Saturday, May 15, 2010

The story behind the Bible Lands Museum

BLAME CANADA, sort of. The story behind the Bible Lands Museum:
A love story of biblical proportions
14/05/2010 20:42

The Bible Lands Museum, Batya Borowski's passion.

Through one of those weird and wonderful mysteries of life, Toronto, of all places, was the reason behind the decision to establish the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, which is celebrating its 18th anniversary this month.

What’s more, Batya Borowski, the associate founder and former director of the museum, is celebrating her 80th birthday. She is the widow of Dr. Elie Borowski, whose unique collection of artifacts of the ancient Near East tracing the history of this region and the Jewish People lies at the heart of the museum.

“I met Elie for the first time at the bar of the King David Hotel in 1981,” recalls Borowski (then Weiss). “I was attending a gathering of 15 people who had come for the opening of the Joseph Ternbach exhibition at the Israel Museum and there he was, talking about his collection of ancient Near East artifacts, which was to be displayed at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. He showed us the catalog of the exhibition, and I realized at once what a magnificent thing it was. I asked him, tongue in cheek, ‘But where is Toronto? I have never heard of the place. My daughter Amanda, who accompanied me and immediately understood what I had in mind, answered, ‘Toronto? I think it is somewhere in the remote north, where the Eskimos live.’”

Borowski, who still laughs so many years later while recalling that scene, says that Elie Borowski – who died seven years ago – was so shocked at Batya’s hutzpa that he was rendered speechless.

Then he virtually screamed at her, “Who are you, and where do you come from?”

And she replied, “I’ve been to the west, to the south, to the east, but to the north, to Canada? I’ve never been to Canada. Why would I?” she continued.

She recounts that once some calm was restored around the table at the hotel bar, she asked him to lend her the catalog until breakfast the following morning.

“I knew by the way he was talking about his collection how important it was, yet I couldn’t understand – why was it in Canada? It didn’t belong there. I took the catalog and couldn’t put it down for most of the night. I said to myself, ‘You are going to marry that man and build a museum for his collection in Jerusalem,’” recalls Batya, who at the time had been divorced for many years.


Friday, May 14, 2010

Aramaic music video

ARAMAIC WATCH: Assyrian Aramaic Jewish Song "Yah Ribbon Alam" God is the lord of the World יה ריבון עלם on YouTube, with subtitles in Aramaic, Syriac, and Hebrew. Cool.

(Heads up, Gerald Rosenberg)

UPDATE: Joe Lauer sends the following background note:
Just to let you know with regard to the "Assyrian Aramaic Jewish Song 'Yah Ribbon Alam'" posting, the ArtScroll Siddur notes in part regarding the song, usually sung at the table as part of the Shabbat zemirot: "Kah Ribon's five stanzas form the acrostic Yisrael, the name of the composer, Yisrael [ben Moshe of Najara]. He was a student of the Arizal in Safed during the sixteenth century and later became rabbi of Gaza. It is said that he composed as many as four hundred fifty zemiros."

Tomb of Ezekiel undamaged after all

THE TOMB OF EZEKIEL (traditional) in Kifl, Iraq, is reportedly undamaged after all:
Ezekiel unscathed!

By JONAH MANDEL (Jerusalem Post)
14/05/2010 06:27

Anglican vicar confirms tomb won’t become mosque.

“Hello Sheila, I’m in Ezekiel’s Tomb, how are you doing?” Canon Andrew White, the vicar of St. George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad, said over the phone. “Everything here is intact, glorious and beautiful.”

The short exchange this week between White and his longtime friend Sheila Regev, stuck in traffic in her hometown of Jerusalem when she received the call, brought an end to months of concern over the fate of the tomb, following reports in Iraqi media outlets that Iraq’s Antiquities and Heritage Authority planned to build a mosque there.

The tomb is located in Al-Kifl, a small town south of Baghdad. As part of the renovations, according to the rumors set off by the report, ancient Hebrew inscriptions and ornaments were being removed.

“I went to make sure that the rumors were not true, and they weren’t,” White told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

Regev had recently written to White, with whom she has been in close contact since he was in Israel in 2000, to express her concern over the condition of the holy site. White said he doubted that the local mullahs, the ruling Shi’ite religious authorities, would indeed allow such a desecration, but told Regev he’d personally check things out.

The three-hour journey from Baghdad, where White resides, to the Al-Kifl site is considered highly dangerous and necessitated an escort of 30 security personnel. But for White, who also tends to the needs of the eight-member Jewish community of Iraq, “my No. 1 priority in Iraq is maintaining Jewish sites.”

At Ezekiel’s Tomb, White met with the local mullahs, who ensured him that they wanted to maintain the Jewish holy site in its current form while enabling Christians and Muslims, who also consider Ezekiel one of their prophets, to visit the site. White’s photographs of the tomb, which he sent to Regev, show remnants of whitewash at the bottom of some of the Hebrew inscriptions, most likely left over from Saddam Hussein’s era, and minor damage caused by the efforts to clean the dirt that had accumulated over the years.

The earlier report was that the Hebrew inscriptions in the tomb had already been plastered over and the tomb was slated to be turned into a mosque. I could find no denials of the plastering in earlier reports. In fact, the response from Iraq was that the inscriptions were accidentally erased by untrained workers during renovations. The "remnants of whitewash" below some of the inscriptions may suggest that the botched renovations were undone once the international protests (noted also here and here) started. In any case, the new report, assuming it is accurate, is very good news indeed. It appear that the tomb is undamaged and that it is safe for now from alteration. Kudos in particular to Prof. Shmuel Moreh and to Ayatollah Shaykh Ayad al-Rikabi for speaking out on the situation and making it into a national and international issue.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

So what if Egypt's Copts find a book insulting?

So what if Egypt's Copts find a book insulting?

Following the lead of Islamists, Egyptian Christians are trying to ban an award-winning novel because it 'insults' Christianity

o Khaled Diab
o, Wednesday 12 May 2010 12.00 BST

I am no fan of fanaticism and I wish fundamentalists would just have some fun, or at the very least learn to live and let live. But, in Egypt, they have gone from being a nuisance to becoming a real threat, not only to freedom of speech and expression but also to the country's very cultural heritage.

This was demonstrated in recent weeks when a group calling itself (without a hint of irony) Lawyers Without Shackles tried to shackle the reading choices of Egyptians by calling for a ban of a newly released version of the classic One Thousand and One Nights saga, with its ensemble of popular and ageless characters, including Aladdin, Ali Baba and Sindbad. Their reason? The centuries-old collection is "obscene" and could lead people to "vice and sin".

Luckily, Egyptian intellectuals have rallied to defend the classic tales, warning against the increasing "Bedouinisation" of Egyptian culture. This is, perhaps, the most ridiculous example of the recent trend towards, what I call, the retroactive condemnation of published works.
I hadn't heard about this attempted censorship effort, but it too is pathetic.
Not to be left out of the banning fad, Christians have also joined the fray. A group of Copts in Egypt and abroad have filed a complaint with the public prosecutor against the controversial novel Azazeel (Beelzebub) by Youssef Ziedan, which won the 2009 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, an award backed by the Booker Prize Foundation. As insulting any of the "heavenly faiths" is illegal in Egypt, Ziedan could face up to five years behind bars.


But even if it were insulting to the Christian clergy, my natural reaction is: "So what?" Not only do we all have differing definitions of what constitutes an insult, everyone is free to express insulting views, if they so wish, and if you don't like it, then don't read it and, by all means, encourage others not to.


So, what in Ziedan's award-winning novel has specifically irked the Coptic establishment?

The events of Azazeel take place around the turbulent and troubled period of the Nestorian schism in the Orthodox church, and the book highlights, through the eyes of a fictional Egyptian monk, not only the tensions between different Christian factions, but also between the new official faith of the Roman empire and the "pagan" religions that preceded it.

The Coptic church has denounced the novel as offensive for its violent portrait of one of the church's founding fathers, St Cyril, the so-called "Pillar of Faith". The trouble for the Coptic church is that, its reverence for Cyril of Alexandria notwithstanding, the historical evidence does strongly suggest that he was violent.

Cyril was involved in the expulsion from Alexandria of Jews and of newly declared "heretical" Christian movements, such as the Novatians, not to mention the persecution of adherents of the old-world polytheistic faiths, and the murder of the Alexandrian philosopher and first notable female mathematician, Hypatia, one of my favourite Ancient Geeks.

With all this fuss about Ziedan's novel, I wondered what Ramzi and the other Copts involved in this legal action would make of Alejandro Amenábar's wonderfully evocative Agora – in which Rachel Weisz portrays Hypatia beautifully – and whether they'll also be calling for its banning.

Agora, which I had the pleasure of seeing last weekend, covers the same historical period as Azazeel and dramatises the clash of ideals and ideas between Cyril and Hypatia, as well as the power struggle between by the Patriarch of Alexandria and the city's Roman prefect.

Agora has not yet come to St. Andrews, but I hope it makes it here so I can see it in the cinema.

Background (and my commentary) to the emerging controversy over Azazeel (Beelzebub) is here.

Dueling scriptures for Jerusalem Day

Netanyahu Cites Bible in Israel's Jerusalem Claim

Linda Gradstein Contributor
AOL News
JERUSALEM (May 12) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today sought to enlist the authority of the Bible in the ongoing controversy over the future of Jerusalem.

Speaking before a special parliamentary session, Netanyahu said that the word "Jerusalem" and one of its Hebrew names, "Zion," appear 850 times in the Bible. "As to how many times Jerusalem is mentioned in the holy scriptures of other faiths, I recommend you check," he told the parliamentarians.

"Because you asked, Jerusalem is mentioned 142 times in the New Testament, and one of the 16 various Arabic names for Jerusalem is mentioned in the Koran. But in an expanded interpretation of the Koran from the 12th century, one passage is said to refer to Jerusalem."

Not sure where he's going with this, but proportional representation based on a count of scriptural citations doesn't strike me as the answer.

Temple Mount denial and Terrible Ice

Archaeologist: Stop Muslim Temple Mount Denial, 'Barbaric' Digs

by Hillel Fendel (Arutz Sheva)

Dr. Gabi Barkai, senior lecturer at Bar Ilan University and recipient of the Jerusalem Prize for Archaeology, says Israelis must demand that Israeli antiquities law be enforced at Israel's most important archaeological site– the Temple Mount.

"It is the most important site in the world for the Jewish people," Barkai told Benny Tucker of Arutz Sheva's Hebrew newsmagazine in a Jerusalem Day interview, "as well as the most important archaeological site in Israel, and despite all this, Israel has abandoned it. Over the past ten years, the Waqf has taken control, making major changes in the status quo: It has conducted illegal digs, built mosques and the like, and the situation has changed from one extreme to the other."

For years I have been covering the issue of pervasive Jewish-Temple denial in the Arab Muslim world, the underlying ideology of the Waqf's actions. For recent discussions see here and here.

Also, an aside: in relation to the Temple Mount-debris sifting project, Dr. Barkai mentions something I didn't know about:
Asked later to elaborate, he told Israel National News, "For instance, we have found many small floor tiles, of different colors, which confirm the Talmud's description of the floor of the Second Temple as being reminiscent of the ocean."
That reminds me of a mystical tradition in the Hekhalot literature about this sixth heavenly palace (which would have been roughly equivalent to the nave of the Temple, leading into the seventh palace, the Holy of Holies and throne room of God). I quote from my own translation:
The sixth palace appears as though someone splashes a hundred thousand thousands and myriads of myriads of waves of the sea onto him. But there is not really even one drop of water on him; rather it is the splendorous atmosphere of the pure alabaster stones that are paved in the palace, which is a splendor more fearsome than water. And do not the attending (angels) stand opposite him? And if he [the ascending mystic] says, "What is the nature of these waters?" at once they run after him and say to him, "Fool! From now on you shall not have a vision with your eyes! Perhaps you are of the seed of those who kissed the calf, and you are unfit to see the King in His beauty!" If so, a heavenly voice goes forth from the seventh palace, and the herald goes before him and blows a sustained, a quavering, and a sustained blast on the horn, saying to them, "You have spoken well. Indeed he is of the seed of those who kissed the calf, and he is unfit to see the King in His beauty." He does not depart from there until they have wounded his head with iron axes. (Hekhalot Zutarti §408)
The "alabaster stones" seem to be Ezekiel's "terrible ice" (Ezekiel 1:22, MT), which represent the waters of chaos frozen by God at the time of the cosmogonic battle with the Great Sea. Naturally, the angels don't like the idea that the ice might be melting.

Does anyone know the Talmud reference Dr. Barkay alludes to?

UPDATE: Reader Chaim Katz e-mails the suggestion b. Sukkah 51b, although it seems to refer to the marble of which the whole building was made rather than the floor tiles. But the idea of the resemblance to the waves of the sea is there.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

MKs visit Temple Mount-debris sifting project

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Some MKs have visited the Temple Mount-debris sifting project and have made some pointed political comments:
In honor of Jerusalem Day, MKs get to dig into past

By ABE SELIG (Jerusalem Post)
12/05/2010 09:58

Land of Israel Lobby members spend a day sifting through more than 2,000 years of history at the Temple Mount.
Talkbacks (1)

Ahead of Jerusalem Day, members of the Knesset’s Land of Israel Lobby spent Tuesday sifting through more than 2,000 years of history inside a large tent at the Temple Mount Antiquities Salvage Operation.

The ongoing archeological project is located in the capital’s Tzurim Valley National Park, where workers have spent the last five years carefully combing through thousands of tons of debris removed from the Temple Mount nearly 10 years ago.


On Tuesday afternoon, Knesset members got a firsthand look at the site’s operations and were even given a chance to do some sifting of their own, as they paid a visit to the tent where Barkay, Zweig and a slew of volunteers were conducting their work.

“This could have part of a vessel one of my ancestors carried olive oil in to make sacrifices in the Beit Hamikdash [the Temple],” said MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union), as he held up a shard of pottery he discovered in a pile of the discarded debris.

Other MKs echoed Ben-Ari’s observations, expressing the importance of the site’s offerings for “all Israelis, and all of the Jewish people.”

“This is a clear sign that Jerusalem is ours – that its beginnings belong to the Jewish people, and the basis of its holiness is rooted in Judaism,” said Kadima MK Otniel Schneller, who was also in attendance.

For background on the Temple Mount sifting project go here and follow the links.

A ghost aqueduct-bridge from the Second Temple era

A GHOST AQUEDUCT-BRIDGE from the Second Temple era (plus a real medieval one):
Regards from the Past: Ancient Water Bridge Found in Jerusalem

by Hillel Fendel (Arutz Sheva)

Part of the ancient aqueduct that brought water to the Temple Mount has been exposed near the Sultan’s Pool across from Mt. Zion. The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) says it found a “spectacular arched bridge” that marked part of Jerusalem’s ancient water system while conducting archaeological rescue excavations prior to work on the city’s modern water system.

Two of the bridge’s original nine arches have now been excavated to their full height of about three meters.

In actuality, the newly-discovered bridge was built in 1320 C.E. by the sultan Nasser al-Din Muhammed Ibn Qalawun, as evidenced by its dedicatory inscription. However, it was apparently constructed to replace an earlier bridge dating to the time of the Second Temple period that was part of the original aqueduct.


DSS fragments to go on display at Azusa Pacific

THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS recently acquired by Azusa Pacific University will be on display at the University in May and June:
Dead Sea Scrolls Fragments, Biblical Artifacts on View in Azusa

By Tom Tugend (

Five fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls and a collection of rare biblical artifacts will be on display May 21 through July 18 at Azusa Pacific University (APU) in Azusa.

The exhibition, “Treasures of the Bible: The Dead Sea Scrolls and Beyond,” is part of APU’s mission “to play a part in history by carefully preserving, while also sharing, these remarkable treasures with the public,” Jon Wallace, president of the Christian evangelical institution, said.

Among the biblical artifacts are a 5,000-year-old cuneiform tablet, a Gutenberg bible leaf, a 17th century Sefer Torah scroll and original King James Bibles dating from 1611 to 1640.

The five Dead Sea Scrolls fragments were purchased by APU last summer and will be available for public viewing for the first time, APU spokeswoman Allison Oster said.

“The fragments from Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Daniel confirm the accuracy of the Scriptures and are therefore as significant to Christians as to Jews,” APU Executive Vice President David Bixby said in a phone interview

The scroll fragments are currently on display in a church in Granite Bay.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Invisibility in the Greco-Roman world

In Pursuit of Invisibility: Ritual Texts from Late Roman Egypt
by Richard Phillips
215p, 8 pls with 10 b/w images (American Society of Papyrologists 2009)
ISBN-13: 978-0-9700591-9-2
ISBN-10: 0-9700591-9-1
Hardback. Price US $49.95

A close examination of invisibility in the context of the Greco-Roman world, from the role invisibility enjoys as a literary motif to the ritual spells whose logos and praxis in magic papyri promise the individual that he will move about unseen by others. Capping the six chapters investigating invisibility in fiction and in handbooks of magic, Phillips examines the relevant papyri, evaluating the Greek texts and translating them into English, as well as offering thorough commentary for each text (e.g. P.Oxy. LVIII 3931, and six examples drawn from the Papyri Graecae Magicae). Includes bibliographical references and pertinent indices of the Greek.
I suspect these were like the "vanishing cream" sold in magic shops when I was a kid. The box would promise that if you rubbed some of the cream into your hand, it would vanish! And it did! The cream, that is.

But in any case, if you try any of these, let me know how they work out. But do test them before you use one to try to sneak in somewhere without paying.

I don't recall much made of invisibility in ancient Judaism, but there are invisible angels in 2 Kings 6:15-17 and Daniel 9:5-7, and Jesus may go invisible in Luke 4:29-30 and Peter in Acts 12:6-11. I can't think of any more examples off the top of my head.

File under too amusing not to mention.

Via the Agade list, etc.

UPDATE (12 May): Richard Bauckham e-mails to note an angel who acts invisibly in Pseudo-Philo (L.A.B.) 27.10:
10. And it came to pass when Cenez heard their words, he was clothed with the spirit of might and changed into another man, and went down into the camp of the Amorites and began to smite them. And the Lord sent before his face the angel Ingethel (or Gethel), who is set over the hidden things, and worketh unseen, (and another) angel of might helping with him: and Ingethel smote the Amorites with blindness, so that every man that saw his neighbour counted them his adversaries, and they slew one another. And the angel Zeruel, who is set over strength, bare up the arms of Cenez lest they should perceive him; and Cenez smote of the Amorites forty and five thousand men, and they themselves smote one another, and fell forty and five thousand men.

Milwaukee DSS exhibit review

ANOTHER REVIEW of the Milwaukee Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit:
Ancient words at Milwaukee Public Museum's 'Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible' exhibit
Jay Rath on Monday 05/10/2010 11:39 am (The Daily Page)

Religion aside, it is a miracle that the fabulous Dead Sea Scrolls are on exhibit in Milwaukee.

It's also a miracle that you probably haven't heard the priceless antiquities are in the state. Madison needs to pay better attention. To paraphrase the vice president, this is a big freaking deal.

Indeed. And I like this:
Above all is the human connection: unknown hands wrote in 10-point text and then hid these messages in a desert cave for us to find, 2,000 years later. Why?

You come away frankly feeling accused, for example by the exhibited Mystery Scroll, which reads, "They don't know the future mystery, or understand ancient matters..."
Background here.

Israeli PM Urged to Place Temple Mount on Heritage List

PM Urged to Place Temple Mount on Heritage List

by Hillel Fendel (Arutz Sheva)

As Jerusalem Day approaches, redoubled efforts are underway to increase Jewish awareness of the Temple Mount and to have the site included on the National Heritage Sites list.

Highlights of the campaign include a visit by 43 rabbis to Judaism’s holiest site on Monday and a petition to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to include the location on his recently-formulated list of National Heritage sites.

That would be interesting. And, I suspect, even more controversial than adding sites from the West Bank.

Background on the Heritage Sites list here.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Ketef Hinnom site lies neglected at Menachem Begin Heritage Center.

KETEF HINNOM, the site of the discovery of the silver amulets inscribed with the priestly benediction, lies in neglect at the Menahem Begin Heritage Center according to Jewish Ideas Daily:
Interestingly, the Heritage Center also hosts an actual biblical site: Ketef Hinnom, or the "Shoulder of Hinnom." This is a chain of Jewish burial chambers that were carved out of the rock in the 7th century B.C.E. In 1979, a dig conducted by the archaeologist Gabriel Barkay yielded one of the most significant finds in Israel's history: tiny rolled-up silver scrolls on whose inner surface is inscribed the Priestly Blessing—"The Lord bless you and keep you . . ." (Numbers 6:24-26)—in ancient Hebrew. These are the oldest surviving texts of the Bible—older than the Dead Sea Scrolls by roughly a half-millennium. Barkay speculates that the scrolls were originally worn "as amulets to give their wearers protection against evil."

Ketef Hinnom is thus one of the most important sites in the history of biblical archeology. Yet it suffers from serious neglect. The burial chambers lie hidden behind the Heritage Center's courtyard; you won't even find a sign pointing you in the right direction. More troublingly, the site is completely exposed to the elements, and in winter months some of the chambers are filled with standing rainwater. Trash is strewn between the graves; unattended foliage grows over the stone.

The problem, according to the center staff, is limited resources. But you don't need a large sum of money to put up a proper sign, or any money at all to remove trash. A starker explanation may be seen in the Heritage Center's souvenir shop, where you will find plenty of books about Menahem Begin as well as the usual tourist items but nothing connected to the archaeological site—not even a replica of the Priestly Blessing.
For the Ketef Hinnom silver amulet, see here and here and follow the links back.

Ashkelon graves to be moved

THE ASHKELON GRAVES are to be moved after all:
Graves adjacent to Barzilai hospital soon to be removed

Construction of emergency room in Ashkelon medical center may commence as early as next week following decision by committee created by PM Netanyahu

Ynet reporters
Published: 05.09.10, 20:54 / Israel News

The ancient tombs near the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon which were at the heart of a national controversy will be removed in the near future, possibly next week, a specially designated committee created by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided on Sunday.

During the committee meeting, headed by Prime Minister's Office Director General Eyal Gabay, it was decided in accordance with Netanyahu's instruction that the construction of the new emergency room at the original site should commence as soon as possible.


Another proposal was raised by haredi officials during the meeting, suggesting to build the ER above and below the graves, in such a way as would not require their removal. The proposal was rejected by the Health Ministry officials.

I'm not sure what "above and below the graves" means. A few days ago there was a proposal to build the ER underground, but that doesn't explain the "above" part. This story has as many plot twists as a season of 24.

Sunday, May 09, 2010