Saturday, August 29, 2009

GEZA VERMES will be lecturing in Louisiana in September:
ULM to host eminent scholar Géza Vermes
September 23-24
Géza Vermes

Géza Vermes — one of the first scholars to examine the Dead Sea Scrolls after their discovery in 1947 — will be a distinguished guest of the University of Louisiana at Monroe in September.

Vermes will visit ULM Sept. 23 to meet with students of a master’s level history class focused on biblical lands. He will deliver a free public lecture from 7 to 8 p.m. in Biedenharn Recital Hall on Sept. 24.

Via Joseph I. Lauer and Jack Sasson's Agade list.

Friday, August 28, 2009

THE BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY has announced this year's publication awards:
The Biblical Archaeology Society 2009 Publication Awards

The 2009 Biblical Archaeology Society Publication Awards recognize the best books published in 2007 and 2008. The biennial BAS Publication Awards for books about archaeology and the Bible have been presented since 1985. These prestigious awards are made possible by a grant from the Leopold and Clara M. Fellner Charitable Foundation, through its trustee Frederick L. Simmons. Winning authors receive an award of $1,000.00 and an honorary certificate. BAS congratulates the recipients of the 2009 Publication Awards and extends heartfelt thanks to the panel of judges.
MORE JEWISH-TEMPLE DENIAL from the PA according to Arutz Sheva:
PA Sheikh Denies Existence of Holy Temple

by Hillel Fendel

( Once again, the Palestinian Authority denies that the Holy Temple ever existed – despite a Waqf pamphlet from 1925 boasting proudly that the Temple Mount once housed Solomon's Temple.

The latest denial came on Wednesday when the PA’s Chief Islamic Judge, Sheikh Taysir Rajab al-Tamimi, condemned Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, as well as "all Jewish rabbis and extremist organizations,” for lying and asserting that Jerusalem was a Jewish city.

Al-Tamimi nearly caused an international incident this past May when he disrupted Pope Benedict XVI's interfaith meeting in Jerusalem with a vicious verbal attack on Israel.

In his latest rampage, the PA’s highest Islamic authority said – following Netanyahu’s remarks in London declaring the eternal Jewish connection to Jerusalem – that his claims “are baseless and untrue. Jerusalem is an Arab and Islamic city and it always has been so.”

More on that Waqf pamphlet here.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

ALEXANDER THE ITSY BITSY. Wish I'd thought of that one.

(Via David Meadows on Facebook. Background here.)
Rabbi-Novelist Mines Ancient Treasure

by Rachel Heller, Contributing Writer (

Of all the prophets, Jeremiah has always been the personal favorite of Rabbi Zoë Klein. So in a series of two fictional works, the prolific pulpit rabbi and fiction writer did him a favor: She gave him a lover.

“He’s a brooder; he’s the most autobiographical of the prophets, and there’s something so desperately lonely and sad about him that I wanted to reach back in time and comfort him somehow,” said Klein, 38, senior rabbi at Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles. “I wanted to provide someone who is just mad about him and loves him as a man, not as a prophet.”

Faith and the healing property of love are themes Klein explores in her recently released novel, “Drawing in the Dust,” which follows fictional archaeologist Page Brookstone as she unearths a startling ancient treasure that challenges traditional theological beliefs in Israel and beyond.

Brookstone, a Catholic American excavating at Mount Megiddo, has spent her life hiding underground from personal demons and is haunted by the early death of her father. But when she begins a dig beneath an Arab couple’s home and discovers Jeremiah’s grave — his remains clasped in the arms of a mysterious woman — Brookstone begins to confront her fears and embrace love’s ability to transcend time.

The mysterious woman turns out to be Anatiya, a fictional contemporary of Jeremiah that Klein created for her first book, “The Scroll of Anatiya,” published earlier this year. Anatiya, who is mute, falls in love with the prophet after hearing him preach and spends her life longing for a man too consumed by holy work to return her devotion. One of the artifacts Brookstone finds near Jeremiah’s tomb in “Drawing in the Dust” is Anatiya’s scroll, whose 52 chapters, written in the poetic style of an ancient text, mirror the events narrated in the Book of Jeremiah.

THE SYNAGOGUE OF DURA-EUROPOS is mentioned in a brief Christian Science Monitor article on archaeological sites in Syria:
But on a cliff overlooking the Euphrates less than 30 miles from Iraq, where Roman soldiers once watched for invading Persians, it’s possible to imagine life in the fortified desert city of Dura-Europos 2,000 years ago. Founded in 300 BC by Seleucus, one of Alexander the Great’s generals, it was a cosmopolitan outpost; first Hellenistic, then Roman – home to Greeks, Syrians, Christians, and Jews.

The synagogue on a side street by the still-standing mud-brick walls was preserved under sand, like so much of Dura, for more than 1,500 years. British soldiers coming from recently occupied Iraq stumbled upon the city in 1920; an American archaeologist excavated the synagogue in 1932.

Shipped to Damascus, where it was rebuilt, the synagogue is one of the oldest and most unique Jewish monuments in antiquity – on display at the Syrian National Museum. Its frescoed walls depict such vibrant biblical scenes that it was originally thought to be a Greek temple.

Today a Syrian guide, while prohibiting flash photographs to preserve the murals’ original colors, happily explains the scriptural stories and the history of the synagogue’s discovery.
Palmyra and Mari are mentioned too.
ROBERT R. CARGILL is back at Bible and Interpretation and administers a thorough and well-deserved fisking to a Copper-Scroll crank:
Pseudo-Science and Sensationalist Archaeology: An Exposé of Jimmy Barfield and the Copper Scroll Project

Members of the academy must take individual responsibility and make conscious efforts to rebut examples of obvious disinformation whenever and wherever they arise. Likewise, archaeologists must band together and coordinate their efforts to meet these misleading claims as strongly and consistently as possible. For in a world where Wikipedia allows anyone to say just about anything, scholars must move beyond their comfortable arenas of peer-review and professional conferences, where they talk only to one another, and redouble our efforts to reach out to the public directly. We must counter irresponsible claims with measured responses, debunk and discredit them, and offer alternative theories from a spectrum of reliable scholars who, while they may at times disagree, can support their various claims with scientific facts, tangible data, and sound reason.

By Robert R. Cargill, Ph.D.

UCLA Center for Digital Humanities

UCLA Qumran Visualization Project

August 2009

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Despite objections, dig will go ahead at 'mystical' grave

By JOSIAH RYAN (Jerusalem Post)

An agreement struck between the Tiberias Magistrate's Court and a Tzipori land-owner on Monday will allow the excavation of a tomb that may contain the remains of famed 3rd century Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi to begin next month.

The work at the site, which features a clear inscription of the rabbi's name on the lintel and reportedly contains a terra cotta sarcophagus, may trigger significant opposition throughout the religious community, experts and religious authorities said on Tuesday.

"This is an important site," Antiquities Authority director Dr. Uzi Dahari, who personally holds the license to the dig, told The Jerusalem Post after the court's decision. "We don't know what's in there yet, but it could be very, very, significant. It may be Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, but it's impossible to know for sure until we dig."

(Via Joseph I. Lauer's list.)

Sounds like a messy, complicated situation. From earlier coverage of the Aramaic inscription, it seems far from clear that this is the grave of the third-century rabbi. Background here.
MARK GOODACRE says scholars should be Admitting our Ignorance about the Historical Jesus (in an essay at the Bible and Interpretation website):
The problem is that we are in denial. We simply do not want to admit that we do not have all the data we need to paint a complete picture of the historical Jesus. Good scholarship is sometimes born from a desire to fill in the gaps, and informed speculation can be a virtue. But over-confidence born out of an unrealistic expectation of the evidence will make future generations wonder what we were playing at.
Spot on.
Unprecedented Miniature Carving of Alexander the Great Found

by Nissan Ratzlav-Katz

( Excavations in Tel Dor have turned up a rare and unexpected work of Hellenistic art: a precious stone bearing the miniature carved likeness of Alexander the Great. Archaeologists are calling it an important find, indicating the great skill of the artist.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU has visited the PEF Office in London. He liked it:
Netanyahu thrilled about visit to Palestine Exploration Fund


LONDON - Neither progress with the US on the settlement issue nor being called a "courageous leader" by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown excited Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in London Tuesday as much as a visit to the offices of the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF).

Netanyahu, who mentioned the visit during his press conference with Brown, waxed poetic about it at a briefing with Israeli reporters, enthusing over the organization's collection of maps, pictures and documents of Palestine dating back to the mid-19th century.

"This is a treasure, it is something you all must see," he told reporters, as he kept returning to the subject and talking about the archival information there, and about the knowledge of the geography and topography of pre-state Israel housed in that building.

The PEF was founded in 1865 and is the oldest organization in the world created specifically for the study of the Levant, the southern portion of which - as the organization's literature makes clear - was conventionally known as "Palestine."

The organization publishes an internationally respected journal, the Palestine Exploration Quarterly, and brings the latest archaeological findings and research to the public in a series of regular lectures.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

THE BRITISH NEW TESTAMENT CONFERENCE happens at the end of next week at the University of Aberdeen. I will be going and will presenting a paper, on which more anon. The conference program is available as a pdf file here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

AN ANCIENT GRAVESTONE in Sepphoris/Tzipori is the subject of a controversy:
Court Hearing on Tzipori Grave on Monday

Reported: 01:48 AM - Aug/24/09

( A court in Tiberias is scheduled on Monday to determine whether or not a Tzipori bed and breakfast operator can dig around an ancient grave discovered this past winter in a yard on his property. Mitch Pilcer told Arutz 7's Hebrew news journal that a tombstone for Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi was discovered on the site as he prepared to expand his facility. He added the letters on the tombstone were well preserved. Archaeologists he called examined the site, covered it up and examined it again a month ago.

The Israel Antiquities Authority informed Pilcer a week ago that they wanted to excavate the site without the necessary permits. Fearing demonstrations claiming debasement of the honor of the dead, Pilcer turned to the court to bar excavation without the necessary permits.
Joseph I. Lauer also points to a Hebrew article in Maariv which gives further details. The inscription is on the entrance to a burial cave (pictured in the article) and reads in Aramaic, "This is the grave of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi ha-Qappar." Joseph adds:
(As Jastrow notes, Hakappar is the surname of Rabbi Eliezer. M. Avot 4:21, Berakhot 63a.) Dr. Mordecai Aviam is quoted as saying that the addition of "ha-Qappar" to the name of the rabbi is an indication that it is not the grave of the famous Tanna but of another bearer of the name.
The article states that the owner is involved in a controversy with Rabbis, who say that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi never died (and with the Atra Kadisha organization that wants to protect the gravesite), and with the IAA, which wants to open the entry to the cave and has commenced a lawsuit, with a hearing to be held Monday, and obtained a stop-work order against Pilcer."
He also refers to a possibly relevant 2004 Cathedra article, but I cannot get the URL to work.

UPDATE: Dead Maariv link fixed.

UPDATE: The English abstract for the Hebrew Cathedra article is here.
Titre du document / Document title
Rabbi Joshua Ben Levi and his wife Kyra Mega: Interpretation of inscriptions from Beth-She'arim

Auteur(s) / Author(s)

Résumé / Abstract
chamber of Cave 20, a large burial cave in Beth She'arim. The inscriptions apparently relate to one particular family unit comprising a father, a mother, and a daughter. The author proposes identifying the father with thewell-known Talmudic sage who bears an identical name, R. Joshua ben Levi, and to add to the existing information on his wife, on some of his descendants, and on their socio-economic standing. An additional inscription from the same burial cave is also relevant to this family. Historical research was supplemented by sociological definitions that were helpful in providing greater understanding of the archaeological finds and in interpretation of the inscriptions.
"RIGHT!" Bill Cosby: Noah. A classic.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A SLAVONIC SCRIPTORIUM is being excavated in Bulgaria:
Bulgarian Archaeologists Discover Unique Medieval Byzantine Seal
Archaeology | August 21, 2009, Friday (, Sophia News Agency)

Bulgarian archaeologist, Prof. Kazimir Popkonstantinov, has discovered a unique medieval seal at the site of the Knyazhevski (i.e. "Princely") Monastery near the Eastern city of Varna.

The seal is dated back to the 10th century and belonged to the Byzantine dignitary Antonius, who was an imperial protospatario in Constantinople. Antonius had correspondence with a representative of the Knyazhevski Monastery, who is believed to have been the Bulgarian Knyaz (i.e. king) Boris I (r. 852-889 AD) himself.

The team of archaeologist Popkonstantinov from the University of Veliko Tarnovo has also discovered fragments of Byzantine ceramics and a book lock near the seal, which is seen as a proof that the Knyazhevski Monastery was a scriptorium of the Bulgarian royal family in the 9th and 10th century when the Slavic literature was developed in the First Bulgarian Empire.

During their excavations in the summer of 2009 so far, the archaeologists have discovered very well preserved monastery vaults from the 9th century. They have stated that those vaults were the only ones preserved in Bulgaria from the medieval monasteries, and that the scriptorium of what once was the Knyazhevski Monastery was the only one in the lands of the Byzantine Empire that was preserved so well.

The Knyazhevski Monastery, located in the Karaach Teke area, is believed to have been the largest literary and cultural center in Northeast Bulgaria in the 9th-12th century. The archaeologists have discovered there over 40 book locks, pieces of parchment, lead seals. They believe that some of the disciples of St. Cyril and St. Methodius most likely worked there.

Some very interesting Old Testament pseudepigrapha survive only or mainly in Church Slavonic, including 2 Enoch, the Apocalypse of Abraham, the Ladder of Jacob, and the Narrative of Lamech (all presumably translated from Byzantine Greek). Bulgarian scribal culture in this period and later was an important factor in their transmission. See Grant Macaskill's online essay, "The Slavonic Pseudepigrapha: An Introduction." Note also the Marquette website on the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha Project, which is down for some reason at the moment, at least from here. For more on important recent developments regarding 2 Enoch, see here and here. And regarding the latter, note that I have since been informed by an expert that Slavists regard the short recension of 2 Enoch as the superior text, so the text of the work is in less doubt than I indicated at the link. The Coptic fragments of 2 Enoch, the Slavonic Narrative of Lamech, and a Hebrew fragment of the Ladder of Jacob are to be translated for the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project, as are some Adam Octipartite traditions found in 2 Enoch and Latin and Old Irish sources. Oh, and I have collected some Slavonic pseudepigraphers here.
ARAMAIC WATCH: That Latin and Aramaic production of Ben Hur comes to the O2 in London on 17 September:
Ben Hur Live coming to London's O2 Arena
Ben Hur is coming to the London stage, with real chariots and music and narration by Stewart Copeland of the Police

Bryan Appleyard (London Times)


Anyway, [Franz] Abraham went into business as a producer of big, live shows. He started with classical music (Placido Domingo, Philip Glass) and moved on to rock (the Stones, David Bowie). He created the genre of touring open-air opera with a production of Carmina Burana. He also did a “dinner show” called Ganymée on Water, on a giant catamaran. He seems to have over-reached himself with a production of Carmen in France, with Italian, German and Russian singers: “It was embarrassing. I said I’d never do that again.” The singers’ French accents were awful. This is why he’s doing Ben Hur in Latin and Aramaic. They are, he says, “universal languages”, and the only change as the show moves from one country to another will be the language of the narrator.

Background here.