Thursday, April 24, 2014

Second-Temple-era chisel?

DISCOVERY NEWS: Ancient Chisel Used to Build Western Wall Found
(Rossella Lorenzi).
A 2,000-year-old stonemason’s chisel that may have been used in the construction of Jerusalem’s Western Wall has been unearthed at the bottom of the structure along with a number of Second Temple-era objects, claims an Israeili archaeologist.

Some of the artifacts, which include a Roman sword, cooking vessels, a gold bell, coins and a ceramic seal, would suggest the Western Wall, a holy site for both Muslims and Jews, had not been built by King Herod at all.

Eli Shukron, an archaeologist working for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), found the chisel last summer during a dig near a tunnel at the lower base of the Western Wall.

The IAA is still studying the artifact and has not yet verified anything about it. Further to the above, this is interesting:
According to Shukron, the excavation revealed a number of coins beneath the wall which date decades after Herod’s death.

This would suggest that construction of the Western Wall had not even begun at the time of Herod’s death and was likely completed only generations later by one of his descendants.
It couldn't have been very many generations later. Herod died in 4 BCE and the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.

Watch this space ...

Samaritan Passover again

INNA LAZAREVA: Postcard from... Mount Gerizim (The Independent).
There is a cry as one priest raises a large knife and then swoops it down sharply on the sheep’s neck. Cheers erupt as others lean in to slaughter the lambs. Moments later, everyone embraces each other, leaving bloodied handprints on the starched white clothes. Each community member steps forward to receive a dot of the sheep’s blood on their forehead. The feast of Passover begins...
Background here and links.

St. George's Day 2014

HAPPY BELATED ST. GEORGE'S DAY! It was yesterday, 23 April. I thought of it but didn't have a chance to post on it. St. George is the patron saint of England and a hero to Palestinian Christians. He was also martyred in Palestine c. 300 C.E. and reputedly (alas in only in very late traditions) slew a dragon.

Background here and links

"Lilith" the folk opera

MUSIC: Legendary 'Lilith' inspires edgy folk opera (Janos Gereben, The Examiner). Excerpts:
“Producers of the show, which opens next week across the Bay Area, call it an “edgy folk opera” and “bawdy alternate Jewish story of Creation.”


The demonic character Lilith (in Hebrew, the name translates to “night monster” or “night hag”) first appeared in the Babylonian Talmud. Jewish folklore says she was created at the same time as Adam, but refused to be subservient to him and was forced to flee Paradise.

She mated with archangel Samael, becoming an accuser, seducer and destroyer. Even worse, she was a child-killer. A succubus, she roamed at night, seeking newborn babies and strangling them in their sleep.

Soprano Heather Klein doesn’t seem daunted about playing the evil character. She calls the score a “huge work that brings together so many genres — Jewish liturgical, operatic and folk,” and adds that she is “amazed by the character-driven melodies that bring this daring Yiddish and English libretto to life.”
Lilith started out as a Sumerian wind demon who was transmogrified into a baby-killing Babylonian demon; she made an appearance as a ruins-inhabiting demon in the Bible (Isaiah 34:14); she took a side turn to become Adam's disobedient first wife in Jewish legend; and she also became a Jewish demon who went back to her baby-killing ways. She gets around.

I was surprised at how many past PaleoJudaica posts there are on Lilith. They (excluding ones whose links have succumbed to link rot) are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Queen Helena of Adiabene's sarcophagus?

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: The Tomb of Queen Helena of Adiabene. Steven Notley and Jeffrey P. García disagree with the widely accepted position that the Aramaic-inscription-bearing sarcophagus from the "Tomb of the Kings" in Jerusalem belonged to Queen Helena, although they do think that she was buried there in a different chamber.

For more on Queen Helena and that sarcophagus, see here and here.

Samaritan Passover 2014

SLIDESHOW: A Passover ceremony at Mount Gerizim (Haaretz). The Samaritan Passover runs on a slightly different calendar from that of the Jewish Passover.

Past posts on Samaritan Passover are here and links.

More doubts about the GJW

MARK GOODACRE: More doubts surface on the Jesus Wife Fragment. The doubts are raised by Owen Jarus at LiveScience: 'Gospel of Jesus's Wife': Doubts Raised About Ancient Text. The problem is that, according to an estate representative, the now dead West German man who supposedly provided the papyrus was not an antiquities collector and did not own papyri. Not conclusive, but interesting and worth following up further.

Mark also links to a recent video interview with Karen King here.

Background on the GJW is here and links.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

On the DSS

IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING: What are the Dead Sea Scrolls? These ancient parchments discovered by chance in desert caves by the Dead Sea tell mysteries about the mysterious Jewish sect that wrote them, and debunk a myth about Goliath's height while about it. (Elon Gilad, Haaretz).

This is a pretty good summary of the majority opinion about the Scrolls, with which I more or less agree. But I would like to nuance the confident identification of the Qumran sectarians with the Essenes, and I would be very caution about the uncritical harmonization of the sectarian texts with the accounts of the Essenes by Philo, Pliny, and Josephus.

Also, there are a few papyrus scrolls from Qumran in addition to all the parchment, and the extra passage about Nahash was already known through Josephus' retelling of the story before the Qumran Samuel manuscript was discovered.

For some related posts, see here, here, here, here, here, and here and follow the many links. Also relevant posts at the old Qumranica blog are here and here.

St Andrews Symposium

LAST CHANCE TO REGISTER: The St Andrews Symposium for Biblical and Early Christian Studies: Ancient Readers and their Scriptures, 2-3 June 2014 (University of St Andrews). The registration deadline is 1 May 2014. For registration information, follow the link or e-mail Garrick Allen (

Mouse in Hebrew

HAARETZ: Word of the Day / Akhbar from the bible to the digital age. The word for mouse goes back millennia, completely unchanged, but its antecedents may be an artifact of some ancient's sense of humor. (Elon Gilad).
At any rate, much like mice in the pantry, this word for the humble rodent has lasted through the ages, from Biblical times to the time of the Mishnah, through Talmudic times in Aramaic and then to rabbinic writings in Hebrew of the Middle Ages. Nor has it changed with the revival of Hebrew as a living language in the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

That said, akhbar underwent an important semantic twist in the late 20th century, when in 1963, Bill English built a prototype of a device designed by Douglas Engelbart at the Stanford Research Institute. The little palm-sized box with a cord protruding from its front resembled a mouse and thus it was so named.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Sof pasuk

IT'S NOT OVER: Word of the Day / Sof pasuk: Ending things, biblical style. A poetic phrase to help express one's strongly-held feelings. (Shoshana Kordova, Haaretz).
“This isn’t sof pasuk,” they said, using a phrase that roughly means “This isn’t the last word” or “It’s not over yet.”

Sof means “end” and pasuk (pah-SOOK) is a verse in the Bible (with pasuk muzikali meaning “musical phrase”), such that the term literally means “end of the verse.”

More to the point, perhaps, it is the name of the Torah cantillation symbol that signals, not surprisingly, the end of the verse, the same way that “period” in American English and “full stop” in British English are the names of the punctuation mark that signals the end of a sentence.

Maaloula, Easter, Assad, and Aramaic

MAALOULA WATCH: Assad makes Easter visit to recaptured Christian town.
State television reports Syrian president goes to Maalula, taken by government forces in December
(AFP). See also here.

Well that was a good gesture, but more is needed: Why the language of Jesus is at risk (Kinda Jayouse, Globe and Mail).
But in the Syrian civil war, Maaloula is also strategically significant. The village is located near the main road that links Damascus to Homs, which is considered an essential supply route. That is why the government was eager to retake Maaloula from rebels – to cut off their supply routes and give the government more control of central Syria.

The exodus of Christians over the past year has worried experts, who fear that Aramaic speakers will integrate into their new communities and eventually the language will disappear. And although the village has been recaptured, many believe that the residents will not return because their homes have been destroyed, they are not wealthy enough to rebuild and the insecurity of the civil war continues.

“The village is badly damaged and security is very limited,” says one Maaloula resident who did not want to be named for safety reasons. “I do not think we will be able to go there to settle in a long time.”

“We are so happy [Maaloula] is free now, but the village is littered with land mines, many parts of it are destroyed and some homes have been torched,” says a former resident named Ward, who fled in late 2013 and has taken refuge in Damascus. “Most villagers are poor and I doubt they would have the means to rebuild their homes. And those who have the means are afraid that the general security situation is not stable yet or safe,” she added.
Meanwhile in the USA: Assyrians Who Fled Syria Prepare to Celebrate Easter in Chicago (Angie Leventis Lourgos, Chicago Tribune).

The situation in Maaloula is critical and its status as one of last remaining places where Aramaic is spoken as a daily language hangs in doubt. This is a chance for the Assad Government to demonstrate its goodwill and commitment to human rights and religious tolerance. Let's see Maaloula rebuilt, re-established for the original inhabitants, and made secure.

The world is watching.

Background on Maaloula (Ma'aloula, Malula) is here and links.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter 2014

HAPPY EASTER to all those celebrating!

The links have rotted in my old Easter post, so here they are again. The resurrection narratives in the four Gospels are found in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24 and John 20-21. Paul refers to Jesus' resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8. As a bonus, go have a look at the Passion and resurrection fragment of the Gospel of Peter, which may, at least in part, be independent of the canonical Gospels.

Friday, April 18, 2014

De Troyer et al., In the Footsteps of Sherlock Holmes

In the Footsteps of Sherlock Holmes
Studies in the Biblical Text in Honour of Anneli Aejmelaeus

Contributions to Biblical Exegesis & Theology, 72

Editors: De Troyer K., Law T. M. , Liljeström M.

Year: 2014
ISBN: 978-90-429-3041-4
Price: Forthcoming

The book contains a preface by the Three (editors) and has five sections—all befitting the recipient of this Festschrift with her interest in Septuagint and Textual Criticism. The first part of the book, entitled The Septuagint. Origins and Translations contains articles on what a translator is and does (such as the contribution from Benjamin G. Wright and Joachim Schaper) or how LXXGenesis functions as the first translation of Scripture (Emanuel Tov) and contains numerous articles on idioms and accuracy (John A.L. Lee), on lexical variation (Arie van der Kooij) and on renderings of nouns (Bénédicte Lemmelijn), verbs (Anssi Voitila), tenses (Raimund Wirth), semi-prepositions (Raija Sollamo), particles (Michael N. van der Meer) or lexical expressions and themes such as the “end of times” (Staffan Olofsson) or ‘labouring women (Takamitsu Muraoka), etc. In the second part, entitled The Septuagint and the Versions. Textual Criticism and Text History, the books that are focused on are Samuel and Kings (with contributions by Jan Joosten, Philippe Hugo, Zipora Talshir, Siegfried Kreuzer, Andrés Piquer Otero, Pablo Torijano Morales, Juha Pakkala, Christian Seppanen) and Joshua (with contributions by Seppo Sipilä and Julio Trebolle Barrera). Then, there are also studies on textual issues and text history of Isaiah (Anna Kharanauli), Ezechiel (Johan Lust), Job (Claude Cox), Ecclesiastes (Peter J. Gentry) and Minor Prophets (Hans Ausloos). The third part of this volume is entitled The Septuagint in New Testament and Christian Use and contains two contributions on textual links between LXX and the New Testament (contributions by Tuukka Kauhanen and Georg A. Walser) and patristic texts (contributions by Reinhart Ceulemans and Katrin Hauspie,). A fourth part of the volume is devoted to The Septuagint in Jewish Tradition (with contributions on how the Tabernacle Account was received in Hellenistic Judaism by Alison Salvesen and ‘Seeking “the Septuagint” in a Scroll Dependent World by Robert A. Kraft). The final part of the volume is dedicated to The Hebrew Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls. It opens with an attempt by Martti Nissinen to answer the question: ‘Since when do Prophets Write?’ Then, there is the contribution by George J. Brooke who offers a variant on the issue of variant editions, albeit from the perspective of the scrolls. Eugene Ulrich explores the fine balance between intentional variants and isolated insertions in 4QSama and the MT. Sarianna Metso offers an article on the Leviticus traditions at Qumran and Jutta Jokiranta offers a reflection on ‘the stranger’ in the Hebrew Bible and the Dead Sea. The contribution by Hanne von Weissenberg forms a nice inclusion with the opening contribution by Benjamin G. Wright as it too focuses on Authority.
Congratulations to Professor Aejmelaeus. And on Facebook, T. Michael Law adds, "Notice this volume's number in its series." He says that the volume should be out by the end of this week.