Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Resurrecting antiquities with 3D printing?

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: 3D Printers Could Save ISIS-destroyed Treasures, Archaeologists Believe. Institute of Digital Archaeology announces $3.1 million project aimed at flooding Middle East with 3D cameras. and cataloging items endangered by jihadist militants (Haaretz).
A team of archaeologists from the Oxford-based Institute of Digital Archaeology have launched a project aimed at preserving Middle Eastern historical sites at risk from jihadist militants based largely on 3D printing.

According a report from British daily The Times, experts behind the $3.1 million project hope to "flood the Middle East with 3D cameras" and catelogue every threatened item, including but not limited to artifacts, buildings and monuments

The archaeologists believe they can recreate and reconstruct items  destroyed by militants with the high-tech yet relatively new printing technology.

This would be a poor substitute, but I suppose better than nothing.

Background here and links.

On to the Nazirites

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Tracing the Way of the Nazirites. An ancient vow—no wine, no hair-cutting, no contact with the dead—and its demands and sins are the subject of the new tractate in our ‘Daf Yomi’ Talmud study.
Last week, Daf Yomi readers began a new section of the Talmud, Tractate Nazir, which is entirely dedicated to a particular kind of vow—the nazirite vow. Naziriteship is an ancient Jewish institution, established in the Bible in Numbers 6, where it is stated that a person who vows to become a nazirite is subject to three restrictions: He or she cannot drink wine (or anything “that is made of the grape-vine, from the pressed grapes even to the grapestone”), cut his or her hair, or come into contact with a dead body. (The prohibitions are similar to those binding on priests, so a nazirite can be seen as a kind of temporary, voluntary priest.) A person usually becomes a nazirite for a fixed period of time; when the term expires he brings a particular kind of sacrifice, then cuts off his hair and burns it in the sacrificial fire.

Before we even begin reading the tractate, however, its placement in Seder Nashim raises an obvious question. This order of the Talmud is supposed to include laws dealing specifically with women and sexual relations. But there is nothing gender-specific about naziriteship; men and women are equally able to become nazirites. This anomaly bothered the rabbis themselves, so much so that the very first issue raised in the Gemara, in Nazir 2a, has to do with the placement of the tractate ...

Related post here. Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

"Vagina" in Hebrew

EQUAL TIME: How the Prophet Isaiah Gave Hebrew Its Word for Vagina. If St Jerome and other experts are right, Israelis may have thought that 'pot' meant vulva, but actually they were saying cup. Or forehead. Or maybe something else (Elon Gilad, Haaretz).
But the “official” word, used in sex-ed classes, textbooks and in awkward conversations with the gynecologist, is pot. With a long "o" (as in "note").

Technically that means “vulva” but it has come to be used more generally to mean “lady parts”. For this, Israelis can thank the Prophet Isaiah and his obtuse prophesies. That is the only place the word 'pot' appears in the bible.

But there's some question as to what it means.

The Lord will do something

Out of the eight Hebrew words in Isaiah 3:17, only five are clear.

An honest reading admitting our ignorance would render the verse as “The Lord will do something to the tops of the heads of the daughters of Zion and The Lord will do something else to their somethings.” The last of these blanks is the noun pot.

This ambiguity led to quite divergent interpretations and translations over the ages, starting with translators into Greek and Aramaic, who simply glossed over the words they didn’t know.
After a long and convoluted history of interpretation, this became the "official" word for "vulva" in 1939.

Mr. Gilad's parallel article on words for "penis" is noted here. Related posts in the link there and also here.

Cave art at Petra

NABATEAN WATCH: Discovery of ancient cave paintings in Petra stuns art scholars. Exquisite artworks hidden under 2,000 years of soot and grime in a Jordanian cave have been restored by experts from the Courtauld Institute in London (Dalya Alberge, The Guardian).
Spectacular 2,000-year-old Hellenistic-style wall paintings have been revealed at the world heritage site of Petra through the expertise of British conservation specialists. The paintings, in a cave complex, had been obscured by centuries of black soot, smoke and greasy substances, as well as graffiti.

Experts from the Courtauld Institute in London have now removed the black grime, uncovering paintings whose "exceptional" artistic quality and sheer beauty are said to be superior even to some of the better Roman paintings at Herculaneum that were inspired by Hellenistic art.

Virtually no Hellenistic paintings survive today, and fragments only hint at antiquity's lost masterpieces, while revealing little about their colours and composition, so the revelation of these wall paintings in Jordan is all the more significant. They were created by the Nabataeans, who traded extensively with the Greek, Roman and Egyptian empires and whose dominion once stretched from Damascus to the Red Sea, and from Sinai to the Arabian desert.


Three different vines, grape, ivy and bindweed – all associated with Dionysus, the ancient Greek god of wine – have been identified, while the birds include a demoiselle crane and a Palestine sunbird with luscious colours. The scenes are populated by putti-like figures, one winged child playing a flute while seated in a vine-scroll, others picking fruit and fighting off birds pecking at the grapes. The paintings are exceptional in their sophistication, extensive palette and luxurious materials, including gold leaf.

For some past posts on the Nabateans (Nabataeans) and the the Nabatean (Nabataean) language, see here and links. For lots more on Petra see here and links.

Manuscript conservation with solar energy

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Disappearing Ancient Texts Could Be Saved by Solar-Powered Device (Owen Jarus, Live Science).
TORONTO — A 13th-century text recording the discoveries of a medieval polymath, a handwritten dictionary that may help decipher ancient texts, a magical text dating back hundreds of years and writings etched on palm leaves that record centuries of history. All of these and many more are in danger of being lost to the elements.

In this race against time, a team of engineers and archivists are developing a solar-powered device to safeguard historical treasures in India.

These documents are written on organic materials that become increasingly fragile over time. Exposure to humidity, sunlight and insects can ravage the texts, while storing them at temperatures that are too high or low can speed up the documents' decay.

What librarians, archivists and conservators try to do is preserve the most fragile texts in areas where humidity and temperature can be easily controlled, taking them out briefly to be put on display or for study. However for facilities in the developing world this can be a problem as the energy needed to power dehumidifiers and air-conditioning equipment may not be available or affordable.

The new solar-powered device that researchers are developing may help solve this problem. The machine itself is remarkably simple: Texts are placed in an insulated container with a dehumidifier and temperature-control mechanism. Solar cells power the equipment, while batteries store power when there isn't enough sunlight.

Additionally, when conditions in the container are just right, the device will automatically power down, conserving energy so that it can automatically turn on when the humidity and temperature rise.

The examples are mostly Syriac manuscripts in Kerala. Cross-file under Syriac Watch.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Mystery "podium" in Jerusalem

IAA PRESS RELEASE: Has a 2,000 Year Old Podium Been Found in the City of David? (August 2015).
An intriguing find consisting of an impressive pyramid-shaped staircase constructed of large ashlar stones was uncovered in an archaeological excavation currently conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority. The excavation is located in the Jerusalem Walls National Park in the City of David, site of ancient Jerusalem, and is being carried out in cooperation with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the City of David Foundation.

This structure, situated alongside the 2,000 year old Second Temple stepped street, which carried pilgrims on their way from the Shiloah (Siloam) Pool to the Temple, which stood atop the Temple Mount. The street, a section of which was excavated in the past, is remarkably well-preserved and is built of enormous stone slabs. The street most likely runs above the 2,000 year old drainage channel, discovered a number of years ago, which carried rain water out of the city. It was constructed sometime in the fourth decade of the first century CE, and was one of the largest construction projects undertaken in Jerusalem during the Second Temple period. Dozens of whole pottery vessels, stone vessels and glassware were found at the foot of the pyramid-shaped staircase.

According to archaeologists Nahshon Szanton and Dr. Joe Uziel, who direct of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, "The structure exposed is unique. To date such a structure has yet to be found along the street in the numerous excavations that have taken place in Jerusalem and to the best of our knowledge outside of it. For this reason, its exact use remains enigmatic. The structure is built along the street in a place that is clearly visible from afar by passers-by making their way to the Temple. We believe the structure was a kind of monumental podium that attracted the public’s attention when walking on the city’s main street. It would be very interesting to know what was said there 2,000 years ago. Were messages announced here on behalf of the government? Perhaps news or gossip, or admonitions and street preaching – unfortunately we do not know. Bliss and Dickie, two British archaeologists who discovered a small portion of this structure about 100 years ago, mistakenly thought these were steps that led into a house that was destroyed. They would certainly be excited if they could come back today and see it completely revealed”.

We know from rabbinic sources there were “stones” that were used for public purposes during the Second Temple period. For example, one source cites the “auction block” in connection with the street: “[a master] will not set up a market stand and put them (slaves) on the auction block” (Sifra, BeHar 6). In the Mishnah and Talmud the “Stone of Claims” is mentioned as a place that existed in Jerusalem during the Second Temple period: “Our Rabbis taught: There was a Stone of Claims in Jerusalem: whoever lost an article repaired thither, and whoever found an article did likewise. The latter stood and proclaimed, and the former submitted his identification marks and received it back. And in reference to this we learnt: Go forth and see whether the Stone of Claims is covered” (Bava Metzia 28:B).

On Thursday (3.9), at the City of David Studies of Ancient Jerusalem’s 16th Annual Conference that will be open to the public, Nahshon Szanton and Dr. Joe Uziel will present their findings from the excavation and the different interpretations regarding the nature of the podium. According to them, “Given the lack of a clear archaeological parallel to the stepped-structure, the purpose of the staircase remains a mystery. It is certainly possible the rabbinical sources provide valuable information about structures, such as this, although for the time being there is no definitive proof.”

Information about the conference can be found on the City of David website:
Follow the first link above for a photo. The full press release is also posted at the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. HT Joseph I. Lauer.

The Temple of Bel seems to have been leveled

PALMYRA WATCH: UN: Satellite images show Temple of Bel in Syria 'destroyed' (AP). As noted yesterday, there were conflicting reports on how badly the Temple of Bel in Palmyra had been damaged. The current satellite-image evidence indicates that the temple building and a related row of columns have been destroyed.

Background here and links.

UPDATE: The Guardian has satellite photos: The destruction of Palmyra's Temple of Bel: before and after – in pictures. Satellite images confirmed the Isis destruction of the most important historical site in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. Yes, it looks leveled to me. Just an archway is left standing.

The Qur'an before Muhammad?

THE BIRMINGHAM QUR'AN FRAGMENTS AGAIN: UK researchers say Quran fragments could predate Muhammad. Historians say carbon dating on recently discovered text could ‘destabilize’ views on who compiled the Islamic holy book, and when (Times of Israel).
Fragments of an ancient Quran discovered in Birmingham University in July may predate the prophet Muhammad, thus undermining core beliefs of Islam, UK researchers told The Times on Monday.

Scientists at the University of Oxford carbon dated the artifact and found it to have been created between 568 AD and 645 AD. Muhammad is believed to have lived between 570-632 AD. So while the dating process does not necessarily contradict Islamic tradition, it does raise the possibility that the book, or parts of it, was written before the prophet was even born, or during his infancy.

“It destabilizes, to put it mildly, the idea that we can know anything with certainty about how the Quran emerged,” Historian Tom Holland told the Times. “And that in turn has implications for the historicity of Muhammad and [his followers].”

Oxford’s Keith Small added: “This gives more ground to what have been peripheral views of the Quran’s genesis, like that Muhammad and his early followers used a text that was already in existence and shaped it to fit their own political and theological agenda, rather than Muhammad receiving a revelation from heaven.”

This article is based on one in the London Times which is not available to me. I am skeptical of this suggestion, at least for the reasons given here. In the first place, radiocarbon dating is an inexact science that only gives a range of dates and the range given for this manuscript goes to later than the lifetime of Muhammad, so there is no necessary conflict with the traditional story of the the origins of the Qur'an. Second, the new evidence could also suggest that the dates of the lifetime of Muhammad need to be adjusted rather than that some of the Qur'an was written before his time. Third, there is some reason to think that the radiocarbon dates of early Qur'an manuscripts are coming out systematically too early, in which case the issue does not arise.

I would certainly not exclude the possibility that the Qur'an incorporates earlier sources, although it seems quite stylistically uniform throughout, which would make me think that any earlier material has been reworked thoroughly when incorporated. But this is not my area of expertise and I am open to any amount of correction. But that should be on the basis of more convincing evidence than the speculation being presented in the articles above.

On a side note, a number of people on Facebook have pointed out that in its coverage of this story, the Daily Mail manages to interview Professor Nadir Dinshaw, who died in 2002.
Professor Nadir Dinshaw, who studies interreligious relations at the University of Birmingham, described the discovery as 'startling'
In reality this was a quote from "Professor David Thomas, Professor of Christianity and Islam and Nadir Dinshaw Professor of Interreligious Relations at the University of Birmingham."

Background on the Birmingham Qur'an fragments and related matters is here and links.

Hebrew priestesses

INNOVATION: Boulder Rabbi Ordained as Hebrew Priestess. Kohenet Institute Ordains Nine Hebrew Priestesses. Graduating Class of 2015 Serve As Jewish Ritual Leaders and Educators (Boulder Jewish News).
On Friday, July 24, 2015, the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute gave smicha, ordination, to nine women at a ceremony at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, Connecticut. The nine new Kohanot, Hebrew Priestesses, constitute the fourth graduating class since Kohenet started 10 years ago. One of the nine women is Boulder Rabbi Sarah Bracha Gershuny of Congregation Nevei Kodesh. Under the guidance of Kohenet co-founders Rabbi Jill Hammer, PhD and Taya Shere, the nine have been trained as ritual leaders in an earth-based, embodied, feminist Jewish paradigm that honors the history of women’s spiritual practices and the sacred feminine. They are from three countries: the US, England and Ireland.

The priesthood as presented in the Hebrew Bible is entirely male: the word kohenet, "priestess," does not occur at all. We have no way of knowing, of course, how much about the First-Temple priesthood was suppressed by the Priestly writer and the Deuteronomists; the picture of the priesthood in the book of Ezekiel leads me to infer that quite a bit may have been. But, as far as I know, no positive evidence of Israelite priestesses survives in any of our sources and there may never have been any. The Mishnah does use the term kohenet, but only to refer to the wife or daughter of a male priest. It never means priestess.

Whether these twenty-first-century Hebrew priestesses are a complete innovation is not entirely clear. Several years ago I noted the story of a seventh-century CE Jewish Berber queen who may have also been a priestess, although this is not at all certain and the meaning of the term is ambiguous. In any case, this current effort is the first attempt I know of to establish Jewish priestesses as an institution. The matter is not made less complicated by the lack of a Jewish Temple in which any kind of priest or priestess might serve.

This interview with one of the new priestesses (Rabbi Sarah Bracha Gershuny) reflects on the biblical, rabbinic, and ancient Near Eastern backgrounds of priesthood and how the new institution is intended to fit into the picture: 4 Questions for Boulder’s Newest Hebrew Priestess (Bounder Jewish News).

Mystery tunnel near the Rockefeller

STRANGE: Jerusalem Police Suspect Tunnel Dug Under Museum to Steal Antiquities. Entrance to the 30-meter long tunnel discovered at a private home near the Rockefeller Museum, but an antiquities authority official casts doubt that it was to be used to steal from the museum (Nir Hasson, Haaretz).
From their initial investigation, police have been told that several months ago strangers approached the home’s owner, an elderly woman who lives alone adjacent to the museum, representing themselves as working for the Jerusalem municipality and the municipal water company. They claimed that they needed to drill the hole to fix a water leak. They then returned to the site on a daily basis.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Temple of Bel in Palmyra blown up

PALMYRA WATCH: Wiping yet more history off the face of the earth: ISIS blow up 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel in Palmyra in latest outrage at the ancient Syrian city ( TIM MACFARLAN, Daily Mail)
  • Cultural atrocity reported by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights
  • It was feared it would be next to be blown up at Unesco World Heritage Site
  • Temple of Baal Shamin, also from Roman era, was dynamited last week
  • It has been claimed Islamic State will take Palmyra down piece by piece
A Palmyra resident, who goes by the name of Nasser al-Thaer, said IS militants set off a huge blast at 1.45 pm on Sunday.

'It is total destruction,' he said of the scene of the explosion. 'The bricks and columns are on the ground.'

'It was an explosion the deaf would hear,' he added.

The resident said only the outer wall surrounding the Temple of Bel remains.

Constructed in 32AD, the temple was dedicated to gods worshipped by the Semites - a group of different cultures in the Ancient Middle East including Assyrians, Phoenicians, Hebrews and Arabs.

It stood on an artificial hill which dates back more than 2,200 years and lavish carvings of the then-known seven planets, zodiac signs and Makkabel the fertility god adorn the monolithic ceiling of its northern chamber.

The remains of a basin, altar and even a dining hall can be made out inside the temple. On the north-west corner is a ramp where sacrificial animals were once led into the building.

This is potentially a little confusing. The term "Baal" is the name of one of the high gods of the Canaanites (Phoenicians), the storm god, but the name itself just means "Lord." "Baal Shamin" is Aramaic for "Baal of the heavens." The name "Bel" is the Akkadian equivalent of Canaanite "Baal" and Bel was the title of Marduk, the chief god of the Babylonians, and also a storm god. So at Palmyra there were two temples to the "Lord," the storm god, in two different ancient Near Eastern religious traditions.
Dr Robert Bewley, Project Director at the School of Archaeology at Oxford, has predicted Palmyra will be razed to the ground 'monument-by-monument' by ISIS to wring every last propaganda opportunity out of the destruction.

He claimed the terror group is determined to destroy Palmyra piece by piece, known as 'the oasis in the desert' was a jewel of the ancient world and is revered because its Greco-Roman ruins are so well preserved.

Dr Bewley told MailOnline this week: 'One fear is that ISIS will do piecemeal damage over the coming weeks to keep the publicity machine running, so it will be a slow but equally destructive approach.'

It doesn't sound good, does it?

Related news item here: Satellite images confirm Palmyra temple razing. UN training and research agency photos show ancient Baalshamin site vanished after Islamic State demolition (AFP).

Background here and links.

UPDATE: Palmyra's Temple of Bel 'still standing.' Palmyra's ancient Temple of Bel is still standing despite an attempt by Islamic State (IS) militants to blow it up, Syria's antiquities chief has said. (BBC).

Maamoun Abdulkarim confirmed there was a large explosion within its perimeter but said the basic structure of the 2,000-year-old site was intact.

But the extent of the damage is unclear with witnesses unable to get close to the temple. [...]

Hmmm ...

A Center for Judaic Studies in Qoms, Iran

THE FORWARD: Reading the Talmud in a Most Unlikely Place — Iran's Holy City (Larry Cohler-Esses).
The Shia holy city of Qom teems with mosques, mullahs and madrassas. So, it was a little surprising to hear Qom religious scholar Hossein Soleimani’s response when I asked him to name his favorite writers.

“Adin Steinsaltz, for his translation of the Talmud,” he responded promptly. “And also Martin Buber.”

Soleimani was one of several senior faculty members from Qom’s University of Religions and Denominations whom I met during my recent visit to Iran. Soleimani’s field is comparative religions, and he is affiliated with the school’s center devoted entirely to Judaic studies.

Soleimani’s area of specialty is the study of sects in Jewish history — especially during the talmudic period, from about 70 B.C.E. to 500 C.E. Another area of interest, he said, is corporal punishment in the various religions.

The Center's existence is almost entirely unknown in the West. With additional specialists in Zohar, Midrash, and Jewish philosophy.

Scotland vs. the looters

A WORLDWIDE PROBLEM: Scotland's elite archaeologists target global tomb raiders (Judith Duffy, The Herald)
N ELITE team of Scottish academics is at the forefront of tackling the global trade in priceless artifacts like those looted by Daesh from ancient cities such as Syria's Palmyra.

The team of archaeologists, lawyers, criminologists and anthropologists from Glasgow University - the only academic team on the planet devoted to studying the illicit trafficking in antiquities - has warned that while atrocities committed in Palmyra has focused global attention on the loss of precious heritage sites, the scale of the problem is far bigger than what is happening in Syria alone, with temples being looted every single day in some countries.

The global fight against the looting and selling of ancient artifacts will be high on the agenda when more than 2,000 delegates from 80 countries come to Glasgow this week to take part in the annual European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) meeting.

Dr Donna Yates, of the Trafficking Culture research programme, said: “People are thinking about heritage destruction now because it is on the news – but I don’t think they are getting anything close to the whole story. The story is way bigger.

I believe it.

Recent related post here.

Bernhard on the GJW: tl;dr

THE NT BLOG: The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: “Patchwork Forgery” in Coptic . . . and English (Recap). Guest post by Andrew Bernhard. A short version of the post noted here.

UPDATE: Christian Askeland comments.

Temple Mount unrest

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: On Temple Mount, some see a dome and imagine an altar. More and more religious Jews are visiting the holy site, part of a movement defying a centuries-old rabbinic ban and stoking tension with Muslims who also lay claim to the esplanade (ELHANAN MILLER, Times of Israel).
The night before she visited Temple Mount for the first time last year, Aviya Fraenkel was so excited she couldn’t sleep a wink.

“I remember climbing the Mughrabi Bridge [leading to the Temple Mount] and seeing the Western Wall beneath me, so small, and and all these different Jews way down there,” Fraenkel told The Times of Israel recently, standing at the bottom of the same bridge and waiting to enter. “You ask yourself: ‘Hold on, what was I doing down there all these years? It just isn’t interesting. I’m up here now!’ That’s a feeling you can never take back.”

“We still go to the Western Wall and love it, but you suddenly realize the difference. Why settle for so little? Why settle for imitations when we have the real thing?”

Fraenkel, a 29-year-old doctoral student in Assyriology and Bible studies at Bar-Ilan University, is part of a new revival movement sweeping Israel’s national religious community. Defying a centuries-old rabbinical ban on entering the 35-acre compound — considered the holiest site in Judaism where the first and second temples stood — Fraenkel, who created a special tour guides’ course last summer tailored for Temple Mount visitors, now tries to go up every week.

“It was brewing in me for many years,” Fraenkel recalled. “So I took the ritual bath and went up. I can’t completely explain it. Part of it has to do with the belief that there’s a next stage, that our ideals aren’t limited to a state — which is a lot — but that the state must manifest our religious yearnings of the past 2,000 years.”

Aviya Fraenkel, a volunteer tour guide on Temple Mount, stands in Jerusalem's Old City following a visit to the site, August 25, 2015 (Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel)
Aviya Fraenkel, a volunteer tour guide on Temple Mount, stands in Jerusalem’s Old City following a visit to the site, August 25, 2015 (Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel)

“I’ve made a decision that my Judaism isn’t just about the past, it’s an expectation for the future,” she said. “I’m tired of apologizing about this. If others want to apologize, they’re free to do so.”

Fraenkel is not alone. ...
This article documents a lot of Jewish unrest regarding the current political status quo on the Temple Mount. It concludes:
“Our ultimate goal on Temple Mount is to build the Third Temple and renew sacrifices,” he said. “It’s not a distant goal but an aspiration. First we need to accompany the people and help them understand the significance of the place.”

But what about the Dome of the Rock, a monumental structure build by the Umayyad Caliph Abdul Malik in the year 691 over the Foundation Stone, where Jews and Muslims believe the earth was created?

[Student activist Elishama] Sandman replied with a metaphor.

“If a burglar entered your home and told you that you don’t own it, you wouldn’t think about getting along with him,” he said. “You’d remove him and take the place. It’s the same here: the people of Israel own this place and it’s not our duty to consider those who stole it from us.”
We don't need any destruction of ancient monuments on the the Temple Mount, ever, for any reason. Leave that sort of thing to ISIS. I hope Mr. Sandman agrees, but his comments, at least as quoted here, could be taken differently and he needs to say it.

Related thoughts here and links.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Review of Levine, Visual Judaism in Late Antiquity

Bregman on Levine, 'Visual Judaism in Late Antiquity: Historical Contexts of Jewish Art'

Author: Lee I. Levine
Reviewer: Marc Bregman

Lee I. Levine. Visual Judaism in Late Antiquity: Historical Contexts of Jewish Art. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013. Illustrations. x + 582 pp. $50.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-300-10089-1.

Reviewed by Marc Bregman (University of North Carolina at Greensboro)
Published on H-Judaic (August, 2015)
Commissioned by Matthew A. Kraus

Jewish History in Late Antiquity through the Prism of Visual Culture

As the title suggests, in this imposing work, Lee I. Levine of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem presents, through the prism of visual culture, a broad survey of Jewish history from biblical times (circa 1200 BCE) until the rise of Islam in the seventh century CE. In the preface, Levine surveys previous related research organized according to various methodological approaches to the history of Israelite-Jewish art and alerts the reader to the structure of his own discussion. The first four parts of his presentation proceed in chronological order, while the remaining two parts deal with art-historical and sociological issues. ...

Hugoye 18.2

HUGOYE: JOURNAL OF SYRIAC STUDIES has published a new issue: Volume 18.2 (Summer 2015). Follow the link for the TOC and for links to the articles, etc., all online for free.

Daf Yomi: Nazir

One of the most prominent examples of the relevance of and enduring interest in ancient texts is the daf yomi cycle, in which participants read a folio (or daf) of the Babylonian Talmud a day for more than 7 years, until they complete the entire Babylonian Talmud.

The number of daf yomi participants has grown exponentially in the last few decades, and has also expanded demographically beyond Orthodox Jewish men to women and people of all denominations (and faiths). To aid them in their lengthy and dedicated journey, we produce a brief bibliography of major academic reference works and secondary works a few weeks before one tractate is completed and participants move on to the next.
Tractate Nazir is up next.


CINEMA: It’s the Talmud — with zombies! — in new Israeli horror film. Cinema royalty, the Paz brothers say their English-language ‘JeruZalem’ is the culmination of a childhood of ‘killing off’ friends ( LAURI DONAHUE, Times of Israel).
JeruZalem (the “z” is for you-know-what) world-premiered at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal in July and had its US premiere as the closing night selection at Bruce Campbell’s Horror Film Festival in Chicago on August 23. As a work-in-progress, it won the Audience Award and the Best Editing Award at this summer’s Jerusalem Film Festival.

The film, by brothers Yoav and Doron Paz, is about two young American women vacationing in Israel. The women follow a cute anthropology student to Jerusalem on the eve of Yom Kippur – when all hell breaks loose. (One of the women is played by Yael Grobglas, on track to becoming the scream queen of Israeli horror cinema.)
No, there aren't zombies in the Talmud — as far as I know. The Talmudic connection is this:
“JeruZalem” was inspired by a line from the Talmud (Eruvin 19a): “There are three gates to hell, one in the desert, one in the ocean and one in Jerusalem.”
The brothers also disclaim any allegorical political message in the film.

Aramaic fairy tale

EXPLORING OUR MATRIX: A Neo-Mandaic Story. Sweet.

Cross-file under Modern Aramaic Watch.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

More evidence that the GJW is a forgery

NT BLOG: The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: “Patchwork” Forgery in Coptic . . . and English (Guest post by Andrew Bernhard).
With the now overwhelming evidence that the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife is dependent on Grondin’s Interlinear in Coptic . . . and English, I think it is now reasonable to assert simply that the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife was forged using Grondin’s Interlinear. Given this assumption, the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife papyrus fragment must have been forged sometime after November 2002 (when the PDF version of Grondin’s Interlinear containing the typographical/grammatical error also found in line 1 of the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife was put online) and before the Summer of 2010 (when it was first brought to the attention of Karen King).
This looks convincing to me.

Background here and links.

UPDATE (31 August): More here.

McCollum on Judeo-Persian, part two

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: On Judeo-Persian Language and Literature | Part Two: Texts and Bibliography (Adam McCollum).

Part one and some background were noted here.

More on the Egypt After the Pharaohs exhibition

BROADWAY WORLD: British Museum to Display EGYPT: FAITH AFTER THE PHARAOHS Exhibit, October 29. I have already mentioned this exhibition in connection with its displaying of the Codex Sinaiticus, but there is much more in it of interest to ancient Judaism:
The Victories hold a jewelled cross flanked by Christian nomina sacra, showing the interaction between classical and Christian motifs. The expansion of the Roman Empire saw the development of Judaism and the emergence of Christianity. In Egypt, the iconography of these religions fused. Sculpture shows the adoption of Roman symbols of power to articulate authority - such as a statues of the falcon-headed ancient Egyptian god Horus wearing Roman armour. Magical texts on papyrus and so-called magical gems show the layering of aspects of deities especially from the Egyptian, Greek, Roman pantheons. In this period the God of the Jews and Christians is one among many.
Greco-Egyptian magical texts draw lots of motifs from Judaism.
The rubbish heaps of ancient and medieval towns in Egypt have preserved the earliest fragments of scripture, legal documents, letters, school exercises and other texts showing how religion was lived. Their survival is treasure from trash providing unparalleled insight into everyday society. There are copies of official letters, including one from the emperor Claudius (r. AD 41-54) concerning the cult of the divine emperor and the status of Jews in Alexandria, and another from a mosque to the half-sister of the Fatimid caliph, al-Hakim (r. AD 985-1021), demonstrating relationships between the state and religion.

The exhibition finishes with the astonishing survival of over 200,000 texts from Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo, where they were keep in a genizah (a sacred storeroom) for ritual disposal. By an accident of history they were not destroyed. Mainly dating to the 11-13th centuries AD and written in Hebrew, Judeo-Arabic, Aramaic and Arabic, they show a thriving Jewish community with international links extending from Spain to India. Together the collection is not only the best evidence for the daily lives of Jews in Medieval Cairo, but for the wider Medieval Mediterranean society including Muslims and Christians.
The best-known Egyptian papyri corpus is the Oxyrhynchus papyri, on which much more here and links. But I don't know where in Egypt the papyri on display in this exhibition are from. Also, much more on the Cairo Geniza is here and links.

The FBI takes an interest in ISIS's looted artifacts

IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP: FBI: Don't Accidentally Buy Artifacts Stolen By ISIS (Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan, Gizmodo).
But the FBI isn’t just interested in stopping the outpouring of cultural heritage from countries under the control of ISIS—they’re warning US-based dealers because there are serious criminal penalties involved. Buying a piece, even inadvertently, from ISIS could be prosecuted as aiding a terrorist organization here in the US. And member countries of the UN must, under a new resolution, “take steps to prevent terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria from receiving donations and from benefiting from trade in oil, antiquities, and hostages.”
"“[I]ndustrial-level looting at Syrian and Iraqi archaeological sites.”

Background here and links. And more on Dura Europos and Mari is here and here and links

Aristophil's manuscripts to be sold

ALLEGED DSS PONZI SCHEME UPDATE: Rare manuscripts to be sold as world’s largest private collection is liquidated. Bank gets €28m from sale of Paris mansion (VINCENT NOCE, Art market news).
Aristophil, the scandal-hit French company that amassed the world’s largest private collection of manuscripts, has been liquidated and its stock will be put up for sale. The 5 August judgment in the Commercial Court, Paris, was based on its “complete insolvency”.

The company’s accounts were frozen in November 2014 by state prosecutors, who described Aristophil as a type of Ponzi scheme (in which existing investors are paid by new investors, rather than out of profits). A mansion owned by the company in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris, was sold in July for around €28m, the proceeds of which went to Aristophil’s bank, Société Générale.


Aristophil has an inventory of 54 manuscript collections (around 135,000 documents), in which nearly 18,000 investors bought shares. These include fragments from the Dead Sea scrolls, medieval illuminated manuscripts and the Marquis de Sade’s 120 days of Sodom (1785).

Background here.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Review of Horsley, Jesus and Magic

DANIEL N. GULLOTTA: Review: Jesus and Magic: Freeing the Gospel Stories from Modern Misconceptions (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

I haven't read this book, but it sounds like I need to have a look. Some related thoughts are here and links

Payne, A State of Mixture

A State of Mixture: Christians, Zoroastrians, and Iranian Political Culture in Late Antiquity (Transformation of the Classical Heritage) Hardcover – September 1, 2015
by Richard E. Payne (Author)

Christian communities flourished during late antiquity in a Zoroastrian political system, known as the Iranian Empire, that integrated culturally and geographically disparate territories from Arabia to Afghanistan into its institutions and networks. Whereas previous studies have regarded Christians as marginal, insular, and often persecuted participants in this empire, Richard Payne demonstrates their integration into elite networks, adoption of Iranian political practices and imaginaries, and participation in imperial institutions.

The rise of Christianity in Iran depended on the Zoroastrian theory and practice of hierarchical, differentiated inclusion, according to which Christians, Jews, and others occupied legitimate places in Iranian political culture in positions subordinate to the imperial religion. Christians, for their part, positioned themselves in a political culture not of their own making, with recourse to their own ideological and institutional resources, ranging from the writing of saints’ lives to the judicial arbitration of bishops. In placing the social history of East Syrian Christians at the center of the Iranian imperial story, A State of Mixture helps explain the endurance of a culturally diverse empire across four centuries.

Review of MacDonald, Hannibal: A Hellenistic Life

PUNIC WATCH: Hannibal' holds readers' interest (Richard D. Weigel, Bowling Green Daily News).
“Hannibal: A Hellenistic Life,” by Eve MacDonald. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015. 352 pages, $38 (cloth).

Hannibal still has a reputation as one of the greatest military strategists in history. One of the problems in trying to get an accurate picture of his life and career is that virtually all of the sources about him were written by Romans, the people who persisted against his serious threat to their continuance as a Mediterranean power and eventually defeated him, or by others influenced by Rome. Eve MacDonald, an archeologist and lecturer at the University of Reading, produced an excellent biography that attempts to understand Hannibal both within and outside the Roman context.

An earlier review of the book etc. is noted here and links.

Review of Stoneman, Xerxes

BOOK REVIEW IN THE TIMES HIGHER EDUCATION: Xerxes: A Persian Life, by Richard Stoneman. Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones appreciates a nuanced biography of a complex ruler whose achievements are often ignored.
Xerxes has had bad press. The louche tyrant of the Greek sources and a dupe and comic stooge in the Hebrew Book of Esther would become, in the preposterous Hollywood movie 300: Rise of an Empire, a satanic entity, a proto-Islamic State fanatic. Even in Iran his reputation is, at best, ambiguous. I have met many young Iranians whose names, Kourosh and Dariush, are proudly sported in emulation of the ancient greats, Cyrus and Darius. But I know only one Khashayar, Xerxes. He runs a bookshop in Isfahan. Next time I’m there, I’ll give him a copy of Stoneman’s rewarding life (and afterlife) of Xerxes. I want Khashayar to be proud of his namesake.
The book is:
Xerxes: A Persian Life
By Richard Stoneman
Yale University Press, 288pp, £25.00
ISBN 9780300180077
Published 13 August 2015

More on Horvat Kur

A VOLUNTEER AT THE HORVAT KUR EXCAVATION: Moseley can dig that! (Herald Independent).
NEWBERRY — Newberry native Will Moseley recently took part in an excavation in the ancient synagogue at Horvat Kur in Israel, uncovering a partially preserved colorful mosaic floor.

Moseley was working the Horvat Kur excavation site with Wofford Professor of Religion Byron McCane, four other Wofford students, a Wofford graduate and a host of other college and university students from all over the world who are part of the Kinneret Regional Project.

Background here.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

No, no one thinks the Gospel of Jesus' Wife proves that Jesus was married

TOO MUCH OF THE MEDIA just doesn't get the current scholarly discussion about the Gospel of Jesus' Wife. The issue, insofar as it is an issue at all, is whether the fragment is a modern forgery or the remains of an ancient manuscript dating to centuries after the time of Jesus which tells a legendary story that involves Jesus having a wife. If the fragment is authentic, it has been suggested that the original text of which it is a copy could date to as early as the second century. I have seen that asserted, but never argued. Still, this is long after any living memory of Jesus.

The current very strong consensus is that it is a modern forgery. I think this is correct beyond any reasonable doubt. But evidently Karen King still wants to defend the authenticity of the fragment — that is that it is an ancient account of an otherwise lost apocryphal legend involving Jesus' wife. We will all be happy to consider any peer-review publication that wants to make that argument, but in the meantime just about all specialists find the case for it being a modern forgery convincing.

Be that as it may, no one, and I mean no one, thinks that this text, even on the remote contingency that it is genuine, provides any information about any putative wife or marriage of the historical Jesus. It's not an issue. Not at all.

Why is that so hard? Yet note the headlines of the following articles on the recent discussion.

Was Jesus Married? Tests On ‘Gospel Of Jesus’ Wife’ Hint It Is Real. The Messiah may have been married to Mary Magdalene (Yahoo News, UK). Not just the headline: the reporting is pretty bad too. "Many believe that this shows Jesus was married instead of celibate - which could impact religions such as Catholicism, where priests are required to be celibate."

Jesus had wife: Gospel origins begin to emerge (Yahoo/News7). The article is more nuanced than the headline, but the accompanying ABC News video segment ("Was Jesus Married? An intriguing clue") completely missed the point, has many inaccuracies, and gives a very misleading presentation of the current discussion.

New Study On Controversial Papyrus Fragment Suggests Jesus Had A Wife (Guneet Bhatia, International Business Times). The article is more nuanced than the headline, but has some garbling.

This is even more evidence that Jesus may have had a wife (Herb Scribner, Deseret News). The accompanying article proceeds as badly as the headline, although it makes a small effort toward the end to nuance its treatment.

Jesus May Have Had a Wife: Origins of 'Gospel of Jesus' Wife' Emerge (Science World Report). I don't know anything about Science World Report, but their name is pretty grand for the quality of reporting in this case.

Did Jesus Have a Wife? Controversial 'Gospel of Jesus' Wife' Papyrus Is Being Investigated (STOYAN ZAIMOV, Christian Post. The actual article is not bad, but it doesn't make clear the preponderance of current scholarly opinion.

Ink In Papyrus Revealing Christ's Marriage May Be Authentic (R. Siva Kuvar, NewsEveryDay). The article makes some effort to present the actual situation.

JESUS MARRIED? GOSPEL OF JESUS'S WIFE IS REAL (Sumayah Aamir, I4U News). The article isn't entirely consistent, but some of it is as bad as the headline. I hope the I4U News articles on technology are more accurate.

Is this proof that Jesus was married? New tests hint that ancient note could be real (Ollie McAteer, Seems to be based on the Yahoo UK article quoted above.

Now I grant you two things. First, sometimes the articles above are less misleading than the headlines. This might exonerate the writers of the articles, but the headlines are still inexcusable. People often learn about news stories just by a quick glance at a headline, and countless people will have come to the conclusion that the Gospel of Jesus' Wife has something to do with whether Jesus actually was married thanks to these headlines.

Second, many of these headlines come from smaller outfits that perhaps don't have the editorial standards of the major mainstream media. Nevertheless, I expect better, for example, from Yahoo, ABC News, and the International Business Times.

So, three lessons here. First, never, ever trust a headline. Second, anyone can set up a "news" site on the Internet, so don't believe anything you read there unless you know the source is reliable. And third, and most disquieting of all, do not trust even the mainstream media about anything they say. There are notable exceptions, but too often their coverage is lazy, sensationalistic, and garbled.

Background here and oh so many links.

Palmyra: commentary

PALMYRA WATCH: no new developments today, but some commentary and background are worth noting.

Historical background: How Ancient Palmyra, Now in ISIS's Grip, Grew Rich and Powerful. A distinctly multicultural trading center grew rich on trade between east and west, until it rebelled against its most powerful customer. (Kristin Romey, National Geographic).
In Palmyra, history is literally written on the walls: across temples and above doorways, encircling funerary monuments and snaking up the towering limestone columns that rise above the Syrian desert some 134 miles (215 km) northeast of Damascus.

These inscriptions were often written both in Greek and Palmyrene Aramaic, a bilingual phenomenon unique to Palmyra. The site is a UNESCO World Heritage site that has been a focus of international attention since May, when the Islamic State (ISIS) seized the territory around the ancient ruins.

The inscriptions provide unique insight into life in a distinctive frontier city where, for centuries, local merchants controlled trade between the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia.

An editorial: The Crimes of Palmyra (NYT).
Yet it is impossible to read Sunday’s reports of the demolition of one of the best-preserved and grandest relics in the ancient ruins of Palmyra, the Temple of Baalshamin, and not feel anguish at the loss of another irreplaceable monument of our shared past. True, the temple stood near a Roman amphitheater where ISIS is reported to have executed 25 prisoners last month. But to grieve at the loss of a great work of art does not diminish the horror at the loss of human lives, and in tandem they amount to a unified and barbaric attempt to erase not only whole peoples but also their religions, cultures and histories.


However daunting the struggles of the Middle East, ISIS stands out in the threat it poses to humanity. But for all its well-publicized atrocities, it is neither all powerful nor immune to military and economic pressures from the West. It can and must be stopped, and the United States and its allies cannot relent in their efforts toward that end.
Historical background on cultural destruction: Islamic State's war on antiquities takes leaf out of ancient book (Associated Press and Israel Hayom Staff).
Destruction unleashed by jihadi group on historic sites in area it overruns has not been seen in decades, archeologists say, warn of potential ramification to heritage research • But Islamic State is only following the footsteps of other fanatics.
Background here and links.

The Codex Sinaiticus is going on display at the BM

THIS WILL BE WORTH SEEING: British Library will lend world's oldest bible to British Museum. British Museum exhibition, Egypt after the pharaohs, will feature the Codex Sinaiticus, one of the most important books in the world (Mark Brown, The Guardian).
The British Library is to lend one of its greatest treasures, the world’s oldest bible, to the British Museum for an ambitious and groundbreaking exhibition exploring 1,200 years of Christian, Islamic and Jewish faith in Egypt after the pharaohs.

The Codex Sinaiticus is one of the most important books in the world and has only been lent once, in 1990 – also to the British Museum – when both collections shared the same building.

“It is quite phenomenal they they are able to lend it to us,” said Elisabeth O’Connell, assistant keeper in the British Museum’s department of ancient Egypt and Sudan. “We are absolutely thrilled.”

The codex dates back to the 4th century AD. Handwritten in Greek, not long after the reign of the Emperor Constantine the Great, it contains the earliest complete manuscript of the New Testament.

Not to take away from the importance of this marvelous manuscript or of the exhibition, but I want to nuance the headline of this article a little. The Codex Sinaiticus once contained the entire Bible and a few other things, but a considerable portion of the Old Testament is now missing. The oldest surviving complete Bible is Codex Ambrosianus B.21, from the late sixth or early seventh century CE.

Some past posts on the Codex Sinaiticus are here and here and links.

DSS coming to children's exhibition

PRESS RELEASE: National Geographic Partners with The World’s Largest Children’s Museum to Create Sacred Journeys Exhibit.
The United States is home to followers of hundreds of religious faiths, yet few know much about their neighbors’ beliefs, practices or traditions. National Geographic Sacred Journeys, a new exhibit, will change that. It opens Aug. 29, 2015 at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.


Among the artifacts featured in the 7,000-square-foot exhibition are fragments of the Dead Sea scrolls from Qumran, Israel, a large 1,300 pound stone from the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Jewish devotional objects taken into space by former astronaut David Wolf, the trunk Brigham Young carried from New York to Utah, a piece of the Kiswah (a gold-embroidered fabric, which drapes the Kaaba in Mecca), a throne built for the Dalai Lama’s U.S. visit in 2010, a sand mandala created by Buddhist monks at the museum, a replica of the Shroud of Turin, and Ganesh statue (Hindu god of good fortune).

No word yet on which Dead Sea Scroll fragments will be on display.

About that broken vase ...

THIS ODD STORY IS NOW ODDER: Israel Museum changes account on broken artifact. After initially claiming girl accidentally smashed ancient glass object, officials now say cause of mishap unknown (AP and Times of Israel/Josefin Dolstein).

Background here.