied from a printed edition I already knew about. So any possibility of getting new textual information for this document seems to depend on locating those marble plaques.

If anyone has an answer to either of these blegs, please drop me a note at the address in the masthead.

Thanks in advance.

UPDATE (9 February): Thanks to reader Menachem Brody for pointing me to Seder Olam Rabba 15 for the first bleg. As for the second, another reader has given me a promising lead, which I shall follow up. I'll let you know if something comes of it.
RENAISSANCE CHRISTIAN KABBALIST Pico della Mirandola was murdered.
Medici philosopher's mystery death is solved

By Malcolm Moore, Rome Correspondent
Last Updated: 2:35am GMT 07/02/2008 (The Telegraph)

After 500 years, one of Renaissance Italy's most enduring murder mysteries has been solved by forensic scientists.

Ever since Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, a mystical and mercurial philosopher at the court of Lorenzo de' Medici, suddenly became sick and died in 1494, it has been rumoured that foul play was involved.

Scientists display the bones of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. Medici philosopher's mystery death is solved
Scientists display the bones of
Giovanni Pico della Mirandola

Pico's fame has faded, but he was a celebrated figure at the Medici court.

He gained notoriety when, at the age of 23, he offered to defend 900 of his opinions on philosophy and religion against all-comers.

His subsequent tract, The Oration on the Dignity of Man, has been called the "manifesto of the Renaissance".

However, he died aged 31 - two years after Lorenzo - together with a man who might have been his lover, Antonio Ambrosini, who was also known as Poliziano.

Last July, a team of scientists from the universities of Bologna, Pisa and Lecce exhumed the two corpses and subjected them to a battery of tests.

The scientists used biomolecular technology and scanning equipment as well as DNA analysis to find a cause.

Yesterday they concluded that both men had been poisoned with arsenic, after finding a toxic quantity in their bones.


Lorenzo was charmed by Pico, who was essentially a Platonic philosopher influenced by Oriental mysticism.

He became famous for his incredible memory and his knowledge of Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic.

However, Pico's close friendship with Girolamo Savonarola, the fanatical Dominican friar, appears to have earned him the enmity of Lorenzo's son, Piero de' Medici.

The forensic scientists believe it was Piero who ordered Pico's death.

Savonarola, who was invited to Florence by Pico, repeatedly preached against the Medicis, urging Florentines to reject the excesses of the Renaissance.

Works by Botticelli and Michelangelo were burned during the "Bonfire of the Vanities" in 1497, when the monk's followers set fire to lavish furniture, mirrors, pagan books and immoral sculptures in the Piazza della Signora.

Not a nice bunch for a hapless philologist and philosopher to get mixed up with.
Other analogies thrive. Joe Lieberman, who was at John McCain's side Tuesday night, thinks his colleague might be Judah Macabee, a reference to the warrior whose victory over the Greeks is commemorated in the celebration of Hannukah. "He's got that spirit," Mr. Lieberman told the Forward, the Jewish daily newspaper in New York. The Connecticut senator is credited with helping not only with the Jewish turnout for Mr. McCain in Florida, but for helping with the Cubans, who aren't Jewish, too.
I wonder who gets to be Antiochus Epiphanes.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

THE GREEK TEXTS OF THE MASSIVE MIGNE EDITION OF THE GREEK FATHERS is available online, as noted by Andrew Criddle at Hypotyposes. This caught my eye because several of the texts being translated for the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project are included in this corpus and thus are now available online in their original Greek. These include the following. Click on the links to download the pdf files.

The Story of Melchizedek is incorrectly attributed to Athanasias: Historia de Melchisedech. Another Melchizedek story is preserved in the Chronicon paschale.

The story of Zechariah and King Joash is summarized (from an ancient Hebrew writing reportedly found by a monastic superior of a community at Gerari) in Hermias Sozomenos, Historia ecclesiastica 9.17 (PG 67.1269b).

The story of The Rich Man and the Precious Stone is summarized in Georgius Monachus Hamartolos, Chronicon (not sure of the reference) and also in Georgius Cedrenus, Compendium historiarum 1.193-94 (PG 121.226-228).

UPDATE: Alex Panayotov e-mails:
Just a note on your posting about the Greek site with the PG. The site has been around for about three years, but they published only the core texts, the introductions, notes, Latin translations, addenda, corrigenda, etc, are not included.

The full edition is available only on CDs (in PDF and TIFF format) from different Chrisian organisations. Some of the volumes are also uploaded on Google Books.
I thought it had been around for awhile, but I've not mentioned it before. I noticed that it only contains the Greek texts; perhaps I should have pointed that out.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

THE MORE OLD TESTAMENT PSEUDEPIGRAPHA PROJECT got some media coverage today in a nice article in the Scottish Daily Express. Unfortunately it's not online, but I'll type out the first part:
Scots Scholars unlock ancient texts' secrets

by Tom Fullerton

THEY'RE not light reading, but they are tomes worth persevering with since they reveal warnings of the Apocalypse and mysteries of the Final Judgment and Hell.

The oldest of the texts being pored over by Scots experts was written between 700 and 800 BC and and has a "vision of the gods" portending disaster and the overturning of human institutions.

For two years, 40 academics from eight countries, led by experts from St. Andrews University, have been translating more than 60 ancient documents in order to understand early religious thinking.

The papers have titles such as Apocalypse of the Seven Heavens, Queen of Sheba, Visions of Heaven and Hell, and the Cave of Treasures.

One even claims to provide clues to the treasures of the Lost Ark, gold and silver tables and vessels sacked from Solomon's Temple by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar.

The text with the "visions of the gods" is the Balaam Text from Deir Alla, edited for the MOTP Project by Ed Cook. The one about the Temple treasures is the Treatise of the Vessels, which I am editing. The article names both texts, and it does make clear that the clues about the Temple treasures are only legends!
THE NEW READING OF THE SHELOMIT SEAL has reached the attention of the media:
Archeologist revises read of ancient seal inscription
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (Jerusalem Post)

A prominent Israeli archeologist said Monday that she has revised her reading of an inscription on ancient seal uncovered in an archeological excavation in Jerusalem's City of David after various scholars around the world critiqued her original interpretation of the name on the seal.

Yet not every restaurateur in Needham has met with great success. Keith Bernhard and Jodi Geiser closed Apocrypha on Chapel Street - an easy stroll from Great Plain - in December, 10 months after opening their high-end establishment. At Apocrypha, entrees ranged from $27 to $42, featuring such offerings as rabbit and pheasant. When asked why his restaurant closed, Bernhard declined comment.
Too bad.

Monday, February 04, 2008

GERALDINE BROOKS, author of The People of the Book, is interviewed in the Detroit Free Press about the history of the Sarajevo Haggadah:
14th-Century manuscript survives under incredible circumstances

February 3, 2008



Novelist Geraldine Brooks cannot forget her first glimpse of the Sarajevo Haggadah.

The book -- a 14th-Century, illustrated Hebrew manuscript that miraculously survived religious purges, the Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust and the Bosnian War -- is housed at the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

It "comes into the room, and they put it on the table," Brooks recalls. 'It's very small, maybe 12-by-6; maybe not even that big. It's a ratty-looking thing. You wouldn't look twice at it. The cover is old and worn out and discolored ... and you think, 'The fuss is about this?' And then you open it, and boom! There's just this explosion of color and richness and imagination."

The mysterious history of the ancient codex, with its traditional text of the Passover Haggadah and gorgeously vivid illustrations of key scenes from the Bible, fired a Big Bang of creativity in Brooks. She turned her interest in the manuscript's fascinating past into "People of the Book" (Viking, $25.95), in which she reimagines the Haggadah's hazardous, centuries-long journey from Seville, Spain, to modern-day Bosnia.

Also, there's another review of the novel in the Eagle Tribune (MA). Excerpt:
People of the Book" starts out slow; so slow, that I wasn't sure I could make it through almost 400 pages. There's a lot of setup to make the story work, and not much happens for the first couple segments. In the end, I was glad I stuck it out.

With time-framing reminiscent of "Pulp Fiction," some factual history, the existence of a real book and a fictional character who is increasingly easy to like, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Brooks takes you on a five-century trip from Bosnia to Venice, Vienna to Spain, and inside mosques, churches and torture chambers.

If you like historical mysteries, antique-hunting or "The DaVinci Code," pick up "People of the Book." This book about a book is a double delight for anyone who craves the written word.
THE SHELOMIT SEAL (formerly the Temech seal) gets a brief but useful discussion in the Baptist Press. Key paragraph:
Following critiques from scholars such as the ones associated with the Biblical Archeology Society, Mazar now acknowledges the letters should read Sh-l-m-t. (Hebrew had no vowels.) If that's the case, then scholars believe it could refer to Shelomith, a man mentioned in Ezra 8:10 who also returned from Babylon to Jerusalem, or to Shelomith, the daughter of Zerubbabel mentioned in 1 Chronicles 3:19.
(Via Joseph I. Lauer's list.)
TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: A virtual tour of the Temple Mount is now available online.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

BOOK MEME: I've been tagged by Airton José da Silva with the book meme. I do these things or not at my whim, but I'll give this one a go. The rules:
  • Pick up the nearest book of 123 pages or more (no cheating!)
  • Find page 123
  • Find the first five sentences
  • Post the next three sentences
  • Tag five people
It chances that I'm sitting in my chair in the living room with bookcases on either side of me, so it's difficult to decide for sure, but arguably the closest book to me is Peter Adamson and Richard C. Taylor (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Arabic Philosophy (CUP, 2005). The requested sentences are:
In the Philosophy for 'Arudi Avicenna justified his identification of the necessary of existence of itself with the uncaused, and his identification of the necessary of existence through another with the caused, by asserting that the necessary of existence in itself, unlike the necessary of existence through another, is not divisible into two modes or states (halatayni). His reasoning was that whatever is divisible into two modes or states will be a composite of those two modes or states, and since every composite requires a composer and is therefore caused, everything divisible into two modes or states will be caused. By contrast, everything simple - here meaning not even conceptually divisible - will be uncaused.
Sorry you asked?

I don't tag people, but if any bloggers reading this feel so moved, consider yourselves tagged.
BIBLICAL STUDIES CARNIVAL XXVI has been published by Kevin Edgecomb at Biblicalia.
PEOPLE OF THE BOOK, by Geraldine Brooks, is in the number 3 slot of the Publisher's Weekly hardcover fiction besteller list.
ADOLFO ROITMAN, the curator of the Shrine of the Book, lectured recently in Ottawa on the Dead Sea Scolls:
Providing a window into the past
On a month-long world tour, Bible scholar Adolfo Roitman brings both his personal and professional fascination with the Dead Sea Scrolls to Ottawa tonight, reports Katie DeRosa.
Katie DeRosa, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Saturday, February 02, 2008

They embody the real-life story of a hidden treasure that, once uncovered, would provide a glimpse into the origins of the most powerful yet mysterious narratives of our time, the Bible.

Yet after more than 60 years since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Adolfo Roitman, one of the world's leading Bible scholars, says that the mystery continues to unfold as researchers and scholars pore over the meaning hidden in the 2,000-year-old fragments.

But, Mr. Roitman says, the most important story is behind the scrolls, and the reason they retain their relevance is as simple as one of human beings.