Saturday, February 18, 2012

Another review of Footnote

FOOTNOTE is reviewed by Harvey Karten at He gives it an overall mark of B+. Excerpt:
With Amit Poznansky’s soundtrack alternating between Hitchcockian music and frothy beats, the two themes seeming to change suddenly, the stage is set for suspense with a satirical dimension aimed at showing academic infighting that is as much a factor in Israel as it is in America. Will Uriel risk enraging his dad by telling him the bad news? Strange to say, this conflict over a remote scholarly endeavor provides as much tension in the audience as would a thriller with Uzis and exploding cars.
Since its recent Academy Award nomination, it has been getting some attention again.

Background here and links.

Friday, February 17, 2012

New on Torleif Elgvin's website

TORLEIF ELGVIN has made some additions to his website: These include the full text of his just-published article "Notes on the Gabriel Inscription" from Semitica 54 (2012). In his e-mail he adds:
There are also news of (sponsoring of) a new Nowegian-based network in Qumran studies entitled 'Biblical’ Texts Older than the Bible: New Texts, New Publications, New Approaches. We will soon announce a post-doc position in this network, which is centred at University of Agder in Kristiansand (southern Norway).

I have also updated the presentation of the texts we are working on in The Schøyen Collection.
I link to the English version of his site.

UPDATE: THE 'Biblical’ Texts Older than the Bible network has a Facebook page. (HT Liv Ingeborg Lied.)

UPDATE (18 February): And there is more information on the project here (again courtesy of Dr. Lied).

Shabbetai Zvi

MICHAL SCHWARTZ has posted a capsule history of the life of Shabbetai Zvi, with more promised on his later reception: Kabbalah: Sabbatai Zevi - Messiah ben David or Messiah ben Joseph?

I know of no persuasive evidence that the concept of the suffering Messiah ben Joseph was around as early as the first century BCE.

For more on Shabbetai Zvi (Sabbetai Sevi), go here, here, and here, and follow the many links.

Baram's ancient synagogue

Off The Beaten Track: Baram's ancient synagogue

By JOE YUDIN 02/16/2012 16:14

Remains of synagogues throughout the Galilee tell the history of the continuous Jewish presence in Israel.

"Peace be upon this place, and upon all the places in Israel." This Inscription was found in the 19th century on the lintel of the smaller of two synagogues, now destroyed, in Baram.

The Galilee holds some wonderful treasures for any traveler looking for some off the beaten path sites. One of my favorite pastimes is to make my way to the over fifty ruins of ancient synagogues in Israel's northern regions. These synagogues range in age from the first century BCE through the eighth century CE. Some of the synagogues are in the middle of overgrown fields and only accessible by hiking trail or off road vehicle. Others, albeit not many, have been incorporated into national parks that are easily accessible. The best way to see these synagogues is to check out one of the better preserved ones, like at Baram, Capernaum or Khorazin and then seek out the harder to find ones using a trail map.

When I first visited the Baram synagogue, I was simply shocked. Here we have a synagogue, one of at least two that existed in the village, serving a large Jewish community maybe as early as the second century CE through the Middle Ages, and whose façade has remained intact to this day. ...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Codex Climaci Rescriptus update

ETC: Codex Climaci Rescriptus Collaboration. Regular readers will recall that the Codex Climaci Rescriptus is an important Syriac/Aramaic biblical manuscript that went up for auction by Sotheby's in 2009, where it was acquired by the Green collection. It is very good news to hear that it is now being made available for study by eminent specialists.

Background here and links. We've also been hearing recently (here and links) about reported very early Greek New Testament manuscripts that may be part of the Green collection (although as far as I know this has not been officially confirmed).

Temple Mount model back from Switzerland

Tiny model of Temple Mount returns to Jerusalem

140-year-old model on display near Jerusalem's Jaffa Gate, after spending 138 in Basel, Switzerland.

By Nir Hasson (Haaretz)
Tags: Jerusalem East Jerusalem Middle East peace

In one of the rounds of talks between Israel and the Palestinians, the idea came up of dividing the Temple Mount vertically: The Palestinians would get everything aboveground and Israel everything below.

Archaeologist and Jerusalem scholar Shimon Gibson says the next time the subject comes up, the parties should discuss it in Christ Church near Jerusalem's Jaffa Gate, rather than in Oslo or Washington.

That's because since Sunday, Christ Church has been displaying a model of the contentious sacred mount. The work has returned home after nearly a century and a half in Switzerland.

The model was made 140 years ago by the architect and archaeologist Conrad Schick, whose work in Jerusalem was supported by the London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews. Its details reveal that its creator had access to places where no Western scholar of his day was allowed.

Interesting photo. I would like to see one with more detail.

Interview with James Kugel

THE JEWISH LEDGER: Q & A with… Prof. James Kugel. Excerpt:
Q: How did you develop an interest in the Dead Sea Scrolls and their link to Torah?
A: Actually, my first interest wasn’t in the Scrolls, but in what’s called in Hebrew “the outside books” – Jewish writings from the end of the biblical period that, for one reason or another, ended up being excluded from the biblical canon. Most Jews don’t hear much about these books: the book of Ben Sira, Maccabees, Judith, the book of Jubilees, and so forth. But early on, it struck me that if you read a bit between the lines of these books, you can learn a lot about how the Torah was being interpreted in the third or second centuries BCE. This is important for us today, because so many of those interpretations became a fundamental part of how we think about the Bible, and about Judaism, in our own day. So, I started working on these.
At that time, only part of the Dead Sea Scrolls had been published. But as more and more of the Scrolls began to appear, I gravitated to concentrating on them, because there was so much new material there.
Read it all.

More from Professor Kugel, e.g., here, here, and here.

Isaac Newton and ancient Judaism

ISAAC NEWTON had other interests besides calculus and gravity: Israeli library uploads Newton's theological texts (AP).

Some of this material sounds like it would be useful for the history-of-interpretation unit of my honours course on the Book of Daniel

UPDATE: Reader Leor Jacobi sends links to two relevant articles by José Faur in pdf format: Newton, Maimonidean and Esoteric Knowledge and the Vulgar: Parallels between Newton and Maimonides.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

New book: Obbink & Rutherford, Culture in Pieces

NEW BOOK: I Rutherford, D. Obbink, Culture In Pieces: Essays on Ancient Texts in Honour of Peter Parsons. Not directly relevant to ancient Judaism, but treats some of the philological and historical issues that come up often at PaleoJudaica, such as the recovery of lost books.

Wikipedia photographs and the Israel Museum

Wikipedia's archaeology editor slams Israel Museum for prohibiting photography

The Israel Museum objects to giving Wikipedia unfettered access to the ivories, even though by law the artifacts actually belong to the Israel Antiquities Authority.

By Nir Hasson (Haaretz)

Go to the Hebrew-language Wikipedia page on the Megiddo ivories and you'll see a single image of one of hundreds of 12th-century ivory carvings excavated from Tel Megiddo. Below it, a caption reads: "Megiddo ivory, exhibited in the Israel Museum, which won't grant permission to photograph the archaeology wing."

That caption is indicative of the struggle that Hana Yariv, the archaeology editor for the Israeli version of Wikipedia, has been waging against the Israel Museum, in an effort to secure permission to photograph the ivories and post the pictures on the free encyclopedia website.

"These pictures are in the interest of all of us," said Yariv. "Don't they realize they're living in the past?"

The Israel Museum objects to giving Yariv unfettered access to the ivories, even though by law the artifacts actually belong to the Israel Antiquities Authority rather than the museum.

Uzi Dahari, deputy director of the authority, says his institution does not oppose the photography, as long as it doesn't damage the objects - and is not used for commercial purposes.

But that's precisely what the Israel Museum, which the antiquities authority says does have the right to limit access, fears will happen.

I understand that the Israel Museum has to follow its own regulations, but I hope some kind of accommodation can be made here. I can see why they not would want a professional photographer to come in, photograph all the artifacts in the museum, and then make a mint selling them in a coffee table book that competes with the museum's own publications. But electronic photography and the internet have massively lowered the commercial value of photographs (ask any professional photographer about this—it's a real problem). In this case Wikipedia would be providing a valuable, free service that would, as the article observes, only increase attendance at the museum. It would probably also help sell the museum's own publications. Maybe both the Israel Museum and Wikipedia should reexamine their policies and formulate something that works better in the conditions of 2012.

UPDATE: I have inserted the missing "not" into the second sentence of my comments and it should now make sense in context. Sorry about that.

DSS and Hubble nuttiness

ROBERT CARGILL: no, no the dead sea scrolls do not ‘confirm’ the discoveries of the hubble telescope. Indeed.

Personally, when I look up into the night sky without a telescope, I am filled with wonder at the awesome power behind the universe. But maybe that's just me.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A jewish kingdom in late-antique Arabia

The Rise and Fall of a Jewish Kingdom in Arabia

By Glen W. Bowersock
(Institute for Advanced Study)

In these turbulent times in the Middle East, I have found myself working on the rise and fall of a late antique Jewish kingdom along the Red Sea in the Arabian peninsula. Friends and colleagues alike have reacted with amazement and disbelief when I have told them about the history I have been looking at. In the southwestern part of Arabia, known in antiquity as Himyar and corresponding today approximately with Yemen, the local population converted to Judaism at some point in the late fourth century, and by about 425 a Jewish kingdom had already taken shape. For just over a century after that, its kings ruled, with one brief interruption, over a religious state that was explicitly dedicated to the observance of Judaism and the persecu­tion of its Christ­ian population. The record sur­vived over many centuries in Arabic historical writings, as well as in Greek and Syriac accounts of martyred Christians, but incredulous scholars had long been inclined to see little more than a local monotheism overlaid with language and features borrowed from Jews who had settled in the area. It is only within recent decades that enough inscribed stones have turned up to prove definitively the veracity of these surprising accounts. We can now say that an entire nation of ethnic Arabs in southwestern Arabia had converted to Judaism and imposed it as the state religion.

This bizarre but militant kingdom in Himyar was eventually overthrown by an invasion of forces from Christian Ethiopia, across the Red Sea. They set sail from East Africa, where they were joined by reinforcements from the Christian emperor in Constantinople. In the territory of Himyar, they engaged and destroyed the armies of the Jewish king and finally brought an end to what was arguably the most improbable, yet portentous, upheaval in the history of pre-Islamic Arabia. Few scholars, apart from specialists in ancient South Arabia or early Christian Ethiopia, have been aware of these events. A vigorous team led by Christian Julien Robin in Paris has pioneered research on the Jewish kingdom in Himyar, and one of the Institute’s former Members, Andrei Korotayev, a Russian scholar who has worked in Yemen and was at the Institute in 2003–04, has also contributed to recovering this lost chapter of late antique Middle Eastern history.

How interesting. I look forward to seeing Professor Bowersock's forthcoming book.

(Via Abu 'l-Rayhan Al-Biruni.)

A hard story to swallow

TODD BOLEN takes the IAA to task for its sensationalist coverage of the recent Ashdod discoveries: Iron Age Fortress Excavated in Ashdod.

Historical geography is not my specialty and I haven't looked into the details of the press release. But I was pretty irritated by the playing up of the idea "that life did in fact exist there at the time of Jonah the prophet." Did anybody deny that? And so what? It doesn't tell us anything very interesting about the prophet Jonah, assuming there was such a person. (I think that likely enough [2 Kings 14:25 ], without feeling the need to take the tall tale of the big fish seriously.) If they find an Iron-Age II tomb in Ashdod with an inscription about the prophet Jonah son of Amittai, then call me. Special points if it mentions a big fish.

Meanwhile, Todd is spot on in saying "Attempts to sensationalize this story by connecting it to the prophet Jonah should not be allowed to obscure the significance of a fortress recently uncovered in Ashdod."

City-of-David-excavation visitors' center approved and work begun

THAT TOURIST CENTER near the Old City of Jerusalem is going forward apace:
Israel approves new East Jerusalem visitors' compound, razes Palestinian community center

Jerusalem planning and committee approves construction of new visitors’ center at City of David National Park in Silwan.

By Nir Hasson (Haaretz)

The Jerusalem District Planning and Construction Committee approved on Monday the construction of a new visitors’ center at the City of David National Park in Silwan.

As part of this decision, Israel Nature and Parks Authority representatives this morning razed a complex built by Silwan residents that included a playground, community center and cafe.

The new visitors’ center is to be built above the Givati parking lot and will be called the Mercaz Kedem (Kedem Center). The building will be built on stilts and beneath it there will be an area where visitors can view recently discovered archeological findings. The Elad organization promoted the plan and it obtained the support of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who appeared before the district committee earlier today to voice his support.

The Israel Antiquities Authority’s Jerusalem District director, Dr. Yuval Baruch, also expressed support for the plan, despite the presence of archeological findings under the building. “This is one of the most important projects in Jerusalem in recent generations. It would be impossible to find a serious archeologist with a bad word to say about the conduct of the excavations,” said Baruch. “The building as it stands is approved by the Israel Antiquities Authority and was presented to the authority in dozens of meetings.

Background here. I am surprised at the rapidity of these developments. The Arutz Sheva article cited in the Background link said at the end of December that "[t]he planned center and parking lot over the excavations is years away from construction."

Monday, February 13, 2012

Interview of authors of Jewish Annotated New Testament

MARC BRETTLER AND AMY-JILL LEVINE, the authors of The Jewish Annotated New Testament, are interviewed by Jay Michaelson in The Forward: Jewish Roots of the New Testament: New Book Says Much of the Scripture is Jewish Literature. First question:
The JANT strikes me as a tour de force, and it fills much-needed gaps in our knowledge. But why is it important for Jews to read the New Testament?

First, much, if not all, of the New Testament is Jewish literature, and all of it is relevant for understanding Jewish history. The New Testament sheds important light on early Jewish life and literature, from the practice of Halacha relations with Rome to women’s social roles to the meaning of apocalyptic texts. Another rationale for Jews reading the N.T. is respect: If we Jews want Christians to respect Judaism, we owe the church the same respect, and that respect includes knowing what is in the Christian canon.
More on the book here and links.

Back to Oxyrhynchus

Spain: Catalan archaeological mission returns to Egypt

06 February, 18:36

(ANSAmed) - MADRID, FEBRUARY 6 - One year after the uprising in Egypt, the mission of archaeologists and Egyptologists of the University of Barcelona, working in collaboration with the Catalan Egyptology Society, returns to Cairo to resume its excavation work in Oxirrinco. The news is reported by mission director and Egyptology professor Josep Padro, quoted by La Vanguardia.

The goal of the Spanish mission, entering its 20th year, is to ''continue excavating the remains of a large Greek-Roman temple which, because of its position and texts found on papyrus scrolls, could be the Serapeum, dedicated to the god Serapis'', Pardo explains.

Contra the next paragraph in the article, the most famous find at Oxyrhynchus is the massive cache of papyri, of which only about one percent have been deciphered and published in the last century or so (background here and here, and here with many links). I hope the Spanish expedition stays safe. I also hope they find more papyri.

(Via the Agade list.)

UPDATE: I see that the article covered in the first background link says that 1% of the fragments have been edited and published, whereas the one at the third link says 15%. Also, Larry Hurtado quoted the first figure in a 2007 address at the BNTC. In any case, a lot of work remains to be done.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Queen of Sheba's mines?

THE QUEEN OF SHEBA is back in archaeological news:
Archaeologists strike gold in quest to find Queen of Sheba's wealth

A British excavation has struck archaeological gold with a discovery that may solve the mystery of where the Queen of Sheba derived her fabled treasures

Dalya Alberge
The Observer, Sunday 12 February 2012
Article history

A British excavation has struck archaeological gold with a discovery that may solve the mystery of where the Queen of Sheba of biblical legend derived her fabled treasures.

Almost 3,000 years ago, the ruler of Sheba, which spanned modern-day Ethiopia and Yemen, arrived in Jerusalem with vast quantities of gold to give to King Solomon. Now an enormous ancient goldmine, together with the ruins of a temple and the site of a battlefield, have been discovered in her former territory.

Louise Schofield, an archaeologist and former British Museum curator, who headed the excavation on the high Gheralta plateau in northern Ethiopia, said: "One of the things I've always loved about archaeology is the way it can tie up with legends and myths. The fact that we might have the Queen of Sheba's mines is extraordinary."

An initial clue lay in a 20ft stone stele (or slab) carved with a sun and crescent moon, the "calling card of the land of Sheba", Schofield said. "I crawled beneath the stone – wary of a 9ft cobra I was warned lives here – and came face to face with an inscription in Sabaean, the language that the Queen of Sheba would have spoken."

On a mound nearby she found parts of columns and finely carved stone channels from a buried temple that appears to be dedicated to the moon god, the main deity of Sheba, an 8th century BC civilisation that lasted 1,000 years. It revealed a victory in a battle nearby, where Schofield excavated ancient bones.

Although local people still pan for gold in the river, they were unaware of the ancient mine. Its shaft is buried some 4ft down, in a hill above which vultures swoop. An ancient human skull is embedded in the entrance shaft, which bears Sabaean chiselling.

Other archaeologists have been searching for evidence of the Queen of Sheba in Yemen. For much more on archaeology and legend relevant to the Queen of Sheba, go here and follow the many links. See also this more recent link, this notice of a novel involving the Queen, and, finally, the forthcoming translation of the legendary "The Questions of the Queen of Sheba" in the first volume of texts edited for the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project (scroll down to the table of contents).

Back to the Observer article:
Sean Kingsley, archaeologist and author of God's Gold, said: "Where Sheba dug her golden riches is one of the great stories of the Old Testament. Timna in the Negev desert is falsely known as 'King Solomon's Mines', but anything shinier has eluded us.

"The idea that the ruins of Sheba's empire will once more bring life to the villages around Maikado is truly poetic and appropriate. Making the past relevant to the present is exactly what archaeologists should be doing. "
For more on Sean Kingsley and his book, which claims to have deduced where the treasures of Herod's Temple were hidden after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, go here and follow the links.

(Observer story via Joseph I. Lauer.)

Footnote director interviewed

JOSEPH CEDAR is interviewed by Daphne Merkin in The Tablet: Writing Footnote: Director Joseph Cedar on Orthodox Judaism, The Social Network, and the nightmare scenario behind his latest Academy Award-nominated film. Excerpt:
Did you have any model for the kind of film you were trying to make?

It’s a film that can’t be compared to anything. While we were preparing the shoot, we decided that the way the father character sees the world—in extreme detail, the way a philologist looks at a text—was the way we were going to look at the story. Extremely subjectively and not considering the larger context. My previous films had left me with a lot of ideas that I didn’t know how to fit into the story; that’s the way narrative films are. Because of the style of this film, its flexibility, anything that was important to the story found its way onto the screen.
Background on the film and its reception here and links.

Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage

Brock, Sebastian, Aaron Butts, George Kiraz, and Lucas Van Rompay. Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage

Title: Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage
Availability: In Print
Publisher: Gorgias Press
Edited by Sebastian Brock
Edited by Aaron Butts
Edited by George Kiraz
Edited by Lucas Van Rompay
ISBN: 978-1-59333-714-8
Availability: In Print
Publication Date: 9/2011
Language: English
Format: Hardback, Black_ColorInsert, 8.25 x 10.75 in
Pages: 612

The Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage (GEDSH) is the first major encyclopedia-type reference work devoted exclusively to Syriac Christianity, both as a field of scholarly inquiry and as the inheritance of Syriac Christians today. In more than 600 entries it covers the Syriac heritage from its beginnings in the first centuries of the Common Era up to the present day. Special attention is given to authors, literary works, scholars, and locations that are associated with the Classical Syriac tradition. Within this tradition, the diversity of Syriac Christianity is highlighted as well as Syriac Christianity’s broader literary and historical contexts, with major entries devoted to Greek and Arabic authors and more general themes, such as Syriac Christianity’s contacts with Judaism and Islam, and with Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian, and Georgian Christianities. In addition to the literary tradition, inscriptions and objects of art are given due consideration. The entries are accompanied by 131 illustrations, twenty of which are in color. The volume closes with maps, lists of patriarchs of the main Syriac Churches of the Middle East, and elaborate indices.

GEDSH is a collaborative project that involves seventy-six scholars from across the globe. Three of the four editors are associated with major universities in Europe and the United States: Oxford University, Yale University, and Duke University. The fourth editor is the founding director of Beth Mardutho: The Syriac Institute. GEDSH was carried out under the auspices of Beth Mardutho.

Pricing for scholars and students: $98.00
Pricing for institutions: $160
Noted here in December when it was still in press.