Saturday, March 29, 2008

ARAMAIC WATCH: From F. Briquel-Chatonnet on the Hugoye list:
Just released, a book about Aramaic inscriptions of Hatra

Roberto Bertolino, Manuel d'épigraphie hatréenne, Paris, Geuthner, 2008, 24 euros.

Orders to
Librairie orientaliste Paul Geuthner
16 rue de la Grande Chaumière
75006 Paris
I have more on Hatra here.
SPEAKING OF ANCIENT HEBREW POETRY, the Los Angeles Times has discovered the Psalms. Good for them.
THE MYSTERY OF THE COPPER SCROLL is covered in an article by the Christian Broadcasting Network. They interview Stephen Pfann about it. The article is pretty good, but the range of possible origins for the treasures is wider than it indicates. And the suggestion attributed to author Joel Rosenberg that the Copper Scroll treasures could lead to the Ark of the Covenant is, alas, nonsense.
He believes the second scroll is still out there and it could be the key to the greatest archaeological prize in history.

"What if finding the treasures of the Copper Scroll did in fact lead to the Ark of the Covenant being found?" he asked.

Rosenberg may be on to something.

Ancient Jewish writings say the ark and other first temple treasures were hidden by priests before the invasion of the Babylonians.

Their locations were inscribed on a tablet of copper.

Rosenberg said, "The Key Scroll has never been found, nobody has any idea where it is."
Interestingly (at least for me), the source for this idea seems to be the Treatise of the Vessels. It is correct that the second scroll mentioned at the end of the Copper Scroll has never been found, but it is not to be confused with the entirely legendary bronze tablet supposedly hidden at the time of the Babylonian Exile according to the Treatise of the Vessels.

UPDATE: I see that I have already criticized Rosenberg on this issue here. But his book does sound like fun.

Also, I have more on the Copper Scroll here.

Friday, March 28, 2008

REFLECTIONS ON TEACHING GNOSTICISM V: Blade Runner -- by Tony Chartrand-Burke at Apocryphicity.
METATRON WATCH: Metatron on stage:
Theater J presents the world premiere of David in Shadow and Light, by Yehuda Hyman and Daniel Hoffman. Directed by Nick Olcott, this production will be presented in the Aaron & Cecile Goldman Theater at the Washington DC JCC, May 6-June 22.

David in Shadow and Light is a modern musical retelling of the biblical tale of King David, who rose from boy shepherd to superstar ruler to aging king. This re-envisioning is framed by two characters, the Archangel Metatron and Adam, who according to ancient midrashic legend, find infant David and are compelled to watch his life.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

FAREWELL to Torrey Seland's Philo of Alexandria blog, which has run since the beginning of 2004. Torry has kept us abreast of all the latest on Philo and we are sorry to see him go.
The Silwan project has aroused similar suspicions, in part because people are not allowed to see the tunnel, but primarily because the work is being funded by the Ir David Foundation, an Israeli settler group.

The site, on a narrow, traffic-choked street running down the steep southern slope outside the Old City's walls is surrounded by a high metal fence, with a large Israeli flag fluttering over a padlocked gate.

The Israeli Antiquities Authority says it has found an ancient tunnel that once carried rainwater from the heart of the Old City to a ritual bathhouse several hundred metres away.

"It was a brand new tunnel from 2,000 years ago," says IAA head Shuka Dorfman. "The condition of the tunnel was unbelievable."

Starting in 2004 archaeologists excavated most of the tunnel between the dig site and the bathhouse.

But last month they started working north in the direction of Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.

Based on a late 19th century British excavation of large sections of the tunnel, archaeologists believe the tunnel leads to the Old City, veering close to the mosque complex but not passing beneath it.

Yet because the project is being carried out in secret and funded by a settler organisation, many residents think it is part of a plan to take over -- or destroy -- Haram al-Sharif.

"If it is an archaeological site and not a settlement, if it is a tourist site, then why can't we go and see it? Why can't anyone see it?" Ahmed Qarain, 37, a local resident asks.

The IAA has refused to allow anyone from the neighbourhood or the media to see the northern section of the tunnel, and declined several requests from AFP to comment on how much of it has been excavated.

Officials there gave no reason for the ban, other than to say the work was in progress. However, they promised that the media would be invited once the project is completed.
Background here.
Sailor to recreate Phoenicians' epic African voyage

By Emily Dugan
Saturday, 22 March 2008 [The Independent]

On the ancient Syrian island of Arwad, which was settled by the Phoenicians in about 2000BC, men are hard at work hammering wooden pegs into the hull of a ship.

But this vessel will not be taking fishermen on their daily trip up and down the coast. It is destined for a greater adventure – one that could solve a mystery which has baffled archaeologists for centuries.

The adventure begins not in Arwad but in Dorset, where an Englishman has taken it upon himself to try to prove that the Phoenicians circumnavigated Africa thousands of years before any Europeans did.

Philip Beale, 47, has commissioned the building of a replica Phoenician ship that he plans to sail around the continent with a crew of 20. Their 10-month expedition sets off in August and will follow the route that seafaring Phoenician merchants are said to have taken more than 2,500 years ago.

Good luck to him. It will be interesting to see how the journey goes.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

BENNY SHANNON wants to correct the record:
I never said Moses was stoned when he saw God

Words such as 'trip' and 'high' misrepresent my work on psychoactive plants, says Benny Shanon

* Benny Shanon
* The Guardian,
* Wednesday March 26 2008
* Article history

The Guardian ran two articles on my work concerning the putative use of psychoactive plants in ancient Israel (Moses saw God 'because he was stoned - again', March 6; Face to Faith, March 8). Your news report conveys a picture very different from the one I present in the scientific journal Time and Mind, which is devoted to the history of culture and consciousness. Your report contains words and sentences I have neither written nor uttered, some introduced in quotation marks as if coming from me. Terms such as "drug", "trip", "high" and "stoned" are ones I have nothing to do with and which I do not condone.

Moreover, your first report suffers from some basic misunderstandings of my crucial arguments. ...
Background here and here.
Responsive Blessings and the Development of the Tannaitic Liturgical System [Heb.]
Ishay Rosen-Zvi

The paper deals with the liturgical system in Mishna Berakhot and the place that benedictions on external events or phenomena occupy in it. Contrary to the common view which interprets the Mishna as discussing three discrete liturgical practices, Shema (chapters 1-3), daily prayer (4-5) and meal benedictions (6-8), this paper claims that the Mishna presents a unified liturgical system, which shares a common basic feature: all its constituent parts are constructed as a series of benedictions. This is a unique phenomenon in ancient Jewish liturgy, unknown in other, related liturgical systems, such as that used in Qumran.

The second part of this paper examines the special place of the last chapter of Mishna Berakhot in this liturgical system. This chapter deals with a distinctive type of benediction, which does not have a fixed time or context, but is recited in response to external events or phenomena (formulated in the Mishna as “one who sees X says Y”). Although blessings of this sort are already well-documented in the Bible (e.g. Gen 14:17; Num 18:10), they do not receive fixed formulations and are not mandated in any pre-rabbinic or adjacent culture. The paper discusses this phenomenon from religious and phenomenological perspectives, analyzing the complex status of these benedictions in rabbinic liturgy and the logic of their inclusion in Mishna Berakhot.
EDWARD WILLIAM LANE'S LIFE STORY is the subject of a long article by Jason Thompson in Aramco World. Lane is especially known for his massive and magisterial Arabic lexicon and his translation of the Thousand and One Nights. But it seems that this mild mannered philologist had an Indiana Jones side to him as well.
Late one September afternoon in 1825, an apprehensive 24-year-old Englishman arrived in the Eastern Harbor of Alexandria, Egypt. “As I approached the shore,” he wrote, “I felt like an Eastern bridegroom, about to lift up the veil of his bride, and to see, for the first time, the features which were to charm, or disappoint, or disgust him.” He continued:

I was not visiting Egypt merely as a traveller, to examine its pyramids and temples and grottoes, and, after satisfying my curiosity, to quit it for other scenes and other pleasures: I was about to throw myself entirely among strangers; to adopt their language, their customs and their dress; and, in associating almost exclusively with the natives, to prosecute the study of their literature. My feelings therefore, on that occasion, partook too much of anxiety to be very pleasing.

Edward William Lane need not have worried. He would become, one day, Britain’s most renowned scholar of the Middle East. He would write a fascinating study of Egyptian society, a book so definitive and widely read that it would never go out of print; his great Arabic–English dictionary would become a basic, irreplaceable reference work; and his translation of The Arabian Nights would delight and instruct generations of readers. Lane’s name would come to be known throughout the field of Middle Eastern studies, admired by western and Arab scholars alike.
And there's this on his lexicon:
Lane sailed on his third trip to Egypt in July 1842, accompanied by [his wife] Nefeeseh and by his sister, Sophia Poole, and her two sons, Stanley and Stuart. The Lanes were always a close family, and Sophia had been deserted by her husband, so Lane was glad to have her with him. He and Nefeeseh never had children, so he had come to think of Stanley and Stuart as his own. ... This third and longest trip was far different from the preceding ones. Before, Lane had been much in society and traveled extensively through the country. This time he remained at home, sometimes not going out of doors for months on end, working steadily at his overwhelming task, assisted only by Sheikh Ibrahim al-Dasuqi, his Arabic language assistant. Al-Dasuqi helped Lane with copying and could discuss fine points of Arabic grammar and spelling. Every once in a while, for a change of pace, they played Arabic word games together, but Lane’s focus never strayed far from his dictionary.


The Lanes and Pooles returned to England in 1849 and settled in Worthing, a quiet town on the southern coast. Lane left it just once, and then only to travel to nearby Brighton to visit a dying friend. At Worthing, he maintained the tightly focused lifestyle he had developed in Egypt, beginning each working day early by saying the bismillah, the opening lines of the Qur’an—“In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful”—and working until 10 at night, stopping only for meals and an afternoon walk in the nearby countryside when the weather was fine. Every Friday he put his lexicographical work aside to spend time with his family and perhaps receive a few close friends, but most other callers, no matter how distinguished, were politely but firmly refused by his wife and sister, who closely guarded his precious time. Every Sunday was reserved for studying the Bible, which he read in Hebrew.

The first of the eight volumes of Lane’s Arabic–English Lexicon were published in 1863 and the work’s importance was immediately recognized. Even the London Times took notice: “Of the manner in which Mr. Lane has performed his work it is difficult to speak in terms of too high praise. It displays all the photographic accuracy for which he is so well known, combined with scholarship of a kind—acquired as it was in the East—which is hard to attain. His familiarity with Eastern minds and habits of thought, and with all the objects of Eastern life, give him an uncommon insight into the meaning and intention of an Arab writer…. It is not too much to say that the work, when completed, will do more to advance the study of Arabic than any other which has appeared during this century.”

Working with his incredible industry and persistence, Lane published the succeeding volumes of the Arabic–English Lexicon at roughly two-year intervals, but it was all too apparent that he was racing against time and death.

He finished writing the fourth volume, covering the letters , , and , in 1870, but on the very day it was printed, all but one copy was destroyed by fire. Two years were lost. Lane was 68 years old and in frail health. His response was to increase his efforts, focusing even more tightly than ever on the Lexicon. But composition, printing and proofing could only go so fast. Lane was working on the article for volume six on August 5, 1876 when he was taken ill; he died five days later. The Lexicon’s final three volumes were published under the supervision of his great-nephew, Stanley Lane-Poole, who later made a name for himself in Arab numismatics, among other areas.

Edward William Lane’s Arabic–English Lexicon is still an indispensable reference tool for the classical Arabic language. Of the many scholarly accolades it has received over the decades, the one by the great Cambridge orientalist A. J. Arberry in 1960 is representative: “Every Arabist since Lane has had good cause to bless him for his superhuman labours, and to regret that he had not begun his project earlier in life, so that there might have been a greater chance of its completion. It is certainly true to say, that every work produced in this century relating in any way to Arabic studies has drawn heavily upon the Lexicon. It is a sufficient tribute to its unique greatness, that to this day it remains supreme in the field of Arabic lexicography: no scholar or group of scholars has produced anything to supplant it.”

That evaluation holds true in the 21st century. Professor Manfred Woidich of the University of Amsterdam describes Lane’s Lexicon as “a fine combination of eastern and western scholarship. For the scholar busy with classical Arabic, it is an indispensable working tool which will not be replaced in years to come.”
It's a good article. Read it all.

(Via the Agade list.)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The pearl of Mardin: Deyrulzafaran Monastery
Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Syriacs are the heirs of ancient Mesopotamian communities dating back 5,000 years. After converting to Christianity, they maintained their lives in a slightly introverted way in different parts of the world, protecting their own religious and cultural values. The most important sanctuary representing the Syriacs in Mardin is 'Deyrulzafaran Monastery' (Saffron Monastery)

MARDİN-Turkish Daily News
A Syriac poem by Bar Hebraeus is quoted in the article.

UPDATE (28 May): More here.
THE TREE OF PARADISE exhibition of ancient Jewish mosaics is on display in Boston:
Jewish mosaics, ancient insights
By Cate McQuaid
[Boston] Globe Correspondent / March 25, 2008

In 1883, a French army captain stationed in Tunisia, Ernest de Prudhomme, went outside to dig in his garden and happened upon a trove of mosaics. It was quite a find: The mosaics dated to the sixth century, the period known as Late Antiquity. They included images of two menorahs, and a Latin inscription between them read "Your servant, the girl Juliana, paved the holy synagogue of Naro for her own salvation out of her own resources."

They came from the floor of an ancient temple.

Rome ruled North Africa in the sixth century, and Roman law forbade Jews from building synagogues or repairing them. But scholars say the law was not strictly enforced; indeed, many synagogues thrived.

Twenty-one of Prudhomme's mosaics from the ancient city of Naro (now Hammam Lif, Tunisia) lie at the heart of "Tree of Paradise: Jewish Mosaics From the Roman Empire," an intriguing exhibit at the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College. The show was organized by the Brooklyn Museum, which acquired many of the mosaics in 1905.

Background here and here.

Monday, March 24, 2008

HAPPY FIFTH BLOGIVERSARY TO PALEOJUDAICA! My first post on this blog was published five years ago today. Here are my favorite posts from the last year, in chronological order:

A defense of the original Dead Sea Scrolls publication team

The Gnostic implications of the Simulation Argument

British New Testament Conference 2007 report

My review of Facts on the Ground by Nadia Abu El-Haj

A report on Richard Bauckham's retirement events

The Tomb of Ezekiel

Photos from the San Diego Society of Biblical Literature conference

A report on the San Diego Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition

On John Strugnell

A meditation on lost archives

The 2007 PaleoJudaica Ralphies

How dead a language was Hebrew?

My review of The Thirteenth Apostle, by April DeConick

This is posting number 5055 for PaleoJudaica. The counter stands at 475891 total individual hits (and 662041 total page views) and PaleoJudaica is currently ranked at number 65568 (out of 112.8 million blogs) by Technorati.

As always, please keep sending me items of interest and please do keep reading PaleoJudaica.
A. A. GILL reviews The Passion for the London Times. The review itself is pretty funny, but even better is this anecdote about Oscar Wilde:
The Passion and The Curse of Steptoe

At Oxford, Oscar Wilde had a gay old time aphorising into the early hours. He failed to do any Greek, and his professor, the Reverend Spooner, begetter of the Spooner-ism “Christianity is a completely different lay of wife” called him in for a test in front of a board of classics tutors so that they could expel him.

Wilde had to translate the selling of Jesus by Judas in Matthew’s Gospel. Wilde began to read the Easter story perfectly. After a few minutes, the thwarted Spooner said that that would be all. Wilde continued. “That will be all, Mr Wilde,” Spooner repeated. Still, Wilde went on. “Will you stop now?” shouted the furious Spooner. Wilde looked up as if hearing him for the first time: “Sorry, do you mind if I carry on? I want to see how it ends up for the poor chap.”

I have more on A. A. Gill here.
HOWLER OF THE WEEK, and it's only Monday:
It's Easter, time to rev up the revisionism

New scholarship suggests Jesus might never have intended to found a new religion

Mar 22, 2008 04:30 AM
Stuart Laidlaw
faith and ethics reporter [Toronto Star]

Jesus needs saving, once again, from his followers. This time, however, it is not from those he preached to or from one of his most loyal supporters who, the Bible says, betrayed him.

It's the Christians who came later.

That's the shared thesis of at least two recently released books about the man crucified almost 2,000 years ago. How Jesus Became Christian by Barrie Wilson and The Jesus Sayings by Rex Weyler both try to take the reader back to Biblical times to uncover Jesus's lost message.

"It seems like Jesus was rejecting power and handing it over to the people," Vancouver-based Weyler says in a telephone interview. "But that didn't sit well with authorities – religious or secular."

Easter always brings a fresh wave of books and TV shows about Jesus as publishers and broadcasters capitalize on the heightened awareness of the man from Nazareth at this time of year, says University of Toronto Christianity professor Mark McGowan.

"For a Jesus book, August wouldn't be that great," he adds.

Easter remains a much more theologically based holiday than Christmas, McGowan says, and savvy publishers know they can release more thoughtful books than they would during the hurly-burly of the Yule season. The Weyler and Wilson books certainly fit that description.

Wilson, a religious studies professor at York University, says the discovery last century of lost gospels such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, which scholars are only now beginning to understand, have led to a flourish of books on the origins of Christianity.

My emphasis. I'm sure that Barrie Wilson did not say this. He probably said something about the Nag Hammadi Gnostic gospels and what he said was garbled in the article. Anyone who has a clue about such things (evidently not including faith and ethics reporters at the Star) knows that the Dead Sea Scrolls were Jewish documents that did not include any lost gospels. The Dead Sea Scrolls are of interest for the study of Christian origins because they contain lots of new information on first-century Judaism which can serve as useful background to the early Jesus movement.

As for the theory, it's hardly new, and the basic idea has lots of supporters among historical Jesus scholars.

UPDATE: Barrie Wilson e-mails to confirm my theory of how the error in the article arose. He adds:
There's more to the book, I think, than the either the write-up in the Toronto Star or the last line of your blog reveals.
Fair enough.

Also, Lorenzo DiTommaso has a review of both books in the Calgary Herald. Excerpt:
The quest to recover the Jesus of history involves deciding which parts, among all these ancient sources, preserve genuine recollections of his life and sayings, and which parts were later added to the tradition. Given that many people have strong preconceived notions about Jesus or what he represents, such decisions are rarely objective. Jesus is the ultimate Rorschach Test.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

There will be a roundtable discussion -- "The Rabbis Reconsidered" -- on Wednesday afternoon, April 2, on the Penn Campus as noted below. Three current Fellows at Penn's Center for Advanced Judaic Studies (CAJS) will discuss the ways in which recent scholarship has altered and is altering interpretations of the rabbis and rabbinic literature. This is an open session; no registration is required.

*The Rabbis Reconsidered: A Roundtable Discussion*

Professor Beth Berkowitz, Jewish Theological Seminary
Professor Yaakov Elman, Yeshiva University
Professor Seth Schwartz, Jewish Theological Seminary
Moderator: Professor Natalie Dohrmann, University of Pennsylvania

Wednesday, April 2, 4:45 PM, Arch Crest, 3601 Locust Walk on the Penn Campus [former Christian Association building]

The strong traditional story of Jewish recovery from the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 CE has been radically altered by a recent generation of scholars. The old narrative tells us that the rabbis stepped up to lead and inspire a devastated Jewish population. They built a Torah-based Judaism to fill the void left by the loss of the Temple and priesthood. They created and ran new institutions that patrolled and defined the contours of a rabbinically-inflected Jewish identity.

New evidence of the relationship of rabbis with non-rabbinic Jews, and with imperial governments and cultures in both Babylonia and Palestine, coupled with the revelations gleaned from material remains tell us a different story. Rabbinic Judaism was at best a marginal voice in the Roman world; and most Jews likely paid them little or no mind. To the east of the Roman empire, rabbis living and working under the Sasanian empire reveal themselves to be profoundly influenced by the legal, religious, institutional, and cultural traditions of the Zorastrians among whom they lived.

This newer scholarship has prompted a reconsideration of the role of the rabbis in the ancient world:

* Who in fact were the rabbis and where did they come from?
* If the rabbis were not at the center of post 70 CE Jewish life, who or what was?
* When and how did the rabbis ultimately move from the periphery to the center of Jewish life?
* What should a historian do with the vast corpus of rabbinic literature?
* How do new historical narratives change how we read these canonical texts?

Sponsored by the Jewish Studies Kutchin Faculty Seminar Series, and co-sponsored by the Center for Ancient Studies and the Religious Studies Dept.
From Bob Kraft on the PSCO list.
HAPPY EASTER to all those celebrating.