Saturday, March 26, 2011

Another press release on the inscribed lead plates.

A NEW PRESS RELEASE on those inscribed lead plates has been posted by David Larsen. David reports that he got it from Rick Huchel, who got it in turn from Margaret Barker. It seems to be a different formulation of essentially the same information found in the other press release, noted here.

Ed Cook's dissertation on Targum Pseudo- Jonathan now online

ED COOK has posted his 1986 doctoral dissertation to Rewriting the Bible: The Text and Language of the Pseudo-Jonathan Targum.

Bart Ehrman on biblical pseudepigraphy

BART D. EHRMAN takes biblical pseudepigraphy to task at the Huffington Post: Who Wrote The Bible and Why It Matters.

I don't dispute his take on the particular examples he advances, but the problem of ancient biblical and related pseudepigraphy is rather more complicated than it being "lies." And I prefer to translate "pseudepigrapha" as "fictional writings" rather than "writing that is inscribed with a lie." This is not to evade the issue of truth — some pseudepigraphy was lies — but to acknowledge that sometimes more was going on. See my 2006 SBL paper "'Scripture' as Prophetically Revealed Writings" for a more nuanced approach.

Childers and Childers at St. Catherine's Monastery

MORE ON THE VISIT TO ST. CATHERINE'S MONASTERY by Jeff Childers and his daughter Rebekah — he to work on Syriac manuscripts and she for honors research on the world's holy places.

Background here.

Volunteer reports on Ashkelon excavation in NYT

NYT: IN ISRAEL, TREASURES FOR THOSE WILLING TO DIG. Volunteer Sam Roberts reports on the excavation at Ashkelon. I dug at Ashkelon for two seasons in the 1980s.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Portier-Young, Apocalypse against Empire

Anathea E. Portier-Young (Foreward by John J. Collins), Apocalypse against Empire: Theologies of Resistance in Early Judaism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2011)

BAR collection of forgery articles

BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY REVIEW is highlighting a collection of articles on items thought to be forged antiquities and the associated forgery trial in Israel:
Explore the remarkable and hotly debated antiquities in "the forgery trial of the century"

With a verdict soon expected in the "forgery trial of the century," this month the BAS Library features the remarkable antiquities that have been at the center of the forgery debate, including the now-famous first-century C.E. ossuary (or bone box) inscribed "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus," and the Yehoash tablet which, if authentic, would be the first royal inscription of an Israelite king ever found. Also featured is an overview of the trial's major players and key arguments, including the forgery charges leveled against the two remaining defendants, Oded Golan and Robert Deutsch.
The link to the articles is here (top item, labeled "Featured Articles").

This seems timely, given the significant concerns about forgery in the case of the recently publicized (publicized, not published) lead plates inscribed with Hebrew.

Follow the links for past PaleoJudaica coverage of the James Ossuary and the Jehoash inscription.

Khirbet Midras Mosaics Vandalized

TODD BOLEN: Khirbet Midras Mosaics Vandalized. This is tragic.

Background to the site (reputedly the tomb of a prophet Zechariah as well) here.

The Smithsonian: What is Beneath the Temple Mount?

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: The Smithsonian's Joshua Hammer asks What is Beneath the Temple Mount? A long and thorough article that covers the issues broadly and accurately. The focus is on the Temple Mount sifting project, although the Mughrabi (Mugrabi) Gate bridge receives attention as well. The conclusion:
Leading me outside the plastic-covered building, Barkay squints into the sunlight. We can see the Temple Mount in the distance, the sunlight glinting off the golden-topped Dome of the Rock. “We’ve been working for six years, and we’ve gone through 20 percent of the material,” he says, pointing to huge heaps of earth that fill an olive grove below the tent. “We have another 15 to 20 years to go.”
Read it all.

Review of Dura Europos exhibit at McMullen Museum

ANOTHER REVIEW of the Dura-Europos exhibition in Boston:
Ancient city’s diversity on display
‘Crossroads’ exhibit offers holistic look at military, religious, and other artifacts

By Sebastian Smee (Boston Globe)


It’s not hard to see, then, why scholars specializing in Jewish studies, early Christian studies, or ancient civilizations were agog, and why the scholarship sprouting from the discovery of Dura-Europos tended to divide and splinter into these specialist areas.

“Dura-Europos: Crossroads of Antiquity,’’ a fascinating exhibition at the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College, is an attempt to glue all this scholarship together. The show, organized by Yale University’s Lisa Brody and Boston College’s Gail Hoffman, is an attempt to display the full spectrum of archeologists’ discoveries at Dura-Europos, from military shields to children’s shoes, and from engagement rings to divorce decrees.

Background here.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Happy 8th blogiversary to PaleoJudaica!


UPDATE: Last year's anniversary post, with links to earlier ones, is here. The counter stands at 776,772 total individual hits (88,576 unique hits in the last year) and 1,141,800 total page views (we broke a million this year).

Thanks for coming, thanks to all those who send me items of interest, and all of you please keep coming back!

Here are some of my favorite posts from the last year. Follow background links as applicable.

Those lead plates inscribed with Hebrew
The Tomb of Zechariah?
Zodiac Mosaics in ancient synagogues in the Land of Israel
Did the Hekhalot Literature and Kabbalah involve meditation?
Sarah Palin and "blood libel"
The Raphael Golb Dead-Sea-Scrolls identity-theft case
"What Just Happened" (my SBL paper)
Review of Peter Schäfer, The Origins of Jewish Mysticism (my other SBL paper)
UNESCO on Rachel's Tomb and the Tomb of the Patriarchs
The Son of Man (interaction with Mark D. Roberts)
Search engine referrals for the past five years
Why we need Akkadian (and the humanities)
No, this computer didn't decipher Ugaritic
Robert McL. Wilson, R.I.P.
The Iraqi Jewish archive
Israel, Transhumanism, Science Fiction, the Book of Enoch, and Narnia
Pseudepigrapha terrorism

Tips on Reading the Oxyrhynchus Papyri

N.S. GILL: Typographical Tips on Reading the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, with an example here.

Secret Mark Conference: Preliminary Programme

A PRELIMINARY PROGRAMME for the Secret Mark day-conference at York University in April has been posted by Tony Burke at Apocryphicity.

Background here.

UNESCO asks Libya, allied forces to respect ancient cultural sites

PHOENICIAN/PUNIC WATCH: UNESCO asks Libya, allied forces to respect ancient cultural sites.

New excavation at Byblos

PHOENICIAN WATCH — a new excavation at Byblos is noted by the Lebanon Star: Ruins of Jbeil's Phoenician port to be uncovered.

PETA: Don't call animals 'it' in the Bible

CAN'T MAKE IT UP: PETA: Don't call animals 'it' in the Bible.

Aside from the grammatical problems, I don't see how anyone who has read the book of Leviticus can conclude that the biblical God has much concern for anti-speciesist inclusivity.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Petition: A Call to Protect Egyptian Antiquities

PETITION: A Call to Protect Egyptian Antiquities.

Conflict over Mount of Olives graves

CONFLICT IN JERUSALEM over the ancient and modern graves on the Mount of Olives: Desecration, attacks at ancient Jewish cemetery (AP).

Time Magazine on Asherah

TIME MAGAZINE takes note of Francesca Stravrakopoulou's BBC series: Fertility Goddess Asherah: Was 'God's Wife' Edited Out of the Bible? Fun stuff.

Background here.

Talmud Keys 1.1 released – Users can Add New Entries to Dictionary

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Talmud Keys 1.1 released – Users can Add New Entries to Dictionary.

Funding antiquities in Israel

Milken Institute brainstorms funding for Israel heritage sites

by Michele chabin, Contributing Writer (Jewish Journal)

Jerusalem — It’s one thing to unearth ancient artifacts, remnants of glorious past civilizations; it’s another thing to pay for their excavation, maintenance and conservation.

That’s long been the challenge for Israel — and other nations with historically deep roots — whose archaeological and other heritage sites far outnumber the financial means to support them.

The Milken Institute, a Santa Monica-based economic think tank, has come up with a plan to alleviate the problem. Its recent report, “Cultural Heritage as an Economic Development Resource in Israel,” says the kinds of start-up financing models used in the private economic sphere “could not only help preserve and protect” the country’s 30,000 identified archaeological sites, “but also provide local and national economic growth.”

The plan seems mostly to involve ways of generating private funding. I hope some of the ideas are successful.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Press release on those inscribed lead plates

THERE'S NOW A PRESS RELEASE on those inscribed lead plates:Sealed

Via James McGrath, who got it from Jim West.

The claim is that these are first-century Jewish-Christian documents, but nothing in the description seems to me to point compellingly to any Christian element. The suggestion that the Hebrew text is "in code" is possible (the Mt. Zion stone cup may be a precedent and there are Dead Sea Scrolls in code as well) but it's also convenient and may mean that the plates are just forgeries with gibberish text.

The first order of business is to secure the collection and get it to a safe place where it can be studied properly. The second is to subject it to a rigorous process of authentication, about which I have already commented here (dead link now fixed). If the texts prove to be genuine (I remain skeptical), that will be very exciting indeed.

Meanwhile, is it really quite necessary to make a documentary film about them right now? Sigh.

Stay tuned ...

UPDATE (30 March): More on the inscribed plates here, here, and here. Plus tangentially related posts here, here, and here

Wayne Stiles on Casaerea

DR. WAYNE STILES: Sites and Insight: Caesarea’s Ancient Harbor and Palace.

Background on this new Jerusalem Post column is here.

More on Enoch game

MORE ON EL SHADDAI: ASCENSION OF THE METATRON at Remnant of Giants, a blog on the giants of the Bible and their reception: New Downloadable Video Game: You are Enoch and you must defeat the Fallen Angels.

Background here.

Baylor KJB@400 conference and exhibition

KJB@400 WATCH: Baylor University is holding a conference and exhibition in honor of the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible:
Baylor also will host a free exhibition of more than 100 items — among them a Dead Sea Scroll, an illustrated Gutenberg Bible and a text handwritten by King Henry VIII about the sacraments — on loan from the Oklahoma-based Green Collection.

The conference — “The King James Bible and the World It Made, 1611-2011” — will be hosted by Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion from Thursday, April 7, through Saturday, April 9, at George W. Truett Theological Seminary on the Baylor campus in Waco. The exhibition will run concurrently in the Hankamer Treasure Room at Baylor’s Armstrong Browning Library.


Visitors to the free exhibition may view 100 items on loan from the Green Collection, including early printings of the Bible, Hebrew scrolls and medieval manuscripts, said Dr. David Lyle Jeffrey, Distinguished Professor of Literature and the Humanities in Baylor’s Honors College, as well as a Distinguished Senior Fellow and Director of Manuscript Research in Scripture and Tradition at the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion.

Among the items will be a Dead Sea Scroll containing Genesis 31; a Torah taken from a Jewish community in Spain during the Inquisition; and the so-called “Wicked Bible,” in which the printer made an error and left out the “not” in the commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” Jeffrey said.

“There were unfortunate consequences for the printer — a big fine and some jail time,” he said.

Another remarkable item is the Codex Climaci Rescriptus, a manuscript of Scripture that dates from the sixth century. It was written on vellum in Palestinian Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus. But Greek became the preferred translation, and because vellum — skin of calves, goats or lambs — was so costly, a writer re-used it, gently scraping away much of the Aramaic and writing a commentary in Greek atop the original script. But with a particular type of camera, a viewer can see through the overwritten text to the Aramaic beneath, he said. The commentary previously was kept in a library of St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai, Egypt, Jeffrey said.

Background on Codex Climaci Rescriptus is here.

Schneerson Library update

No reasons to take Schneerson Library out of Russia - Shvydkoy

Moscow, March 22, Interfax - The Schneerson Library cannot be taken out to the United States from Russia, presidential envoy for international cultural cooperation Mikhail Shvydkoy told Interfax.

"The Schneerson collection is part of the Russian State Library's collection, which, in turn, is indivisible and cannot be subject to separation," he said.

The Chabad-Lubavitch library in New York has been trying to acquire this library. Background here (second story in the post).

Update on the inscribed metal plates

UPDATE ON THE INSCRIBED METAL PLATES: Reader Justin Kerk has referred me to a 2007 discussion on the Unicode mailing list of "Menorah- and Hebrew-inscribed lead plates of dubious provenance." These may be the plates currently in the news.

The Unicode list posts are here and here. There are two images, which can be downloaded here and here. Neither are particularly clear, although many letters and much of the decoration are visible. The text is written in the paleo-Hebrew script. The article linked to in this post has a photo of one codex of the newly reported metal plates, but it is terrible; I can't read any of the script or see any of the inscribed decorations clearly. Also, the binding is not visible. Nevertheless, it seems likely enough that the Unicode plates are from the same corpus.

We need the following for this supposed find to be shown to be a genuine collection of ancient books:

1. Publication in a scholarly journal of the metal analysis that shows the lead to be ancient.

2. Publication in a scholarly journal of the carbon-14 tests that show the associated leather to be ancient and of a comparable date to the lead.

Even if the antiquity of the materials is demonstrated, this proves nothing, since ancient materials are sometimes available on which to write fake inscriptions.

3. Publication of the location and details of the supposed discovery and analysis of the site by archaeologists.

4. Analysis of the patina of the script which demonstrates the writing to be ancient. If it is modern and unretouched, this will be obvious. If it has been retouched to seem ancient, this may or may not be detectable (see the controversy over the patina of the James Ossuary and the Jehoash inscription).

5. Full publication of all the texts with good photographs.

6. Analysis of the script by paleographers.

7. If things still look promising at this point, it will become worthwhile for philologists to take an interest and start trying to decipher the texts. So far, epigrapher Andre Lemaire has seen some of them and does not consider them genuine.

Inevitably, people will be now trying their hand at what is readable in the current photographs (if we assume they are from the same corpus). I don't have time to bother with this right now, but I would be interested in hearing what others come up with.

8. Analysis of the decorations by specialists in ancient iconography.

9. Publication of all of the above in peer-review journals and monographs.

There's probably more, but this is what I can think of off the top of my head.

So ... don't hold your breath; this will take some time. I repeat, I am very skeptical, but I would love to be proved wrong.

Additional background here (immediately preceding post).

UPDATE: Press release here.

Monday, March 21, 2011

More on that cache of metal books


The Daily Mail has picked up the story from Sunday's London Times:
Are lead tablets discovered in a remote cave in Jordan the secret writings about the last years of Jesus?

By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 3:54 PM on 21st March 2011

Artefacts discovered in a remote cave in Jordan could hold a contemporary account of the last years of Jesus.

The find of scrolls and 70 lead codices - tiny credit-card-sized volumes containing ancient Hebrew script talking of the Messiah and the Resurrection - has excited biblical scholars.

Much of the writing is in code, but experts have deciphered images, symbols and a few words and the texts could be 2,000 years old.

Some academics are sceptical about the discovery because there have been numerous hoaxes and sophisticated fakes produced over the years.

Many of the codices are sealed which suggests that they could be secret writings referred to in the apocryphal Book of Ezra - an appendage to some versions of the Bible.

Texts have been written on little sheets of lead bound together with wire.

The treasure trove was found five years ago by an Israeli Bedouin and may have been around since the 1st century, around the time of Jesus's crucifixion and Resurrection.

I saw the Times article in hard copy (it's behind a subscription wall online), but recycled the paper and don't have it now. Still, I'm sure it didn't say anything about the plates holding any "contemporary account of the last years of Jesus." This must be some silly misunderstanding by the Mail reporter. Otherwise, the piece looks like a reasonably faithful summary of the Times article.

The passage referred to in the "Apocryphal Book of Ezra" is 4 Ezra 14:38-48:
[38] And on the next day, behold, a voice called me, saying, "Ezra, open your mouth and drink what I give you to drink."
[39] Then I opened my mouth, and behold, a full cup was offered to me; it was full of something like water, but its color was like fire.
[40] And I took it and drank; and when I had drunk it, my heart poured forth understanding, and wisdom increased in my breast, for my spirit retained its memory;
[41] and my mouth was opened, and was no longer closed.
[42] And the Most High gave understanding to the five men, and by turns they wrote what was dictated, in characters which they did not know. They sat forty days, and wrote during the daytime, and ate their bread at night.
[43] As for me, I spoke in the daytime and was not silent at night.
[44] So during the forty days ninety-four books were written.
[45] And when the forty days were ended, the Most High spoke to me, saying, "Make public the twenty-four books that you wrote first and let the worthy and the unworthy read them;
[46] but keep the seventy that were written last, in order to give them to the wise among your people.
[47] For in them is the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom, and the river of knowledge."
[48] And I did so. (RSV)
I'm not going to get excited about this supposed discovery until the texts have undergone and passed multiple authentication tests which have been published in peer-reviewed venues. Meanwhile, if the owners are serious about convincing scholars of their authenticity, let them post good photographs of all the plates online.

Background here, with what is probably a better description of the apparent contents of the plates.

UPDATE (22 March): More here (next post).

News on Golb appeal

ROBERT CARGILL has news and commentary on Raphael Golb's appeal in the Dead Sea Scrolls identity-theft case. And Raphael Golb has posted the text of the appeal brief here.

Background here and here.

JHS article: Bachmann, “The Book of The Watchers ..."

THE JOURNAL OF HEBREW SCRIPTURES has published a new article:
Veronika Bachmann, “The Book of The Watchers (1 Enoch 1-36): An Anti-Mosaic, Non-Mosaic, or Even Pro-Mosaic Writing?"


The Book of the Watchers (BW) is generally considered a non-Mosaic if not an anti-Mosaic writing. In more recent research, discussions on the meaning of such labels are ever so prevalent. Nevertheless, the positions do not move far beyond the common patterns of interpretation. The present paper explores the different presuppositions and arguments supporting the assumption of the non- or even anti-Mosaic character of the BW and proposes a reading beyond the antagonism “Enochic” versus “Mosaic.”
To download the article directly as a PDF file, click here.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Is there a link between indie music and Gnosticism?

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: Is there a link between indie music and Gnosticism?

Wendy Fonarow, the Guardian's indie professor:
A single correspondence doesn't seem to be enough to suggest a generative theory. However, there could be something to the idea that the valorisation of esoteric knowledge could explain members of the indie community who pride themselves on knowing every chillwave release. So, perhaps Gnosticism is a sect of indie.

Oxyrhynchus papyri at Ancient History

THE OXYRHYNCHUS PAPYRI are discussed in an Ancient/Classical History blog post:
Little-Known Artifacts Shed Light on Early Christianity
Oxyrhynchus Papyri Are Considered Top Early Christian Find

By Cynthia Astle, Contributing Writer
Nothing new, but a convenient capsule summary of some recent material on the subject.

Via N.S. Gill, Oxyrhynchus and Lost Early Christian Documents.

Background here and (e.g.) here (follow the links).

Iraq's Christians Want a Province of Their Own

Iraq's Christians Want a Province of Their Own

Posted GMT 3-18-2011 3:1:7 (AINA)

For the first time ever, Christian leaders have formally demanded the creation of a province in the Ninawa Plain, east of Mosul.

No one can predict whether their demand will be met.

Some people are in favour, because it will encourage Christians to stay in the country, while others say that creating such a province will only isolate Christians from other Iraqis.

The demand came three weeks after the bloody attack on the "Our Lady of Deliverance" Church in Baghdad on 31 October 2010.


The Ninawa Plain, with an area of more than five thousand square kilometers, equal to both the regions of al-Muthanna and al-Qadisiyah in southern Iraq, is inhibited by more than half a million people.

The area consists of three districts: al-Hamdaniya, Sheekhan and Tallkeef. It is inhibited by a Christian majority, but there are also other ethnicities and followers of other religions such as the Yazidis, the Shabak and some Shiites, Turkmen and Arabs.

Christians living in this region speak the Syriac language. After 2003, the Iraqi government allowed the use of this language in most of the region's schools.

Christian parties and organisations have held two meetings: one in the city of Erbil in November 2010, and the second in the capital, Baghdad in January 2011.

The outcome was a memorandum to the presidencies of the republic, the parliament and the council of ministers, demanding the creation of a province for "Chaldo-Assyrian Syriac people" in the Ninawa Plain, and the establishment of autonomous rule for Christians in areas where they constitute a majority in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.