Thursday, July 30, 2015

Another early Qur'an fragment?

PRESS RELEASE: Koran manuscript from early period of Islam. Tübingen University fragment written 20-40 years after the death of the Prophet, analysis shows.
A Koran fragment from the University of Tübingen Library has been dated to the 7th century - the earliest phase of Islam - making it at least a century older than previously thought. Expert analysis of three samples of the manuscript parchment concluded that it was more than 95 percent likely to have originated in the period 649-675 AD - 20 to 40 years after the death of the Prophet Mohammed. Such scientific dating of early Koran manuscripts is rare.

The Tübingen fragment was tested by the Coranica project, a collaboration between the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres Paris and the Berlin-Brandenburgischen Academy of the Sciences and Humanities, sponsored by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and France’s Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR). The project investigates the Koran in the context of its historical background using documents such as manuscripts and information derived from archaeological excavations.

The project carries out palaeographic analyses to determine the age of a text via its special characteristics. The carbon-14 analysis of the Tübingen fragment was carried out by the Ion Beam Physics Laboratory at ETH Zürich.

(HT the Corpus Hellenisticum page on Facebook.) Like the recently announced results of the radiocarbon dating of the Birmingham Qur'an fragments (Mingana 1572a), discussed at length here and links, this is potentially a very exciting discovery. But there does seem to be some concern about whether the paleographical and codicological features in the Birmingham manuscript line up well with the early C-14 date. The Progressive Scottish Muslims Blog quotes (but gives no source or link for) skeptical comments by Professor Qasim al-Samarrai of Leiden, an expert in this area. His view is that the Birmingham fragments "belong to the end of the 2nd and the beginning of the 3rd century Higra if not later" (i.e., close to two centuries after the death of Muhammud), based on the script and other features of the manuscript. He refers also to the fragments of Tübingen (evidently the ones in this press release) and of Berlin. (I found this link somewhere on Facebook too, but I forget where. Sorry.)

If it turns out that there is a consistent conflict between the radiocarbon dates and the dates suggested by the script and layout of these Qur'an manuscripts, then there is more work to do.

Interesting times. Watch this space.

Report on the Fifth Enoch Seminar Nangeroni Meeting

Scholars from Europe, North America, and Australia gathered to Naples on 30 June – 4 July 2015 to participate in the Fifth Enoch Seminar Nangeroni Meeting ”Second Temple Jewish Paideia in its Ancient and Hellenistic Contexts”. The organisers of the conference – Jason Zurawski, Gabriele Boccaccini, and Luca Arcari – had compiled a fascinating programme of academic papers and field trips.

The website for this Nageroni meeting, which took place 30 June through 4 July, is at: Second Temple Jewish Paideia in its Ancient Near Eastern and Hellenistic Contexts / Fifth Nangeroni Meeting (2015 Naples), conference.

More on the Talmud and consent

POLITICS, SEX, AND THE TALMUD: What Michael Cohen Doesn't Understand About Rape — Or the Talmud (Melanie Landau, The Forward). Now let us be clear: PaleoJudaica does not regard American Presidential candidates or their lawyers to be part of its remit and it has no interest in commenting on them. Nevertheless, although Mr. Cohen did not himself mention the Talmud, this article includes another discussion of the issue of sexual consent in the Talmud, and this adds to the earlier discussion of the subject a while ago (here and links; note also here) raised by Dr. Ruth's comments. Eruvin 100b was already brought into that discussion but, as far as I can tell, the following was not:
However another Talmudic passage (Tractate Niddah 12a) raises serious questions at to whether the rabbis actually require married women to consent to sexual intercourse:

“The rabbis teach: Donkey drivers and workers and those who come from a mourning house and from a house of celebration - their women have a presumption of ritual purity. And they can come and be with them whether they are awake or asleep. What does this refer to? If he left them in a state of ritual purity, but if he left them in a state of ritual impurity then she is ritually impure until she says ‘I am ritually pure’.”

In this source we see that women’s ostensible personal consent is superseded by the category of her ritual purity and impurity. If he knows that she was ritually impure when he left then a husband assumes his wife is also in this state when he arrives home and that he can have sexual intercourse with her even while she is sleeping. She does not need to consent but she does need to have been ritually pure, at least when he left her. Later Talmudic commentators reconcile this source that seems to sanction sexual relations without consent with previous statements requiring of consent by developing the concept of “semi-sleeping” which still enables consent while not fully awake.
I am not a specialist in Talmud and will not try to offer an expert opinion on what the passage might mean, but I note it here as part of the discussion.

Iudaea recepta coin

NUMISMATICS: 2,000-Year-Old Coin Sheds Light on Important Role of Judea on Roman Psych (Raphael Poch, Breaking Israel News).
A rare coin minted almost 2,000 years ago during the conquest of Jerusalem was recently found at an auction in Zurich, NRG reported. The find has helped shed light upon the Roman attitude at the time over the conquest, resulting in a large commemoration of the Roman victory over the Judean rebels.

The coin depicts a Jewess standing and peering across a palm tree and bears the inscription “IUDAEA RECEPTA,” or “Judea is re-captured.” Coins bearing this inscription were used to publicize the news of a captured territory that had been part of the Roman Empire once before.

The newly discovered coin is unlike other numerous coins minted by the Romans after the conquest of Jerusalem and the Judean province between 67-73 CE. Those coins bear the inscription “IUDAEA CAPTA” and portray a woman sitting on the floor under a palm tree or a legionnaire resting on a spear while a Jewish slave is captive at his feet.

The slight changes make all the difference. Unlike the “CAPTA” coins, which were minted to proclaim Roman victory over a new province that was being absorbed into the empire, the “RECAPTA” [read "RECEPTA" - JRD] coin, marks a Roman conquest over a rebellion, rather than a war.

UPDATE: The following article, available at, seems to be the editio princeps for the coin: Gambash, G., Gitler, H., and Cotton, H. M. (2013), ‘Iudaea Recepta,’ Israel Numismatic Research 8: 89-104. Another article, in Hebrew, from the same source is: Gambash, G., Gitler, H., and Cotton, H. M. (2014), 'Iudaea Recepta,' New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem 8: 37-49 (Heb.). A third article, in German, has been published by Marco Vitale: "IUDAEA RECEPTA — EINE NEUE LEGENDE AUF GOLDMÜNZEN VESPASIANS, Ancient Society 44, 243-255. This is available at the Peeters website behind a subscription wall, but you can read the English abstract for free.


YONA SABAR: Hebrew word of the week: Hekhal (Jewish Journal).
It is amazing how a word that signifies “holy of holies of the temple or tabernacle” is actually a loan word from a “pagan” language: the Sumerian word akkadian, which became e-kal or “big house, palace” (Isaiah 29:7; Daniel 1:4; 4:1).*

And let's not forget the Hekhalot literature, the mystical literature of the celestial "palaces."

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Review of Stratton et al. (eds.), Daughters of Hecate

Kimberly B. Stratton, Dayna S. Kalleres (ed.), Daughters of Hecate: Women and Magic in the Ancient World. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. Pp. xv, 533. ISBN 9780195342710. $39.95.

Reviewed by Maxwell Teitel Paule, Earlham College (


An edited collection of fifteen articles, Daughters of Hecate: Women in Magic in the Ancient World follows in the footsteps of Brian Levack’s (1992) Articles on Witchcraft, Magic and Demonology series, Marvin Meyer and Paul Mirecki’s two volumes, Ancient Magic and Ritual Power (1995) and Magic and Ritual in the Ancient World (2002), and Gordon and Simón’s Magical Practice in the Latin West (2010). This particular volume – which is not a conference proceedings – focuses on women and magic and helps narrow the scope of a potentially broad field by purposefully avoiding treatments of the by-now familiar characters of Apuleius, Pythagoras, Empedocles, Chresimus, Zatchlas, and the like, in favor of exploring the roles of lesser-known, often anonymous women. (Circe and Medea, for example, are discussed at length in only one article [p. 42-52].) The result is a thorough collection that offers diverse perspectives on the roles of women and magic supported by evidence from the written and material records of numerous cultures.

I noted the publication of the book here.

Review of Seland, Reading Philo

BOOK REVIEW: (Ken Schenck, Common Denominator blog). A review in eight parts of Torrey Seland's Reading Philo: A Handbook to Philo of Alexandria. There's more on the book here and links.

Schmidt (ed.), Contextualizing Israel's Sacred Writings

Contextualizing Israel's Sacred Writings: Ancient Literacy, Orality, and Literary Production
Brian B. Schmidt (Editor)

ISBN 1628371188
Status Forthcoming
Price: $46.95
Binding Paperback
Publication Date July, 2015
Pages 384

An essential resource exploring orality and literacy in the pre-Hellenistic southern Levant and the Hebrew Bible

Situated historically between the invention of the alphabet, on the one hand, and the creation of ancient Israel's sacred writings, on the other, is the emergence of literary production in the ancient Levant. In this timely collection of essays by an international cadre of scholars, the dialectic between the oral and the written, the intersection of orality with literacy, and the advent of literary composition are each explored as a prelude to the emergence of biblical writing in ancient Israel. Contributors also examine a range of relevant topics including scripturalization, the compositional dimensions of orality and textuality as they engage biblical poetry, prophecy, and narrative along with their antecedents, and the ultimate autonomy of the written in early Israel. The contributors are James M. Bos, David M. Carr, André Lemaire, Robert D. Miller II, Nadav Na'aman, Raymond F. Person Jr., Frank H. Polak, Christopher A. Rollston, Seth L. Sanders, Joachim Schaper, Brian B. Schmidt, William M. Schniedewind, Elsie Stern, and Jessica Whisenant.
Follow the link for further details and ordering information.

Are sources cited in the Hebrew Bible fabricated?

IT DID HAPPEN SOMETIMES: Ancient Historians Fabricating Sources (Neil Godfrey, Vridar Blog). Just ran across this interesting discussion of fabricated sources in works by ancient writers. The post opens:
Throughout the books of the Hebrew Bible (the Christian’s “Old Testament”) one finds assurances for readers that the stories (or histories) being told are detailed in other written sources. Readers are further assured in a number of cases in the books of Kings and Chronicles that even more details can be found in outside sources.

That sounds authoritative. Surely only a “hyper-sceptical” cynic would insist that such source citations were fabricated and the narratives have no credible foundation whatsoever.

But there is a more prudent alternative to having to choose between either/or. We have no independent evidence for the existence of these cited sources but of course that does not mean they never existed.

Are we going a step too far, however, to wonder if they never existed at all and that our biblical authors really did fabricate at least some of them? How could we possibly know?
No, of course there is no objection to inquiring whether some or all of the lost books cited in the Hebrew Bible are fabrications that never existed. Some people think that to be the case. But this post offers only one argument in favor of that conclusion: the fact that we can verify that some ancient authors fabricated sources that they cited. So the fact that an ancient author cites a source is not proof that the source existed. The discussion in the blog post of some of these fabrications is interesting and I commend it to you.

That said, there are also many, many examples of ancient authors citing works that we know existed, because we still have them. So each case has to be evaluated on its own merits. And there are a number of positive arguments in favor of at least some of those sources cited in the Hebrew Bible being genuine.

• In general the chronicles cited in 1-2 Kings seemed to have had the same format and interests as ancient Mesopotamian chronicles and likewise the same interests as ancient Northwest Semitic inscriptions that may have been derived from lost chronicles.

• The poetic texts cited in the Pentateuch and the Deuteronomistic History have early features of grammar and vocabulary which are consistent with their being considerably older than the work that cites them. Moreover, the biblical authors sometimes misunderstood these sources, which strongly suggests that these sources had an independent and earlier existence. (We know they misunderstood them because, thanks to archaeology and philology, our understanding of the earlier forms of the language is actually better than the understanding of the biblical authors.)

• Once in awhile the cited source has details that can be confirmed archaeologically.

I do not think that every source cited in the Hebrew Bible was genuine. For example, I doubt very much that the author of the book of Esther actually had access to the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Media and Persia. Such chronicles doubtless did exist, but they are cited there as a device to advance the story. At the other extreme, I think it is difficult to regard the lament poem in 2 Samuel 1 as anything but a genuinely ancient text, one that may well have been composed by David. I also think that the case for the use by the Deuteronomist of a real Chronicles of the Kings of Israel and Chronicles of the Kings of Judah is pretty good.

This has been one of my areas of interest for a long time. Past posts on the subject are here and here. And for many other posts on ancient lost books, see here and here and links.

Outside of the blog, see my article "Quotations from Lost Books in the Hebrew Bible" in Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, volume 1 (ed. Bauckham, Davila, and Panayotov; Eerdmans, 2013), pp. 673-84. This article cites the relevant scholarly literature and gives the positive arguments for many of the sources cited in the Hebrew Bible being genuine. Anyone who wishes to show otherwise needs to address these arguments.

Volume 2, now in progress, will also include a chapter on lost Old Testament pseudepigrapha known only by title.

Ashkelon 2015

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Wrapping Up Ashkelon’s 2015 Season (Tracy Hoffman).
The 2015 Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon field season is officially in the books. After six weeks of excavation, countless discoveries and more than a few surprises, the volunteers have returned home, and the grids stand empty. The once-bustling pottery compound echoes with bird calls and the sound of waves crashing on the beach. It’s hard to believe that only a week ago the field season was still in full swing. And what a season it was! From identifying the earliest human activity on site and learning more about the city that succumbed to Nebuchadnezzar in 604 B.C., to searching for the urban core of the Roman city, this summer was one to remember.

Another recent post on Ashkelon is here, with links. I worked on the Ashkelon dig in 1987-88 and I am sad to hear that next year will be the last season of excavation there.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Will carbon emissions interfere with radiocarbon dating?

OMINOUS: Fossil fuel emissions are making carbon dating more difficult (Sarah Kaplan, WaPo).
Carbon dating had never been, and likely never again will be, quite so glamorous — or so controversial [as when dating the Shroud of Turin]. And, thanks to atmospheric changes caused by the burning of fossil fuels, it could become even more complicated.

That’s according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published Monday. Physicist Heather D. Graven of Imperial College London found that carbon emissions from fossil fuels are artificially raising the carbon age of the atmosphere, making objects today seem older to a carbon dater. By 2050, new clothes could have the same radiocarbon date as something that’s ten centuries old.
You can read the new study here (but probably it's behind a subscription wall - I have an institutional subscription). The abstract is here.

If correct, this conclusion isn't very good news, but let's keep in mind that it is based on simulations, since there really isn't any way to conduct controlled, repeatable experiments for this type of question. Such simulations are far from infallible, so I think some degree of skepticism is warranted. We'll see.

Radiocarbon dating is an important, if sometimes less than straightforward, tool for historians. Some relevant posts are here, here, here (but see also here and links), and here (but follow the link at the bottom for follow-up posts).

Perqs for Torah study in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Do Torah Scholars Have the Right Not To Be Drafted by the Government? In rabbinic Judaism, learning replaces noble birth as a source of power and status—including the power to avoid state responsibility.
One of the most contentious issues in Israeli politics is the exemption of ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students from army service. The exemption dates back to the beginning of the state, when only a few hundred men were affected; today, as many as 50,000 choose to study Torah rather than serve in the IDF. A law was passed to limit this practice in 2014, but it was rolled back earlier this year as part of a deal between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the ultra-Orthodox parties in the Knesset. To secular Israelis, the exemption is patently unfair, as well as an economic burden on the state. To the haredim themselves, on the other hand, the idea of tearing students away from Torah study represents on attack on their core values and on Judaism itself.

One of the compelling things about reading Daf Yomi is that, in the middle of seemingly arcane debates about, say, planting onions or grafting vines, you can suddenly come across a passage that directly addresses today’s headlines. That is what happened this week with the question of army exemptions; and it turns out that, unsurprisingly perhaps, the haredim have clear Talmudic support for their position. ...
Incidentally, the stories about R. Akiva and his wife noted earlier today also illustrate the special status of Torah study in the Talmud. Whether this high status was a social reality or a social aspiration in the time of the Talmud is an interesting question.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Temple denial from an MK

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Arab parliament member denies Jewish claim to Temple Mount, sparking Israeli outrage (Michele Chabin, Religion News Service).
JERUSALEM (RNS) An Arab-Israeli parliament member drew harsh criticism from Jewish Israelis on Monday (July 27) when he claimed that Jews have no religious ties to the Temple Mount, considered the holiest site in Judaism.


The remarks by Masud Ganaim of the Joint (Arab) List political party came a day after clashes between masked Muslim rioters and Israeli police marred the holy Jewish fast day of Tisha B’Av — a day when tens of thousands of Jewish worshippers pray at the Western Wall, which lies directly below the Temple Mount.


Ganaim told Israel Radio that “historically, religiously, it is a Muslim site, period. The State of Israel knows that Jews and Israel have no legitimacy to the site, except for their legitimacy as an occupier — a legitimacy (won) by force,” he said.


Another recently reported incident of Jewish-Temple denial is noted here.

Rabbi Akiva's wife

FOR TU B'AV: Loving A Potato, Loving A Woman (Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz, The Jewish Week). Rabbi Steinsaltz illustrates the difference with the touching Talmudic story of Rabbi Akiva and his wife. More on her story here and (with textual references) here.
Editor’s note: Tu B’Av (literally, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av) is marked this weekend, a day that in ancient times was celebrated through matchmaking for unmarried women. It has been revived in modern Israel as a kind of Valentine’s Day, celebrating love.
As noted last year in this post, the ancient holiday of Tu B'Av (this year Sunset, July 30 - Nightfall, July 31) seems to be making a comeback.

The Prime Minister and the Dead Sea Scroll

A VISIT TO THE HEAD OF STATE: PM reads from ancient Bible scroll in honor of Tisha B'Av (Shlomo Cesana and Israel Hayom Staff).
Found in the Qumran Caves beside the Dead Sea, the 2,000-year-old scroll is the earliest known example of the Book of Lamentations • PM Benjamin Netanyahu: It is significant that this scroll has been brought to united capital of Jerusalem on Tisha B'Av.
I can see from the photographs that this was the same scroll as the one mentioned in this story.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Fisher (ed.), Arabs and Empires before Islam

Arabs and Empires before Islam
Edited by Greg Fisher
608 pages | 89 black and white illustrations and 16 colour plates | 234x156mm
978-0-19-965452-9 | Hardback | July 2015 (estimated)
Also available as: eBook
Price: £120.00
  • The only volume to provide a rich and detailed anthology of sources for the history of Arabs in the Near East and Middle East in the pre-Islamic period
  • Features international contributors drawn from a broad range of academic disciplines, including archaeology, classics, ancient history, linguistics, philology, epigraphy, and art history
  • Provides up-to-date, comprehensive coverage of over 250 individual translated sources, such as ancient texts, inscriptions, and discussions of archaeological and artistic material

Arabs and Empires before Islam collates nearly 250 translated extracts from an extensive array of ancient sources which, from a variety of different perspectives, illuminate the history of the Arabs before the emergence of Islam. Drawn from a broad period between the eighth century BC and the Middle Ages, the sources include texts written in Greek, Latin, Syriac, Persian, and Arabic, inscriptions in a variety of languages and alphabets, and discussions of archaeological sites from across the Near East. More than 20 international experts from the fields of archaeology, classics and ancient history, linguistics and philology, epigraphy, and art history, provide detailed commentary and analysis on this diverse selection of material.

Richly-illustrated with 16 colour plates, 15 maps, and over 70 in-text images, the volume provides a comprehensive, wide-ranging, and up-to-date examination of what ancient sources had to say about the politics, culture, and religion of the Arabs in the pre-Islamic period. It offers a full consideration of the traces which the Arabs have left in the epigraphic, literary, and archaeological records, and sheds light on their relationship with their often more-powerful neighbours: the states and empires of the ancient Near East. Arabs and Empires before Islam gathers together a host of material never before collected into a single volume — some of which appears in English translation for the very first time — and provides a single point of reference for a vibrant and dynamic area of research.

Readership: Scholars and students interested in the history of the Near East and Middle East before the emergence of Islam, including the politics, culture, and religion of the period, from archaeological, epigraphic, linguistic, philological, and art historical perspectives.

Timely, given recent developments noted, e.g., here.

ASOR Glueck Collection

AWOL: ASOR Archives: Nelson Glueck Collection Index. The link to Glueck Collection itself is here.

Alexander the Great in a Jewish mosaic?

HUQOQ AGAIN: Mosaic of Alexander the Great meeting a Jewish priest is the first ever non-biblical scene to be discovered inside a synagogue
  • Artwork was uncovered in a fifth-century synagogue in Huqoq, Israel
    May depict Alexander the Great, based on the presence of elephants
    Scene is the first non-biblical story to be found in an ancient synagogue
    Depictions of Biblical hero Samson are also part of the decorative floor

Although I have mentioned this mosaic before, I don't think I have highlighted the details of this particular interpretation of it:

The largest top strip contains the scene showing a meeting between two men, who perhaps represent the legendary warrior and a Jewish high priest.

In the scene, a bearded soldier wearing battle dress and a purple cloak leads a bull by the horns, followed by other soldiers and elephants with shields tied to their sides.

He is meeting with a grey-haired, bearded elderly man wearing a ceremonial white tunic and mantle, accompanied by young men with sheathed swords, also in ceremonial clothes.

It's thought the warrior in the rare non-Biblical scene is Alexander the Great becaise of a procession of elephants (pictured). But Professor Magness said the identification of the figures in this mosaic is unclear because there are no stories in the Hebrew Bible involving elephants

Professor Magness said the identification of the figures in this mosaic is unclear because there are no stories in the Hebrew Bible involving elephants.

‘Battle elephants were associated with Greek armies beginning with Alexander the Great, so this might be a depiction of a Jewish legend about the meeting between Alexander and the Jewish high priest,’ she said.

‘Different versions of this story appear in the writings of Flavius Josephus and in rabbinic literature.’
HT Sarah Veale at Invocatio.

Josephus indeed tells a story about Alexander the Great meeting the Jewish High Priest, whom he had seen beforehand in a dream. In this story, the High Priest showed Alexander the biblical book of Daniel and Alexander, believing (correctly) that some of the oracles in the book were about him, was very pleased. It's a nice story (which you can read here along with some Livius commentary), but it's the sort of thing that someone would have come up with whether it happened or not, and there are historical problems. Not least of these, of course, is that the book of Daniel had not yet been written in Alexander's time.

Naturally, the historicity or not of the story has no bearing on whether it is depicted on this late-antique mosaic.

I don't know anything about the rabbinic versions of the story, so I won't try to comment on them here.

Background on Huqoq and its mosaics is here and many links.

UPDATE: Thanks to the readers who sent me the Talmudic reference b. Yoma 69a, which tells the story of Alexander's meeting with the High Priest Simon the Just. You can read a translation of the passage in a book edited by Lawrence Schiffman here. The passage by Josephus (Antiquities 11.321-47) is translated immediately before it.

Strange on Shikhin

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Shikhin Excavations with James R. Strange (Brian Leport).
The excavation at Shikhin is directed by Prof. James R. Strange of Samford University. In addition to Prof. Strange, Drs. Mordecai Aviam (the Associate Director), David Fiensy, Dennis E. Groh, and Prof. Strange’s father, the legendary James F. Strange, provided valuable oversight and insight into the work. Each of these individuals were informative, telling us anything we wanted to know about Shikhin, its significance, and how this site relates to nearby Sepphoris, the site that James F. Strange supervised for many years. When the editors of Ancient Jew Review asked me if I’d be willing to give a report on a couple of the sites I visited, Shikhin was one of the first to come to mind. I contacted Prof. Strange asking him if he’d be willing to answer some interview questions and he was happy to oblige. ...
Past PaleoJudaica posts on Shikhin are here and here.

More on the Smithsonian's Palmyra exhibition

PALMYRA WATCH: Palmyra: Ruins that inspired the architecture of power (Jane O'Brien, BBC News, Washington).
What do the ruins of an ancient Roman city in Syria and some of the most iconic buildings in Washington and London have to do with each other? A new exhibit aims to connect US audiences with antiquities under fire in Syria's civil war.
The Palmyra exhibition at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery was noted last month here. Additional background on Palmyra, its ancient history, and its current fate is here and links.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Panaino, Sidera Viva

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Ancient Iranian and Zoroastrian Astral Mythology, Astronomy and Astrology. Notice of a new book: Panaino, Antonio. 2014. Sidera Viva. Studi Iranici di Storia della Mitologia Astrale, dell’Astronomia e dell’Astrologia Antica. (Ed.) Andrea Gariboldi, Paolo Ognibene & Velizar Sadovski. . 2 vols. Milano: Mimesis.

Pluto and the Mandaeans

MANDAEAN (MANDEAN) WATCH: How 'Mordor' and 'Cthulhu' found their way onto Pluto and its moons (Andrew Freeman, Mashable). NASA has been getting some help from the public to name newly discovered features on Pluto and Charon. The rules:
According to official rules of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) — the governing body that assigns official scientific monikers to planets and other solar system bodies — land features on Charon will be named after "destinations and milestones of fictional space and other exploration," among other things.

FFeatures on Pluto itself, however, will earn monikers from the underworld, picked from among the world’s mythologies, including gods, goddesses and dwarfs associated with the underworld.
Tolkien and Lovecraft have been drawn on, but so has Mandaean mythology:
In addition, another land feature is known as Krun, named after an overlord of the Underworld in the Mandaean faith. According to the Our Pluto website, which was the venue for public voting on Pluto names, the Mandaeans are "the last surviving Gnostic group from late antiquity."
Some past posts on Mandaean and the Mandaeans are here, here, and here, and links.

UPDATE (28 July): James McGrath, expert in all things Mandaean, has additional information here.

The Lewis-Gibson Collection

CAMBRIDGE DIGITAL LIBRARY: Lewis-Gibson. 1,700 medieval fragments from the Cairo Geniza, now part of the collection jointly owned by the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford.

HT the Talmud Blog on Facebook.

There are endless past PaleoJudaica posts on the Cairo Geniza: see here, here, here, and link. And there is more on the Lewis-Gibson sisters (Agnes Lewis and Margaret Gibson) here and links.

More on McKendrick et al. (eds.), Codex Sinaiticus

MEDIEVAL MANUSCRIPTS BLOG: Codex Sinaiticus: New Perspectives on the Ancient Biblical Manuscript. The book was also noted here.

Coins of Cyprus

PHOENICIAN WATCH: Ancient Coins of Cyprus (Mike Markowitz, CoinWeek). Cyprus had a significant Phoenician presence and this survey includes some interesting Phoenician coins with images of Astarte and Melqart.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Birmingham Qur'an fragments update

THE LATEST: Reader Gilles Firmin has e-mailed with several important links regarding the recently announced discovery of what could be very early fragments of the Qur'an found in the Mingana Collection at the University of Birmingham. I quote his full message in French and then unpack it below.
Samedi 25 juillet
Cher Monsieur Davila,

En décryptant les informations données par Wikipedia
on découvre dans les positions de thèse de Mme Fedeli la référence au manuscrit de la BnF auquel elle rattache les "feuillets de Birmingham" (§ 2).

Ce manuscrit (BnF ar. 328 c) a été décrit par François Déroche dans son catalogue des Manuscrits du Coran (t. 1, 1983, n° 4, p. 60-61 [Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France]); FD le cite souvent dans son édition du Codex Parisino-Petropolitanus
auquel les feuillets en question ont été rajoutés lors de la reliure de ce "codex". Il y évoque également la constitution de la collection Asselin de Cherville (début du XIXe siècle), qui a récupéré notamment des manuscrits de Fustat...

On trouve déjà des images en ligne des feuillets

G. F.
First, there is now a Wikipedia article that gives lots of additional information about the manuscript, including script, orthography, layout, and a detailed account of the contents: Birmingham Quran manuscript.

Second, an essay by Alba Fedeli on her research: The Qur’anic Manuscripts of the Mingana Collection and their Electronic Edition.

From these we learn that the two leaves of the recently announced Birmingham manuscript (Mingana 1572a) are from the same manuscript as sixteen of the leaves (= BnF Arabe 328(c)) inserted into the Codex Parisino-petropolitanus now in Paris. The latter codex includes fragments of several other early manuscripts of the Qur'an.

Third, the codex Parisino-petropolitanus is the subject of a book by François Déroche, published by Brill: La transmission écrite du Coran dans les débuts de l'islam: Le codex Parisino-petropolitanus.
The codex Parisino-petropolitanus is one of the earliest witnesses of the handwritten transmission of the Qurʾanic text which has survived to this day. The various fragments which were part of the original manuscript are scattered among various collections; once put together, they provide a unique picture of the state of the text during the 7th century (orthography and textual peculiarities) and of the circumstances in which the canonical version as we know it today took shape physically. The present study, first of its kind, paves the way for a more accurate understanding of the beginning of Islam, based on a significant document, and of the evolution of the Qurʾan during that period.
Fourth, photos of Ms. Paris BnF Arabe 328 (c) are available at the Corpus Coranicum website.

So sixteen more leaves of the same manuscript do survive in Paris, which is a very welcome and exciting development.

I am very grateful to M. Firmin for the additional information.

Background here and links.

Gheiby, Zarathustras Feuer

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: A Cultural History of Zoroastrianism. Notice of a new book: Gheiby, Bijan. 2014. Zarathustras Feuer: Eine Kulturgeschichte des Zoroastrismus. Darmstadt: Philipp von Zabern.

Was Herod's Temple "Roman?"

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: In Honor of Tisha B'Av: Palestinians Say Holy Temple Was Roman. PA calls on Muslims 'all over the world' to stop 'Judaization' of the Temple Mount on day mourning its destruction - by 'all means' (Dalit Halevy, Arutz Sheva). One paragraph of this article calls for some commentary:
Dr. Jamal Amer, defined by the Hamas-backed Palestine newspaper as an expert on Jerusalem affairs, ahistorically claimed that the Temple is actually a Roman place of worship, built by the "Arab" King Herod, and has no connection to the Jews, historically and religiously. Amer also claimed that Jews falsify history due to greed regarding the holy city.
As usual with such things, I do not have access to Dr. Amer's comments directly, so my comments are in reply to the summary in this article.

There are three claims here: (1) the Temple was a Roman place of worship; (2) King Herod was an Arab; and (3) the Temple has no historical or religious connection with the Jews.

I'll start with (2). I have discussed the question of whether Herod was an Arab at length here. The short version is that one can make an argument that he was Arab by genetic background, but he was clearly culturally Jewish. Make of that what you will.

The other two claims go together. Herod's Temple was hardly free of connections with Judaism. It was a renovation of a much older Judean temple (discussion here). Although Herod answered to the Romans for his authority, so presumably they did not oppose the project, it certainly wasn't a "Roman place of worship" in the sense that Romans had any active role in running the worship at the site or that Romans rather than Jews worshipped there (although gentiles were allowed in one court). A Greek inscription was recovered from the Temple Mount in multiple copies which warns that any "foreigner" (ἀλλογενής) was to keep to the Court of the Gentiles and that any attempt to move onto the rest of the site was subject to the death penalty (Greek text here). Josephus knew of and referred to the inscription.

This takes Jewish-Temple denial in a slightly new (to me) direction, which acknowledges the existence of Herod's Temple (which, after all, is pretty difficult to get around), but claims that it had nothing to do with Judaism. This is going even further that Yassar Arafat was willing to go: he at least acknowledged that Herod's Temple was a Jewish Temple.

Ultimately I don't think that claims such as we find here are advanced as serious history. They collapse upon any serious examination and are just aimed at low information readers who will not follow them up. I take the time to respond to them in the hope that some of those readers might find their way here and learn what the evidence actually shows.

Temple Faithful protests

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Activists Call to Rebuild Third Temple on Tisha B'Av. Temple Faithful Movement plans march to demand government 'remove enemies from Temple Mount and rebuild third Temple' (Ari Yashar, Arutz Sheva). It's no secret to regular readers that I condemn the destructive activities of the Waqf on the Temple Mount, but that I am also strongly opposed to any other efforts to excavate or build on it for the foreseeable future. Let's leave it as it is until archaeologists can deploy non-destructive and non-invasive technologies to explore what is buried there. For the present I have no other comments on the politics of the site.

Tisha B'Av 2015

TISHA B'AV (THE NINTH OF AV) begins this evening at sundown. An easy fast to all those observing it.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Wright, Psalms of Solomon

Robert B. Wright, Psalms of Solomon: A Critical Edition of the Greek Text (Jewish and Christian Texts 1; London/New York: T&T Clark, 2007)

The Psalms of Solomon, the most important early psalm book outside the canonical psalter, reflects the turmoil of events in the last pre-Christian century and gives an apparently eyewitness account of the first invasions of the Romans into Jerusalem. The Psalms of Solomon provides the most detailed expectation of the Jewish Messiah before the New Testament. Wright's critical edition is the first complete critical edition of the Greek texts of the Psalms of Solomon.
Sent by the publisher for some work I did for them.

Chair in Jewish Studies at Stanford

SEARCH FOR FULL PROFESSOR: Koshland Chair (Senior Position w/ Tenure) (
The Department of Religious Studies at Stanford University invites applications and nominations in the area of the study of Jewish religion and/or thought for the Daniel E. Koshland Chair in Jewish Religion and Culture. We seek a senior scholar of distinction in the field of Jewish Studies, with an outstanding record of research and scholarship and a demonstrated commitment to excellence in teaching and advising students at both graduate and undergraduate levels. The successful candidate may specialize in any area or period of the study of Jewish religion and/or thought.

The appointment will be at the full professor level, but scholars at the advanced associate level are also encouraged to apply.

The term of appointment would begin September 1, 2016 or as soon as practicable thereafter.
No specific deadline for applications is given in the announcement, but follow the link for application information.

On the origins of the Qur'an - with update on the Birmingham fragments

BACKGROUND: The origins of the Koran: From revelation to holy book (Behnam Sadeghi, BBC). This is a good summary of both the traditional understanding of the early history of the Qur'an and the current scholarly state of the question, which at present are much the same. But it is still pretty early days for the latter.

This discussion is of interest to PaleoJudaica not only because I have been following the recent story of the fragments of a very early Qur'an manuscript found in the Mingana Collection at the University of Birmingham, but also because the Enoch Seminar is now bringing Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scholars (and specialists in the early history of all three areas) into a discussion of Jewish and Christian traditions in late antiquity in relation to the origins of the Qur'an and Islam. This is an exciting development that is likely to result in important advances in the scholarly understanding of all three areas.

UPDATE: Robert Cargill has just posted a link at the Facebook Unofficial SBL/AAR Member Group to the following blog post by R. Joseph Hoffman: THE BBC-BIRMINGHAM “QUR’AN” FACTS FIASCO (The New Oxonian). Read it all, but it concludes:
So to repeat: What we have at Birmingham is the discovery of leaves of parchment, probably recycled and scraped and used by a religious teacher to record bits of memorized narrative from sources that finally make their way into the Qur’an. That there should be some overlap in these extracts and later editions of the Qur’an as copied and printed is not at all surprising. But as there is no prototype, it can hardly be said to be evidence of an unalterable textual tradition. There is no compelling reason to think that this slim discovery proves the inviolability of the Islamic holy book, or vindicates any doctrine. In fact, if treated intelligently and using the methods of western textual criticism, this could shed light on how books like the Qur’an evolved over time to become compendiums of the words of men regarded as the prophets and teachers of their tradition. So far however, we see little evidence that the find will be treated in that way. As Gerd Puin has said, “My idea is that the Koran is a kind of cocktail of texts that were not all understood even at the time of Muhammad. Many of them may even be a hundred years older than Islam itself. Even within the Islamic traditions there is a huge body of contradictory information, including a significant Christian substrate; one can derive a whole Islamic anti-history from them if one wants…” What we have at Birmingham perfectly illustrates that point.
Qur'anic origins is not my area of expertise, but I cannot find any indication that Dr. Hoffman has published anything in the area either. He has, however published the book The Just War and Jihad: Violence in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, (Prometheus Books, January 2, 2006), so he has published about Islam. Most of his work seems to have been on early Christianity. Past PaleoJudaica posts on some of it, mostly in relation to the Jesus Project, are here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Be that as it may, I am not in a position to evaluate his post, but the evidence he cites certainly raises the possibility that specialists in Qur'anic origins may find problems with the early evaluations of the Birmingham fragments.

Inevitably there must be a long period in which the manuscript is published in a critical edition and other specialists have time to digest the evidence and publish their own judgments. This will take years.

But meanwhile, watch this space.

And if any readers come across discussions of the Birmingham fragments by specialists in the origins of the Qur'an, please do point me to them.

UPDATE (25 July): More on the Birmingham fragments here.

DSS Lamentations scroll on display for Tisha B'Av

Dead Sea Copy of Lamentations to Be Displayed for First Time (Arutz Sheva).
A copy of the Book of Lamentations from the Dead Sea Scrolls collection will be put on display at the Bible Lands Museum for the first time. The display will only be up until the end of Tisha B'Av, on Sunday evening.

Apparently it's there now, if you are in Jerusalem and you want to go have a look.

Review of Dorff and Zoloth (eds.), Jews and Genes

BOOK REVIEW: Parsing the Jewish genome (Jonathan Kirsch , Jewish Journal).
Jewish law holds that Jewish identity is traced through the maternal bloodline, but history cautions us against the dangers of linking blood and religion. From the Spanish Inquisition to the Third Reich, the scrutiny of one’s ancestry has been a matter of life and death for Jews and their descendants. To put it another way, what is written in the Jewish genome cannot be erased.

Elliot N. Dorff and Laurie Zoloth, the editors of “Jews and Genes: The Genetic Future in Contemporary Jewish Thought” (Jewish Publication Society/University of Nebraska Press), are mindful of these dangers, but they insist that genetic science holds special meaning and promise for the Jewish people, a theme that is explored in fascinating and often surprising detail by rabbis, physicians, religious scholars, folklorists and bioethicists in the essays that are collected here.

The essays in the book are wide ranging, including not only obvious topics such as whether there is "a single 'Jewish gene'" (doesn't look like it so far), but also the concepts of a human soul and the image of God in the book of Genesis, as well as the concept of magic in the Talmud and the question of where research moves into the realm of sorcery.