Saturday, January 13, 2018

Phoenician DNA

PHOENICIAN WATCH: Ancient Phoenician DNA tells a story of settlement and female mobility (PLOS Research News).
The genetic comparison showed evidence that some lineages of indigenous Sardinians continued after Phoenician settlement in Monte Sirai, Sardinia, which suggests that integration between Sardinians and Phoenicians occurred there. They also discovered evidence of new, unique mitochondrial lineages in Sardinia and Lebanon, which may indicate the movement of women from sites in the Middle East or North Africa to Sardinia and the movement of European women to Lebanon. Given their findings, the authors suggest that there was a degree of female mobility and genetic diversity in Phoenician communities, indicating that migration and cultural assimilation were common occurrences.
The multi-author PLOS ONE article is Ancient mitogenomes of Phoenicians from Sardinia and Lebanon: A story of settlement, integration, and female mobility.

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A search tool for documentary papyri

THE ETC BLOG: Trismegistos Words: New Tool for seaching Documentary Papyri (Peter M. Head).
here is a new tool in town for searching morphological analysis of 5 million words in the Duke Database of Ducmentary Papyri. I’ve only been able to have a brief play around so far (on αὐθεντέω which has only five occurrences [4 of which are very late]), but I thought you might be interested to hear about this and try it out.

[...]
Sounds very useful.

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The DSS during the Six Day War

HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE: How the Dead Sea Scrolls survived a war in the 1960s. Excerpt from the January 20, 1968 issue of Science News (Bruce Bower).

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Brooke Inaugural Lecture at Groningen

REMINDER: Dirk Smilde Fellowship Inaugural Lecture by Prof. Dr. George J. Brooke: "A Summer's Day? With What Shall We Compare the Dead Sea Scrolls?" On 2 February in Groningen, the Netherlands.

Noted earlier here.

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Friday, January 12, 2018

Gerbil bones and Byzantine Agriculture in the Negev

OSTEOLOGY: Gerbil Bones Attest to Successful Byzantine Agriculture in the Negev ( JNi.Media/Jewish Press).
“A large accumulation of bones belonging to Meriones tristrami, also known as Tristram’s jird, a species of gerbil common to the Middle East, which were found in the ancient Byzantine agricultural fields in the northern Negev, are the first biological evidence of thriving agriculture there some 1,500 years ago, according to a study of the University of Haifa (A glimpse of an ancient agricultural ecosystem based on remains of micromammals in the Byzantine Negev Desert, Journal of the Royal Society of Sciences).

[...]
Good to know.

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Mosaic reviews the Museum of the BIble

MUSEUM REVIEW: Who's Afraid of the Museum of the Bible? Critics accuse it of threatening the separation of church and state; in truth, Washington’s new museum makes an invaluable contribution to American (and Jewish) cultural literacy (Diana Muir Appelbaum, Mosaic Magazine). As you might guess from the headings, Ms. Appelbaum liked the Museum of the Bible. Much of the review consists of responses to other reviews and to Candida Moss's and Joel Baden's book, Bible Nation.

For past posts on the Museum of the Bible and related matters, start here and follow the many links.

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LXX Summer School in Salzburg

WILLIAM ROSS: 2018 SEPTUAGINT SUMMER SCHOOL IN SALZBURG. This is being offered by my former St Andrews colleague Professor Kristin De Troyer, with a stellar cast of specialists. The focus this year is the Book of Joshua. If you want some expert training on the Septuagint, you should plan to attend.

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DId the Phoenicians even exist?

PHOENICIAN WATCH: Did the fabled Phoenicians ever actually exist? They were celebrated throughout the ancient world as fearless merchant adventurers — yet they remain as elusive as ever (Justin Marozzi, The Spectator). This is a clickbait title, but the article and the book under review make the legitimate point that no on antiquity called themselves "Phoenicians." They were Tyrians, Sidonians, Carthaginians, and so on. And their national identity would have resided in their city-state rather than in some meta-identity as a Phoenician. Still, it is an etic term that is useful to us and we're not going to stop using it. Nor is there any suggestion that we should. The book is In Search of the Phoenicians, Josephine Quinn, Princeton, pp.360, £27.95. Excerpt from the review:
Ultimately, Quinn is surely right to resist an anachronistic nationhood foisted onto this ancient geographically and culturally diverse community. But one might argue that she is as insistent on a malleable, fluid identity today as the 19th-century European nationalists were with their definition of the Phoenicians as a people. Which is no more than to observe that we are all a product of our times — from the high-spirited Herodotus to today’s careful academics.
This book just came out and I haven't mentioned it before, but I have noted a couple of essays by Professor Quinn here and here.

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Thursday, January 11, 2018

Harari on early Jewish magic

THE ASOR BLOG: Early Jewish Magic (Yuval Harari). This is an excellent, brief introduction to the subject.

Professor Harari mentions The Sword of Moses. As I have mentioned before, his translation of this Hebrew and Aramaic work is slated for inclusion in volume 2 of Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures (MOTP2).

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Jerusalem's ancient garbage

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Taking Out the Trash in Ancient Jerusalem. Using the archaeology of garbage to reconstruct ancient life (Megan Sauter). As usual, this is about a BAR article that is behind the subscription wall: Yuval Gadot, “Jerusalem and the Holy Land(fill).” But this essay is an informative summary of it.

Past PaleoJudaica posts on this excavation are here and here.

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Update on MNTA2

THE APOCRYPHYCITY BLOG: Update on More New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 2 (Tony Burke). The post includes "the (hopefully) finalized table of contents."

For my review of New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, volume 1 (ed. Burke and Landau), see here and links.

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Dawson, "The Books of Acts and Jubilees in Dialogue"

IN THE TEXT (BLOG): Dawson on Acts and Jubilees. David Stark notes an article by Zachary Dawson in the latest volume of the Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism. It is available online for free. For you, special deal.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

More on the Sinai Palimpsests Project etc.

SAINT CATHERINE'S MONASTERY: Layers of history: The Sinai Palimpsests’ Project (Jenna Le Bras, Mada).
From the shrine bathed in the early morning light, Father Justin lets his eyes linger on the arid peaks of South Sinai with contentment. “Can you see the sentry box at the top of the mountain? There is always someone guarding over there. It’s important to protect this place, but first and foremost to show that it is protected,” he says.

[...]
I know we have seen many articles on Saint Catherine's Monastery, its manuscripts, and the Sinai Palimpsests Project. But this one gives a good overview, along with some details that I don't remember seeing before. It tells more about Father Justin, the monastery's librarian (mentioned before here and here) and about the recent reopening of the library. There are also some interesting details about the palimpsest manuscripts, for example:
Double palimpsests, remarkably common in the library of St. Catherine’s Monastery, have also been studied. One of them is a 6th-century copy of the First Epistle of Paul to Timothy from the New Testament in Syriac translation. Phelps uses the term “jewels” when he speaks about the palimpsests, some of which have revealed nine layers of successively erased and rewritten texts.
Worth reading in full.

Review: a "palimpsest" is a manuscript whose writing has been erased and then new writing has been written over it. New technologies are making it increasingly possible to recover the erased writing.

For Saint Catherine's Monastery, its manuscripts, and the reopening of its library, see here and links. For the Sinai Palimpsests Project, see here and links. The latter post also leads to past posts on other palimpsest manuscripts.

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Review of books by Goodman and Schama

BOOK REVIEW: A History of Judaism by Martin Goodman and Belonging: The Story of the Jews 1492-1900 by Simon Schama – review. Goodman details the complex history of a dynamic religion while Schama’s immersive book resists bleakness, his varied protagonists blazing with vitality (Daniel Beer, The Guardian). Professor Goodman's book deals with Jewish history from antiquity to the present, while Professor Schama's book covers the last five hundred years or so. Both discuss a failed messianic figure in the sixteenth century, David Ha-Reuveni.

I noted the publication of Goodman's book here. Earlier reviews etc. of the first volume of Schama's two-volume work are noted here and links.

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Moss on the Jerusalem "City Governor" bulla

CANDIDA MOSS: Does This Tiny Piece of Clay Mean the Bible Is True? A seal found buried near the Western Wall in Jerusalem has led to grandiose claims about its ability to verify parts of the Bible (The Daily Beast).
It may seem like historical detritus, but the discovery of any evidence of Judaism near the temple is a politically delicate matter.
Background here with a relevant link.

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Womanist readings of the Hebrew Bible

THE BIBLE AND INTERPRETATION:
Reading the Hebrew Bible through Marginal/ized Female Characters

Reading women’s stories in the Hebrew Bible using feminist and womanist questions and perspectives reveals a Bible so different from the one with which readers have previously been acquainted that it may seem like a new book.


See Also: Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction to the Women of the Torah and the Throne (Westminster John Knox Press, 2017).

By Wil Gafney
Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible
Brite Divinity School
January 2018

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Tuesday, January 09, 2018

The Talmud and oaths denying knowledge of a matter

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Sworn Testimony. In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ Talmud study, how a flying duck aimed at a judge gets the ancient sages out of a moral and intellectual bind.
Chapter Four of Tractrate Shevuot focuses on a type of oath known as the “oath of testimony,” which can be administered to witnesses in a court case. Based on the name, one might think that this is an oath to give truthful testimony, along the lines of the one administered in American courts: “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” In fact, the oath of testimony functions differently: it is taken by potential witnesses who refuse to come to court to testify, on the grounds that they deny knowledge of the matter in question. ...
Read on for the flying duck.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

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Epiphany and the Magi

NEW TESTAMENT APOCRYPHA WATCH: EPIPHANY: ANCIENT CHRISTIAN TEXT ADDS TO BIBLICAL STORY OF THE MAGI TRAVELING TO BETHLEHEM FOR BIRTH OF JESUS (KASTALIA MEDRANO, Newsweek). That text is, of course, The Revelation of the Magi, on which more here and here and links. It was edited by Dr. Brent Landau, "who modestly refers to himself as 'more or less' the world’s leading expert on the Magi."

I think that's about it for 'Tis the Season 2017.

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National Geographic exhibition on The Tomb of Christ

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Virtually Explore Jesus’ Tomb at the National Geographic Museum. 3-D technology brings Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre to life (Samuel Pfister).
The Tomb of Christ exhibit, which is located at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, DC, opened on November 15, 2017, and is set to close on August 15, 2018. A modest admission price of $15 also admits the visitor to the exhibit Wild by National Geographic photographer Michael Nichols.
For more on the Tomb of the Holy Sepulcher (Holy Sepulchre) and the recent, archaeologically important, renovations on it, start here and follow the links.

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A one-plague Exodus?

DR. RABBI DAVID FRANKEL: The Death of Pharaoh’s Firstborn: A One Plague Exodus (TheTorah.com).
After commissioning Moses at the burning bush, God commissions Moses again in Midian, and then again on his way to Egypt. In this third commission, God instructs Moses to tell Pharaoh, “Let My son go, that he may worship Me, yet you refuse to let him go. Now I will slay your firstborn son” (Exod 4:22-23). How does this narrative fit into the exodus story?
Pentateuchal source criticism is always fun.

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Monday, January 08, 2018

The NYT on the Museum of the Bible

MUSEUM REVIEW: The Museum of the Bible Is a Safe Space for Christian Nationalists (KATHERINE STEWART, New York Times). Excerpt:
If you walk in thinking that the Bible has a single meaning, that the evidence of archaeology and history has served to confirm its truth, that it is the greatest force for good humanity has ever known and that it is the founding text of the American republic — well, then, you will leave with a smile on your face and a song in your heart.

The museum is a safe space for Christian nationalists, and that is the key to understanding its political mission. The aim isn’t anything so crude as the immediate conversion of tourists to a particular variety of evangelical Christianity. Its subtler task is to embed a certain set of assumptions in the landscape of the capital.
For past posts on the Museum of the Bible and related matters, see here and follow the many links.

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BAR Stager obituary

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: In Memoriam: Lawrence Stager (1943–2017). Bible and archaeology news (Megan Sauter).
Lawrence Stager, the Dorot Professor of the Archaeology of Israel, emeritus, at Harvard University, died on December 29, 2017, at the age of 74. Although he is no longer with us, his legacy of excellent scholarship and interdisciplinary work will live on. May he rest in peace.

Below, read a short biography of Stager from the September/October 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
Background here.

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What was the Hebrew word for "giant?"

AT THE REMNANT OF GIANTS BLOG, Deane Galbraith updates his blog post Was Genesis even authoritative for the Book of Watchers? In what sense? John J. Collins with a response to my comments here. He tends to disagree with my view that the Book of Genesis knew a version of the story of the watchers and the giants. Others disagree too, and he and they could well be right. The question is difficult.

That said, I do want to take up his comment that Genesis 6:1-4 "makes no reference to giants." I'm not so sure. The passage does refer to the Nephilim, and they are understood in Numbers 13:33 as "men of great stature" who made the spies of Canaan feel like grasshoppers.

Deane takes this meaning to be secondary, but it's hard to establish that. It depends on assumptions about which story is earlier, which is later, and our ability to determine how much the traditions were or were not mutually influential before they reached the form we have now. I have less confidence in such assumptions than I used to.

As far as I can tell, there was no specific word in ancient Hebrew for "giant." A giant was specified as someone of "great stature" or the like (Numbers 13:32-33; Deuteronomy 2:10, 21; 1 Samuel 17:4; 2 Samuel 21:24) or someone whose armor, weapon, or furniture was very big (Deuteronomy 3:11; 1 Samuel 17:5; 2 Samuel 21:19; 1 Chronicles 20:5). The Nephilim, the Anakim, and the Rephaim all seem to have been associated with extraordinary height.

Was the idea of great stature already inherent in the word "Nephilim" when Genesis used it? I don't know. We don't understand the etymology of the word and we only have two examples from which to establish usage. One specified great height and the other says nothing specific except that they were there at the time the story took place and afterward. But it seems entirely possible that great height was part of the meaning. In that case, the story does refer to giants.

By the way, an irrelevant but interesting detail: the words "Anak," "sons of the Nephilim," and "very great" (גדול מאד) are the ways to express the word "giant" according to the Alcalay Dictionary of Modern Hebrew. It also gives the word gigant, (גיגנט), clearly based on some form of the root of the word "gigantic."

UPDATE (9 January): Deane has replied to the above in a second update to his original post.

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The canon and the New York Times

THE ANXIOUS BENCH: What Athanasius Decided. Philip Jenkins:
The New York Times recently published a wonderful article entitled A Fragile Biblical Text Gets a Virtual Read, concerning the application of modern digital technology to reading an ancient Egyptian codex that includes the Book of Acts. The article itself is fascinating and informative, and the methodologies described are enormously promising. But I do have to quibble with its author, Nicholas Wade, for one remark.

[...]
I noted the Times article here with some links. The remark referred to above has to do with Athanasias's comments on the biblical canon in his Paschal Letter. You can read Professor Jenkins's whole blog post yourself, but he concludes:
Athanasius had his opinions, and they deserve full respect. But in matters of canon, they settled nothing. If his list prefigures the post-Luther Bible, that is mainly a matter of coincidence.
Indeed.

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Sunday, January 07, 2018

Recovering the text of a charred biblical codex

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: A Fragile Biblical Text Gets a Virtual Read (Nicholas Wade, New York Times).
But having lain in obscurity for half a century, M.910’s day in the limelight has finally arrived. Last month, a television news crew documented every movement of the little codex and of its two new enthusiasts: Paul C. Dilley, an expert on early Christianity at the University of Iowa, and W. Brent Seales, a computer scientist at the University of Kentucky.

Dr. Seales has spent 14 years developing a technique for reading ancient scrolls that are too fragile to unwrap. Fine-detail CT scanners can visualize the ink of letters inside such scrolls, but the alphabet soup is unreadable unless each letter can be assigned to its correct position on a surface.

Dr. Seales has developed software that can model the surface of a contorted piece of papyrus or parchment from X-ray data and then derive a legible text by assigning letters to their proper surface.
M.910 contains a Coptic translation of the Book of Acts and possibly something else. The results of the scans should be available later this month.

Petter Gurry has some comments at the ETC Blog.

For more on the work of Brent Seales, including the recovery of the text on the carbonized Leviticus scroll, start here and follow the links.

Bit by bit, a letter at a time, whatever it takes. Until we're done.

UPDATE (8 January): More here.

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Smith obituary

AAR RELIGIOUS STUDIES NEWS: In Memoriam: Jonathan Z. Smith (1938–2017) (Russell T. McCutcheon).
On the recent afternoon and early evening of New Year’s Eve many of us were shocked to learn the sad news that Jonathan Z. Smith, arguably the world’s most influential scholar of religion over the past fifty years, had died the previous day from complications due to lung cancer. He was 79 and had been undergoing treatments since his diagnosis last summer.

As should be evident, there is a tremendous challenge to writing about Jonathan’s life and career. ...
What follows is a densely informative account of both. Worth a read.

Background here.

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On the 13th Satrapy of Achaemenid Persia

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: The Administrative Division of the 13th Satrapy of Achaemenid Persia in the Reign of Darius II. Notice of a recent article:
Khorikyan, Hovhannes. 2017. The Administrative Division of the 13th Satrapy of Achaemenid Persia in the Reign of Darius II. Metamorphoses of History, Scientific Almanac 10: 174-180.
It's always good to keep an eye on current developments in the history of the Achemenid Period.

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