Saturday, July 17, 2010

Jerusalem Akkadian fragment update

JERUSALEM AKKADIAN FRAGMENT UPDATE: Christopher Rollston has posted philological updates by John Huehnergard and Wilfred Van Soldt on his website post Reflections on the Fragmentary Cuneiform Tablet from the Ophel.

Background here.

Hurtado assimilated to the blogosphere

ASSIMILATED TO THE BLOGOSPHERE: Larry Hurtado, Professor of New Testament at the University of Edinburgh, has a new blog. And there's also one for his Centre for the Study of Christian Origins.

(Via James McGrath.)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Francesca Stavrakopoulou on the BBC

In The Bible's Buried Secrets, Hebrew scholar Francesca Stavrakopoulou looks at what recent archaeological discoveries mean for the Bible and how they are forcing a re-assessment of the understanding of the legacy of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Dr. Stavrakopoulou is a Senior Lecturer in Hebrew Bible at Exeter University.

Ninth of Av thoughts on ancient conversion

How disaster made conversion harder

There is a link between Tishah b’Av — which begins on Monday night — and attitudes towards converts, writes David Aberbach

July 15, 2010 (Jewish Chronicle)

The unprecedented growth of Islam in the West, despite prejudice and hatred, contrasts with the demographic stagnation of the Jewish people - several million fewer now than in 1939. Conversion to practically every other religion remains considerably easier than conversion to Judaism. Why is traditional conversion to Judaism so hard?

There is a close link between Tishah b'Av, the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, and rabbinic discouragement of gentiles from conversion after the Roman-Jewish wars (66-70, 115-17, 132-35 CE). Roman concern with Jewish conversion began prior to the destruction of the Temple. Though not a missionary religion (early Christians such as Paul, Barnabas and Peter are the only first-century Jewish missionaries known by name), pre-70 Judaism was highly varied and expanding in the Roman empire. It attracted sympathisers and adherents among the underprivileged, powerless, persecuted classes of the empire, especially slaves and women.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

What do angels look like?

WHAT DO ANGELS LOOK LIKE? - A capsule history at the OUP blog. Some unusual artistic representations are noted here, here, and here.

Biblical languages minor at ENMU

A BIBLICAL LANGUAGES MINOR has been added to the offerings of Eastern New Mexico University's Religion Department:
Students of Hebrew and Greek have a chance to enhance their college degrees as well as their minds with the institution of new minors at Eastern New Mexico University this coming fall.

In addition to the existing minor in Greek, students can now minor in Hebrew or combine the two languages for a Biblical Languages minor, all through the Department of Religion.


Mandaean Gnostic texts online


Rollston on the new Jerusalem cuneiform fragment

CHRISTOPHER ROLLSTON has just posted Reflections on the Fragmentary Cuneiform Tablet from the Ophel on his website. His conclusion:
I contend that (1) it could be some sort of administrative text (2nd person forms are used in memoranda sometimes, as Jack Sasson has noted); (2) it could be a legal text, as the 2nd person does occur in legal texts; (3) it could be an international letter, of course…but it might be a letter from one official in Jerusalem to another official in Jerusalem, or a letter to a neighboring “city” (e.g., Hazor) or “country” (i.e., Egypt is not the sole country to which a letter might be written); (4) it is conceivable that it is a literary text of some sort (as the 2nd person can occur in such texts). Therefore, there are a number of possible options for this tablet. And, thus, because there is such a dearth of actual preserved text on this tablet, I contend that it is best not to attempt to posit as probable this or that historical context, Sitz im Leben, or genre. Ultimately, the fact of the matter is that it could be one of various things…e.g., an epistolary text, a legal text, an administrative text, a literary text.
Read it all.

Background here.

UPDATE: Check that post again.

Grossman (ed.), Rediscovering the DSS

Maxine L. Grossman (ed.), Rediscovering the Dead Sea Scrolls: An Assessment of Old and New Approaches and Methods (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2010)
Already noted here. This is the first time I've looked at the other essays in the volume but, having done so, I'm sorely tempted to drop the class preparation I should be doing and just read this book.

The link is here, but it uses an earlier draft title (but displays the correct title on the cover image).

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

APU extends DSS exhibit

AZUSA PACIFIC UNIVERSITY has extended its Dead Sea Scroll exhibit through 29 August.

Background here.

The Art Newspaper on the Garima Gospels

THE ART NEWSPAPER on the Garima Gospels:
Discovery of earliest illuminated manuscript

Revised dating places Garima Gospels before 650—none from Ethiopia previously dated before 12th century By Martin Bailey

By Martin Bailey | From issue 214, June 2010
Published online 14 Jul 10 (Features)

What could be the world’s earliest illustrated Christian manuscript has been found in a remote Ethiopian monastery. The Garima Gospels were previously assumed to date from about 1100AD, but radiocarbon dating conducted in Oxford suggests they were made between 330 and 650AD.

This discovery looks set to transform our knowledge about the development of illuminated manuscripts. It also throws new light on the spread of Christianity into sub-Saharan Africa.

The Garima Gospels are preserved in an isolated monastery in the Tigray region, set among mountains at 7,000 feet. No other Ethiopian manuscripts can be dated from before the 12th century. So the Garima Gospels represent a unique survival of an early Christian text in sub-Saharan Africa—pre-dating all others by more than 500 years.

More please.

DId Jesus speak Hebrew (only) and Greek?

MORE FROM MARK D. ROBERTS on the languages Jesus may have spoken:
Examining "the Biblical Truth" That Jesus Spoke Hebrew Part I and Part II
Bottom line: sometimes in the New Testament Hebraidi [Greek word now the correct form] clearly means "in Aramaic." Usage trumps etymology.
Did Jesus Speak Greek?
The circumstantial case is good:
Though the New Testament Gospels do not tell us whether Jesus spoke Greek or not, they do describe situations in which it's likely that Greek was used. In Matthew 8:5-13, for example, Jesus entered into dialogue with a Roman centurion. The centurion almost certainly spoke in Greek. And, as Matthew tells the story, he and Jesus spoke directly, without a translator. Of course it's always possible that a translator was used and simply not mentioned by Matthew. Still, the sense of the story suggests more immediate communication, which would have been in Greek.

The same could be said about Jesus' conversation with Pontius Pilate prior to his crucifixion (Matthew 27:11-14; John 18:33-38). Once again, there is the possibility of an unmentioned translator. But the telling of the story points to a Greek-speaking Jesus. (Pilate would have used Greek, not Latin, as imagined by Mel Gibson in The Passion of the Christ. And it's unlikely that he would have known or used Aramaic. Pilate was not the sort of man who would stoop to use the language of common Jews.)

If Jesus knew enough Greek to converse with a Roman centurion and a Roman governor, where did he learn it? Some have suggested that he might have learned it during his early years in Egypt. A more likely explanation points to his location in Galilee. Though Aramaic was the first language of Nazareth, Jesus' hometown was a short walk from Sepphoris, which was a major city and one in which Greek was spoken. Jesus quite probably had clients in Sepphoris who utilized his carpentry services, and he would have spoken with them in Greek.

But given the multi-lingual context in which Jesus lived, it's not surprising that he would have been reasonably fluent in Greek and Hebrew, in addition to Aramaic. People in the United States often have a hard time understanding this. But if you've known people who have grown up in Europe, for example, they often can get by in several languages, including English, German, Spanish, and French, even if their first language is Italian.
Earlier installments here.

A scientific diagram of the ancient Hebrew cosmos

A SCIENTIFIC DIAGRAM of the ancient Hebrew cosmos.

Ninth of Av thoughts on Milgrom and Greenberg

Remembering the Temple, Its Destruction and Its Scholars

By Jonah Lowenfeld (Jewish Journal)

This week, when Jews around the world mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples, some may also think back on two rabbi-scholars who died this spring, both known for helping us understand the ritual practices of the First Temple, as well as Ezekiel’s prophecies about its destruction.

Rabbi Jacob Milgrom devoted the bulk of his career to studying the sections of the Torah that describe ancient Israelite practices during the First Temple period; he died in Jerusalem in early June. Rabbi Moshe Greenberg’s work on the book of Ezekiel helped contextualize the prophet’s words in the history of the ancient Near East and explain their meaning using the lens of modern biblical scholarship. He died in late May, also in Jerusalem.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Zoroaster in the Guardian

ZOROASTER, the ancient Iranian prophet, gets some press in the Guardian:
Zoroaster – forgotten prophet of the one God

The Abrahamic religions were preceded, and decisively influenced by, followers of an earlier prophet

o John Palmer
o, Tuesday 13 July 2010 15.29 BST
o Article history

The tiny world wide communities of Zoroastrians are no doubt pleased to get any mention in Cif belief – even if it is only to provide alphabetical balance to a list starting with the Bahá'ís. Even those who take a close interest in the more exotic or esoteric of religions tend to have a vague grasp on what the followers of the ancient Persian (or maybe Bactrian) prophet, Zarathustra (Zoroaster in Greek) – born around 800 BC – actually believed. This is a great pity since even a non-believer must be impressed with the evidence of how the religious ideas first expressed by Zoroaster were fundamental in shaping what emerged as Judaism after the 5th century BC and thus deeply influenced the other Abrahamic religions – Christianity and Islam.

The exact date of Zoroaster is debated by specialists, as is the degree of influence of Zoroastrianism on ancient Judaism. At the same time, it is undeniable that there was some influence. For example the word "Paradise" (originally meaning "walled garden) is a Persian word, as are a number of other words used in late texts in the Hebrew Bible (such as Daniel) and in the Dead Sea Scrolls. To what degree Zoroastrian eschatology influenced Jewish apocalyptic eschatology is a more difficult question.

It's good to see these issues being discussed in the press. (Cif belief, by the way, is the Guardian blog in which this essay appears.)

HB/Jewish Studies job at Chester University

JOB at the University of Chester:
Senior Lecturer in Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies

Job details

Applications are invited for the post of Senior Lecturer in Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies. We intend to appoint for commencement not later than 1 January 2011.

You will have a PhD in biblical studies, and experience in teaching, supervision, module development and programme leadership in higher education. You will be able to contribute academic leadership in biblical studies, and will be an active researcher with strong research-based publications. We hope you will also be able to contribute to undergraduate teaching in Jewish Studies, and will have additional expertise in a field such as: Bible and Film, Bible and Art, Bible and Culture, Bible and Popular Culture, Bible and Critical Theory.

Our Department of Theology and Religious Studies enjoys growing renown for excellence in research and teaching, with particular, but not exclusive, reference to religions in the contemporary world. Our ethos is collegiate and ambitious.
The closing date is 22 July, so don't dawdle. Follow the link to download more information.

(Via Viv Rowett on the SOTS list.)

Monday, July 12, 2010

14th c. BCE cuneiform fragment found in Jerusalem

Oldest written document ever found

By BEN HARTMAN (Jerusalem Post)
07/12/2010 01:56

Archeologists unearth 14th century BCE fragment.

Hebrew University excavations recently unearthed a clay fragment dating back to the 14th century BCE, said to be the oldest written document ever found in Jerusalem.

The tiny fragment is only 2 cm. by 2.8 cm. in surface area and 1 cm. thick and appears to have once been part of a larger tablet. Researchers say the ancient fragment testifies to Jerusalem’s importance as a major city late in the Bronze Age, long before it was conquered by King David.

The minuscule fragment contains Akkadian words written in ancient cuneiform symbols. Researchers say that while the symbols appear to be insignificant, containing simply the words “you,” “you were,” “them,” “to do,” and “later,” the high quality of the writing indicates that it was written by a highly skilled scribe. Such a revelation would mean that the piece was likely written for tablets that were part of a royal household.

The find was uncovered in a fill taken from the Ophel area, which lies between the Old City’s southern wall and the City of David. The Ophel digs are being carried out by Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University Institute of Archeology, through funding from US donors Daniel Mintz and Meredith Berkman of New York.

According to Mazar, the fragment was discovered over a month and a half ago during wet sifting of the Ophel excavations, but was only released to the press this week because researchers wanted to wait until analysis of the piece was complete so as to be absolutely certain of the details of the find.

The most ancient piece of writing found in Jerusalem before the Ophel fragment was a tablet unearthed in the Shiloah water in the City of David, dating back to the eighth century BCE – nearly 600 years “younger” than the Ophel find.
First of all, boo to the Jerusalem Post for the sensationalist headline. The oldest written document found in Jerusalem is not the oldest document found anywhere by a long shot. Mesopotamian cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyphic texts go back something like fifteen hundred years earlier.

Second, although this fragment is the oldest text discovered in Jerusalem, we have other texts of the same age from Jerusalem which were found in Egypt among the Amarna letters. The six Akkadian letters from Abdi-Heba, the king(let) of Jerusalem, to the Pharaoh of Egypt also date to the fourteenth century BCE. So this find doesn't tell us much that we didn't already know, although it is exciting actually to find a cuneiform table in Jerusalem, even if it is only a small piece whose text doesn't give any connected sense.

(I no longer try to keep up with Akkadian studies, so the links above are for general information only. I make no claims about their detailed accuracy or the accuracy of the translation of the letter.)
Hebrew University Prof. Wayne Horowitz, a scholar of Assyriology, deciphered the script with the assistance of his former graduate student Dr.

Takayoshi Oshima. Horowitz said that while the script was too broken to get context out of it, the quality of the writing gave some indication of the creator’s pedigree.

“What we can see is that the piece was written in very good script and the tablet was constructed very well. This indicates that the person responsible for creating the tablet was a first-class scribe.

In those days, you would expect to find a first-class scribe only in a large, important place,” he said.

According to Horowitz, the high quality of the tablet piece indicates that it was most likely part of a message sent from a then-king of Jerusalem to the pharaoh in Egypt.

Horowitz said that the fragment, which is made of Jerusalem clay, indicated that Jerusalem was one of the central cities of the area at the time.

“This shows Jerusalem was not a provincial backwater, [but] one of the main cities of the area,” he said.
I'm not sure whether the quality of the script and tablets from the Amarna correspondence already told us this information or whether it is new to this find. I would like to see the claims about the centrality of Jerusalem put into the context of what we know already about fourteenth-century Jerusalem from the Amarna correspondence.

It's interesting that a letter apparently from Jerusalem ("made of Jerusalem clay") and presumably sent elsewhere was found in Jerusalem. An archive copy?
Mazar called the fragment “one of the most important finds we’ve ever had” and said she hoped it would lead to further big discoveries.

“A piece this small wouldn’t have been sitting there all by itself; there have to be more pieces like it,” she said.

One would hope so. There must be cuneiform archives from this period somewhere in Israel and sooner or later one will be found. Yadin thought he knew where the Late Bronze Age archive was at Hazor and he was about to look for it when he died. So far, a quarter of a century later and after more excavations at Hazor, the archive hasn't been found.

Note also that Duane Smith has a recent blog post that ties this new fragment to his earlier extensive discussions of the relevant Amarna letters and other contemporary cuneiform evidence from Palestine.

UPDATE (15 July): More here

Sunday, July 11, 2010

New JSIJ article

JEWISH STUDIES, AN INTERNET JOURNAL has posted a new article:
Gilad Sasson, "The Story of David’s Captivity in the Hands of Yishbi Be-Nov in Tractate Sanhedrin of the Babylonian Talmud – Sources, Editing, Structure and Plot in the Service of an Ideological Message" (in Hebrew)


In the expansion of the Biblical story of David’s captivity in the hands of Yishbi Be-Nov, which appears in Tractate Sanhedrin of the Babylonian Talmud, God offers David two options: captivity or the destruction of his descendants. David chooses the first option and is captured and led to Yishbi. At the same time, God takes measures, through Avishai, to thwart the execution of His own edict by causing David to change his decision. The plot describes David’s transition from passive to active after he changes his mind.

This story has attracted the attention of scholars of folklore, who have found parallel versions in extra-rabbinic sources. This article wishes to add two new directions to that of existing research: (a) clarification of the formation of the story in light of parallel versions in rabbinic literature; (b) literary analysis of the story. Integration of these three research approaches exposes the creative method of the narrator, who combines motifs from the literature of the Sages and from other sources and adapts them, using literary devices. He thus develops the plot towards a surprising message: God’s love for David overrides the strict letter of the law.
The full article is downloadable as a pdf or Word file here.