Saturday, February 16, 2013

NYT on Golb identity-theft case

THE RAPHAEL GOLB IDENTITY-THEFT CASE is covered in a thorough and well-informed article in the New York Times:
Online Battle Over Sacred Scrolls, Real-World Consequences

Published: February 16, 2013

There is a saying about academia that the disputes are so vicious because the stakes are so low. In the case of Raphael Haim Golb, a son of a Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, the last few years have provided ample support for the first half of the saying. But the second half is less accurate.

In his cluttered fifth-floor walk-up apartment in Greenwich Village, Mr. Golb, 53, is waiting to begin serving a six-month sentence for waging an Internet campaign against his father’s academic rivals, including sending e-mails under a rival professor’s name. The younger Mr. Golb, who has a Ph.D. from Harvard and a law degree from New York University, is six feet tall, 120 pounds; digressive, tightly wound, bookish; a gadfly, an irritant, an obsessive. If you saw him on the street, you might worry about his safety.

Between 2006 and 2009, he created more than 80 online aliases to advance his father’s views about the Dead Sea Scrolls against what he saw as a concerted effort to exclude them. Along the way, according to a jury and a panel of appellate court judges, he crossed from engaging in academic debate to committing a crime.

The current status of the case:
“I’m not saying anybody here acted well,” Mr. [Ronald] Kuby [a lawyer of Mr. Golb's] said. “I just don’t think anybody acted criminally.”

After a three-week trial, the jury ruled otherwise, finding Mr. Golb guilty on 30 of 31 counts, including two felonies. On Jan. 29 he lost again on appeal on all but one count. He is currently out on bail pending a decision by the State Supreme Court on whether or not to hear his appeal. Last week, he was granted permission to go to Chicago, where his father was in the hospital after a minor stroke.
The remark by Mr. Kuby about Robert Cargill's "hurt puppy persona" is generating some commentary—and photoshopping—on Facebook.

Much background on this long, sad story is here with many links.

On 1 Enoch 90:15

EDWARD COOK: A Suggestion About I Enoch 90:15. Sounds plausible to me.

Cross-file under "Aramaic Watch."

UPDATE: Related: Scholarly Papers on 1 Enoch Available For Free (Michael Heiser at PaleoBabble). For you, special deal.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Another reason to learn Latin

NEWS YOU CAN USE: 7 ways to be ready next time news breaks in Latin
If only you'd studied Latin, maybe you could have broken the story of Pope Benedict's resignation

Forthcoming book on source of sin in Second Temple Literature

The Source of Sin and its Nature as Portrayed in Second Temple Literature

Posted on February 7, 2013 by jennfitz

By: Miryam T. Brand, New York University, National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow

My fellowship at the Albright this year has enabled me to further develop the topic of my dissertation with the aim of producing a book for academic readers: Evil Within and Without: The Source of Sin and its Nature as Portrayed in Second Temple Literature, to be published in the Journal of Ancient Judaism Supplement series. The aim of my study has been to examine how sin, specifically, the source of sin, is presented in Second Temple literature, including Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Philo and the Dead Sea Scrolls. These texts are examined according to their genre: prayer texts, narratives, wisdom literature, and covenantal texts (introductions to legal rules).


Thursday, February 14, 2013

More Daf Yomi columns

RECENT DAF YOMI COLUMNS by Adam Kirsh at Tablet Magazine:

Can’t Touch This
Talmudic rabbis debate the reach of permissions and prohibitions, and Jews are rewarded for virtuous behavior
Writing last week about the Talmud’s rule that you cannot extinguish a fire on Shabbat, I noted that presumably an exception must be made for saving human life. I didn’t have to wait long to see how the rabbis approached this question, since it turned out to be one of the major themes of this week’s Daf Yomi reading. When it comes to sick people, women in childbirth, and even suffering animals, the rabbis make clear in Shabbat 128b, the usually strict rules of Shabbat observance can be relaxed or even violated.
Queen for a Day
The rabbis who reasoned about the day of rest also celebrated it. Plus: The Talmud on iPad and in translation.
That praise of Shabbat, typically, comes in the course of a technical discussion about a new area of Shabbat law. What kinds of things can be saved from a fire on Shabbat? This is the main subject of Chapter 16, which proceeds on the assumption—never explicitly stated—that it is forbidden to extinguish a fire on Shabbat, since that is one of the 39 melachot. Presumably the law makes an exception for saving human life, always a chief Talmudic value, but the issue doesn’t come up directly. Instead, the chapter begins with a mishnah about something almost as crucial: Is it permitted to put out a fire in order to save “sacred writings”?
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Review of Nirenberg, Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition

A World Without Jews
An exhilarating new intellectual history argues that anti-Judaism is at the heart of Western culture

By Adam Kirsch|February 13, 2013 7:00 AM|21comments (Tablet)

The title of David Nirenberg’s new book, Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition, uses a term pointedly different from the one we are used to. The hatred and oppression of Jews has been known since the late 19th century as anti-Semitism—a label, it is worth remembering, originally worn with pride by German Jew-haters. What is the difference, then, between anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism? The answer, as it unfolds in Nirenberg’s scholarly tour de force, could be summarized this way: Anti-Semitism needs actual Jews to persecute; anti-Judaism can flourish perfectly well without them, since its target is not a group of people but an idea.

Nirenberg’s thesis is that this idea of Judaism, which bears only a passing resemblance to Judaism as practiced and lived by Jews, has been at the very center of Western civilization since the beginning. From Ptolemaic Egypt to early Christianity, from the Catholic Middle Ages to the Protestant Reformation, from the Enlightenment to fascism, whenever the West has wanted to define everything it is not—when it wants to put a name to its deepest fears and aversions—Judaism has been the name that came most easily to hand. “Anti-Judaism,” Nirenberg summarizes, “should not be understood as some archaic or irrational closet in the vast edifices of Western thought. It was rather one of the basic tools with which that edifice was constructed.”

UPDATE: And here is an essay on the subject by Nirenberg in The Chronicle of Higher Education: Anti-Judaism as a Critical Theory.

Collins on NPR

JOHN COLLINS IS INTERVIEWED ON NPR: 'Dead Sea Scrolls' Live On In Debate And Discovery.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are the ancient manuscripts dating back to the time of Jesus that were found between 1947 and 1956 in caves by the Dead Sea. Since they were first discovered, they have been a source of fascination and debate over what they can teach — and have taught — about Judeo-Christian history. In his new book, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Biography, Yale professor John J. Collins tells the story of the scrolls, their discovery and the controversies surrounding the scholarship of them.

February 14th


Background here and links. Cross-file under "Old Church Slavonic."

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

More discoveries at Qumran

NOT, ALAS, MORE SCROLLS: Dead Sea Cave Yields New Finds (Popular Archaeology).
Led by Dr. Haim Cohen of Israel's Haifa University, a small team ascended a steep escarpment of rocky terrain to the cave each morning at 5.45 a.m. beginning on November 28 for several weeks of painstaking excavation. The routine climb took 2 hours to reach the excavation site, a cave where Cohen had previously conducted excavations in 2003 and 2006. Cave 27, also called the "Mikveh Cave" or Cave of the Pool at Nahal David, is best known for the Second Temple period (530 BCE to 70 CE) mikveh, or ritual cleansing pool, dated to the time of the first centuries B.C. and A.D. It was discovered and excavated just outside the cave entrance. The cave is located in a cliff approximately 400 meters above the Dead Sea and is accessible from a plateau above the cave. Among the many other finds excavated in past seasons were Early Roman period potsherds, flint tools, remains of straw matting, textiles, date pits, ropes, olive pits, animal bones, two coins of Agrippa I, a glass bottle, an iron trilobate arrowhead from the Early Roman period, a pottery seal with a geometric decoration considered to be from the Chalcolithic period, and an ashen hearth. The most intriguing questions, however, have surrounded the presence of the mikveh at the entrance to the cave, a relatively unusual location for such a feature.

Now, Cohen and his team have uncovered new artifacts and items that will add to their database of finds, a body of information or evidence that will help them answer some important questions about what the cave was used for, who may have inhabited or used the cave, and what significance the cave holds. Their most recent efforts have uncovered a large amount of pottery dated to the Second Temple period, and some dated to the Chalcolithic and Iron Age. Other finds included a few fragments of Roman period blown glass, identified as the base and rim pieces of perfume bottles; and an abundance of organic material such as twigs, branches of palm trees, animal bones, fragments of reed and straw, dates (one remarkably well preserved), rope, (including one knotted around a ceramic handle), fabric and leather, including a remarkably well preserved part of a sandal.
Via the Agade list and others.

Samaritan brides again

How Ukrainian women saved the Samaritans of Mount Gerizim
The Samaritans of Mount Gerizim were a rapidly dwindling religious community facing extinction. Then a handful of young Ukrainian brides made the journey to the West Bank, bringing with them fresh hope

Harriet Sherwood
The Guardian, Monday 11 February 2013

For decades, it seemed as though one of the world's smallest religious communities was doomed. Dwindling and insular, the Samaritans of Mount Gerizim were struggling to survive as inbreeding produced generation after generation of children with serious disabilities on an isolated hilltop in the biblical landscape of the West Bank.

But the threat of extinction is now receding after the deployment of the twin weapons of advanced medical science and internet marriage agencies to import brides from Ukraine. In fact, the community of four extended families totalling 320 people is now looking forward to rapid growth.

"We're hoping our numbers will reach 10,000 in 10 years," jokes high priest Aharon Ben-Av Chisda, with more optimism than realistic prediction. "Before, we were worried about the future of our community. Now we have hope."

Much of this hope stems from five young Ukrainian women who have injected fresh blood to Mount Gerizim after swapping a life of bleak prospects, dismal housing and badly paid employment for space, security and strict observance of the religious dictates of the ancient Samaritan community.

Earlier coverage indicated that eleven Ukrainian women had recently joined the community.

Herod exhibition opens

THE HEROD THE GREAT EXHIBITION AT THE ISRAEL MUSEUM is now open and is raising predictable political issues: "Herod the Great" show in Israel angers Palestinians (Reuters).
Palestinians said the artefacts were removed without their consent from Herodium, the builder-king's excavated palace on an arid hilltop a short drive from Jerusalem.

The Palestinian minister of tourism and antiquities, Rula Ma'ayah, told Reuters all Israeli archaeological activities in the West Bank were illegal.
Also, the Daily Mail has a review with some nice photos: Inside Herod's house: Fascinating exhibition of 2,000-year-old treasures belonging Biblical king who tried to kill baby Jesus... including his bathtub.

Background here and here and links.

Cyrus Cylinder coming soon to USA

THE CYRUS CYLINDER is going on display at the Smithsonian next month: Cyrus Cylinder Brings 2,600 Years of World History to Smithsonian in U.S. Debut (/PRNewswire). This press release covers the usual ground, including the rather inflated view of Cyrus as a human rights pioneer, but it also has some interesting information about the artifact's historical context and its reception history after its discovery in the nineteenth century:
The message of the Cylinder and the larger legacy of Cyrus' leadership have been appropriated and reinterpreted over millennia, beginning with its creators. The Babylonian scribe who engraved the Cylinder attributed Cyrus' victory to the Babylonian god Marduk, a stroke of what could be considered royal and religious propaganda. In the fourth century B.C.E., the Greek historian Xenophon wrote Cyropaedia, a text that romanticizes the philosophies and education of Cyrus as the ideal ruler, which greatly influenced both Alexander the Great and, much later, Thomas Jefferson in his creation of the Declaration of Independence.

When the Cylinder was rediscovered in 1879, it immediately entered the fray of public debate as invaluable proof of the historical veracity of events described in biblical scripture. In the early 20th century, supporters of the creation of the state of Israel compared the actions of British King George V to those of Cyrus, allowing Jews to return to Jerusalem. When the Cylinder was loaned to Iran in 2010, it was viewed by more than 1 million people, one of the most visited exhibitions in the country's history.
Background here, with many links.

Those were the days

In the seventeenth century, Harvard students were required to take three years each of Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Syriac as well as demonstrate fluency in Latin as part of their graduation requirements, according to The Crimson.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Paul and the Wisdom of Solomon

OLD TESTAMENT APOCRYPHA WATCH: James McGrath muses on whether the Apostle Paul was disputing with the Wisdom of Solomon in Romans 1:29-31: Who Are You, O Man? (Maybe the Author of Wisdom of Solomon?)

My favorite contribution to this discussion is by R. A. Knox, who once commented that he had toyed with the idea of arguing that the Wisdom of Solomon was actually written by Paul before his conversion.

Computer-reconstructed proto-languages

Scientists create automated ‘time machine’ to reconstruct ancient languages

By Yasmin Anwar, Media Relations | February 11, 2013

Ancient languages hold a treasure trove of information about the culture, politics and commerce of millennia past. Yet, reconstructing them to reveal clues into human history can require decades of painstaking work. Now, scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have created an automated “time machine,” of sorts, that will greatly accelerate and improve the process of reconstructing hundreds of ancestral languages.

In a compelling example of how “big data” and machine learning are beginning to make a significant impact on all facets of knowledge, researchers from UC Berkeley and the University of British Columbia have created a computer program that can rapidly reconstruct “proto-languages” – the linguistic ancestors from which all modern languages have evolved. These earliest-known languages include Proto-Indo-European, Proto-Afroasiatic and, in this case, Proto-Austronesian, which gave rise to languages spoken in Southeast Asia, parts of continental Asia, Australasia and the Pacific.
And, of course, Proto-Semitic.
”What excites me about this system is that it takes so many of the great ideas that linguists have had about historical reconstruction, and it automates them at a new scale: more data, more words, more languages, but less time,” said Dan Klein, an associate professor of computer science at UC Berkeley and co-author of the paper published online today (Feb. 11) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The research team’s computational model uses probabilistic reasoning – which explores logic and statistics to predict an outcome – to reconstruct more than 600 Proto-Austronesian languages from an existing database of more than 140,000 words, replicating with 85 percent accuracy what linguists had done manually. While manual reconstruction is a meticulous process that can take years, this system can perform a large-scale reconstruction in a matter of days or even hours, researchers said.

Not only will this program speed up the ability of linguists to rebuild the world’s proto-languages on a large scale, boosting our understanding of ancient civilizations based on their vocabularies, but it can also provide clues to how languages might change years from now.

“Our statistical model can be used to answer scientific questions about languages over time, not only to make inferences about the past, but also to extrapolate how language might change in the future,” said Tom Griffiths, associate professor of psychology, director of UC Berkeley’s Computational Cognitive Science Lab and another co-author of the paper.

Despite the try-too-hard time-machine metaphor (no flux capacitor is involved), this sounds like a useful development. It is not a panacea for the reconstruction of proto-languages, nor does it pretend to be, but anything that speeds up the slow and painstaking process of gathering, organizing, and categorizing the raw data is worthwhile and commendable. The claims here (apart from the time travel stuff) are relatively measured in comparison with the reports a few years ago about a computer program that could decipher Ugaritic.

The idea that this program could predict language changes should be handled cautiously. It may well be able to indicate a range of possible developments (conditional predictions), but any attempt to make precise extrapolations (unconditional predictions) about how a language will change in the future will quickly run up against far too many sensitive variables to compute (the butterfly effect), involving numerous intangibles about human society. Karl Popper had already described this problem in the days before Chaos Theory, and he also pointed out that the process of scientific advancement of knowledge is itself unpredictable and therefore injects unpredictable variables into any attempts to predict the future.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Muslim conference on Hebrew language and culture

Muslims Host First Ever Hebrew Conference Held in South Asia

By: Jewish Press News Briefs
February 11th, 2013

The first-ever Hebrew language and culture conference in South Asia was hosted at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi and organized by none other than Muslims scholars in a show of Muslim-Jewish amity in India.

The topics listed are wide ranging and seem to encompass the full range of Jewish history:
The conference focused on literature and psychology; language and religion; names in ancient and modern Hebrew; Halakhah, Jewish identity and modernization; law and language; Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic and the mutual influences; the language of the Bible, as well as sessions held on the Indian Jews, and India in Hebrew Literature and Hebrew in India.

Herod exhibition latest

THE HEROD THE GREAT EXHIBITION opens tomorrow at the Israel Museum. Here are a couple of recent articles on it.

Monumental enough for Herod the Great? The Israel Museum’s exhibit on the life and legacy of the controversial king opens this week. (Jerusalem Post)

'Herod the Great': Israeli museum examines infamous leader (USA Today)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Ancient public board games

Unearthed board games shed light on ancient holy land trivial pursuits
A Jerusalem 'artifactologist,' who directs a national storage facility that holds more than a million archaeological items, says games offer insight into human life throughout the ages.

By Nir Hasson | Feb.10, 2013 | 10:53 AM (Haaretz)

A few years ago, a striking street from the Roman period was discovered in the back part of the Western Wall Square. This eastern cardo area features a wide lane, sidewalks, and entryways for stores. Archaeologists, led by Shlomit Wexler-Bedolah from the Israel Antiquities Authority, discovered an inscription in one of the sidewalk areas − the engraving stretches across two quadrants, each divided into squares, and has a large X in its center.

In another area, an engraving features a rectangle divided into 42 squares. An intensive search uncovered another six inscriptions of various types; and searches in other parts of Jerusalem’s Old City uncovered another 21 engravings − in the Damascus Gate square, around the Dung Gate, at the Jewish quarter’s cardo, and elsewhere. Each is actually a public game-board, dating from the Roman period, similar to public chessboards that can sometimes be found in public parks in Europe. Jerusalem in Roman times − Aelia Capitolina − is not unusual in this respect. Archaeologist Dr. Michael Saban, who investigates ancient games artifacts, alludes to hundreds of game boards of different types, from all historical periods. The oldest such board dates to the 7th century B.C.E., 9,000 years ago.

A wonderful howler in that last sentence: for "century" read "millennium."

The national storage facility is in a secure, undisclosed location.