Friday, January 24, 2014

Workshop on modern Jewish reception of Josephus

H-JUDAIC: CFP: Workshop "The Jewish Reception of Josephus in the 20th and 21st Centuries. To be held on 16-17 June 2014 at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies in Yarnton Manor. Follow the link for paper-proposal information.

An earlier workshop in the same series is noted here. And an interview with Tessa Rajak about the project is noted here.

Carthaginian child sacrifice

PUNIC WATCH: Carthaginians sacrificed own children, archaeologists say.
Graves holding tiny cremated bones confirm accounts dismissed as Greek or Roman black propaganda, study shows
(Maev Kennedy, The Guardian). Oxonian lecturer in ancient history, Josephine Quinn:
The inscriptions are unequivocal: time and again we find the explanation that the gods 'heard my voice and blessed me'. It cannot be that so many children conveniently happened to die at just the right time to become an offering – and in any case a poorly or dead child would make a pretty feeble offering if you're already worried about the gods rejecting it."

"Then there is the fact that the animals from the sites, which were beyond question sacrificial offerings, are buried in exactly the same way, sometimes in the same urns with the bones of the children."

Although hundreds of remains were found, there were far too few to represent all the stillbirth and infant deaths of Carthage. According to Quinn, there were perhaps 25 such burials a year, for a city of perhaps 500,000 people.

Past coverage of this debate is here, here, and here. As for this:
Quinn said many of her academic colleagues were appalled by her conclusions.

"The feeling that some ultimate taboo is being broken is very strong. It was striking how often colleagues, when they asked what I was working on, reacted in horror and said, 'Oh no, that's simply not possible, you must have got it wrong.'"

"We like to think that we're quite close to the ancient world, that they were really just like us – the truth is, I'm afraid, that they really weren't."
I think anyone familiar with the carnage that is the history of the last century will agree with me that, yes, they were.

HT Francesca Stavrakopoulou on Facebook.

More mosaics excavated in Israel

Ancient Church Mosaic With Symbol of Jesus Uncovered in Israel

By Megan Gannon, News Editor | January 22, 2014 10:09am ET

Update: The article was updated on Jan. 23 at 9:55 a.m. ET to include comments from an archaeologist at the site.

Archaeologists in Israel have uncovered intricate mosaics on the floor of a 1,500-year-old Byzantine church, including one that bears a Christogram surrounded by birds.

The ruins were discovered during a salvage excavation ahead of a construction project in Aluma, a village about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Tel Aviv, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced Wednesday (Jan. 22). ...
For many other mosaics discovered in Israel, see here and links.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

News on that other Ark

IRVING FINKEL'S NEW BOOK, THE ARK BEFORE NOAH, gets extensive coverage in two articles in The Telegraph.
Irving Finkel: reader of the lost Ark
Tom Chivers meets the man who deciphered a 4,000-year-old blueprint – for the original Noah’s Ark

By Tom Chivers

7:00AM GMT 19 Jan 2014

Four thousand years ago, a millennium and a half before the first Jewish scholars put pen to parchment on the Book of Genesis, a scribe in what is now Iraq carved the story of a great flood on to a clay tablet, in the strange and beautiful script known as cuneiform. The story told of how a god came and warned a great man to build a boat, and to take his family on that boat, and two animals of every kind, because the world was to be cleansed with a flood.

About 30 years ago, one Douglas Simmonds wandered in to the British Museum, and handed the tablet to a man called Irving Finkel, who immediately recognised it as one of the most important archaeological finds of recent years. Dr Finkel, an Assyriologist or student of the civilisations of ancient Mesopotamia, begged Simmonds to leave it with him, but he would do no such thing. It took him until 2009 to convince Simmonds to let him have it; when he did, what he discovered was a piece of the flood story – the Assyrian story of the Ark, centuries before Noah.

Dr. Finkel himself also has written an article that tells the story of acquiring the tablet and deciphering it, as well as what it says and why it is important: Noah's Ark: the facts behind the Flood. A recently discovered Babylonian tablet is a blueprint for a round-shaped ark that animals could board two by two . The headline sums up the unique information in the tablet: it gives detailed instructions for building a gigantic round boat, or coracle, and it has the animals enter the boat "two by two," the latter point paralleling the biblical account. The parallel is interesting, because it has not shown up in a cuneiform text until now, although, really, how else were they supposed to go in?

George Smith, the original discoverer of the cuneiform Flood story, is mentioned in both articles. More on his sad story here. This new tablet also appeared briefly in the news several years ago.

Irving Finkel is looking as iconically scholarly as ever. More on Dr. Finkel here, here, here, here, and here.

Hugoye previews 17.1

HUGOYE: JOURNAL OF SYRIAC STUDIES: "The preview drafts for Hugoye 17.1 are now published online. These papers come from the 2013 Hugoye Symposium ("Garshunography in the Syriac Tradition")." You can read them at Hugoye Preview Drafts. Current TOC:
Neo-Aramaic Garshuni: Observations Based on Manuscripts
Emanuela Braida, University of Toronto

Greek and Latin in Syriac Script
Sebastian P. Brock, University of Oxford

A Kurdish Garshuni Poem by David of Barazne (19th Century)
Mustafa Dehqan, Independent Scholar, Iran
Alessandro Mengozzi, University of Turin, Italy

Armenian Garshuni: An Overview of the Known Material
Hidemi Takahashi, University of Tokyo

Jobar Synagogue update

THE ANCIENT JOBAR SYNAGOGUE in Damascus is back in the news. Regular readers will recall that it was reported destroyed in the civil war back at the end of March, but a day or two later the reports were corrected to say that it had been damaged but not destroyed. Now Adam Blitz has a detailed status update in the Times of Israel: The case for Jobar: Syria, synagogues and subterfuge. As a matter of urgency regard must be made to Jobar synagogue’s many artefacts should they soon find their way into the antiquities market….
Jobar synagogue, two kilometres North East of Damascus’ Old City, has not been far from the News. Headlines fell during Passover of this past year and culminated in a dramatic story of a synagogue “burned to the ground” (“Historic Damascus Synagogue looted and burned” JTA Jewish Telegraph Agency 31 March 2013). Immediately before Christmas the converse was stressed with a different story of a cryptic message from the Free Syrian Army rebels (F.S.A) to a certain individual named “Moti” (“Syria’s ‘Destroyed’ Ancient Synagogue is Still Intact” The Times of Israel, 22 December 2013). This coverage, together with Sotheby’s recent sale (17th December 2013) of an item purported to be a “rare surviving artifact of the Jewish community at Jobar [which] may be all that remains of this ancient and venerable community” [1], guaranteed Jobar’s place in the annals of 2013.

More updates are to follow.

“Matters that Satan challenges”

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Some Jewish Acts Seem Meaningless. The Talmud Says You Should Do Them Anyway. Illogical Jewish laws are ‘matters that Satan challenges’: raising doubts for enemies of Judaism and skeptical Jews
To counter this skepticism, the rabbis drew what would become a tremendously important distinction in Jewish thought, between the rationally justifiable commandments and the mysterious, seemingly inexplicable ones. In Leviticus 18:4, God commands the Israelites to follow both his “ordinances” [mishpatim] and his “statutes” [huqqim], and in Yoma 67b the rabbis turn these into two different categories of mitzvot. Ordinances include “matters that had they not been written it would have been logical that they be written,” such as the prohibitions on “idol worship, prohibited sexual relations, bloodshed, theft.” These are what might be called natural laws, which any human community might institute without divine guidance.

Statutes, on the other hand, are “matters that Satan challenges”—that is, the laws that enemies of Judaism, and perhaps skeptical Jews themselves, raise doubts about, since they seem to have no logical basis. This category includes the ban on pork and on wearing mixed garments, and also the ritual of the scapegoat. It’s easy to be skeptical about these commandments, but the rabbis insist that they, too, are absolutely essential to Judaism. “Lest you say these are meaningless acts, the verse states: ‘I am the Lord,’ to indicate, I am the Lord, I decreed these statutes, and you have no right to doubt them.” Perhaps the statutes are even more crucial than the ordinances, since they are a pure test of Jewish faith: There is no reason to perform them other than submission to God’s will.
Plus sealing up the inclination to commit idolatry and gouging out the eyes of sexual desire.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Doudna on Qumran

THE ASOR BLOG: Qumran Revisited: a Reassessment of the Archaeology of the Site and its Texts (Gregory L. Doudna).

More on Greg Doudna's theories about Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls here, here, here, here, here, and here. More on David Stacey's views about the site of Qumran here, here, here (this link also has more links on the archaeology of Qumran in general), and here, and here. And still more on the archaeology of Qumran here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Two NT jobs

LARRY HURTADO: Two Jobs in NT (with impending closing dates). I was going to post on these, but I see Larry has already done so. One is at Groningen and the other at Durham. The latter includes expertise in Second Temple Judaism as a desideratum.

Jihadis desecrated St. Thecla's grave in Maaloula?

MODE OF LIFE: Pillager of Monasteries in Maaloula Found Dead.
With news of [Abu Jafar's] death, other news has come to light. The Lebanese Calam reported on January 13 that “jihadists plundered the grave of Saint Thekla”. According to Father Makarios Gulwma, secretary of the Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East for the Catholic Melkites told RIA Novosti: “The fighters of Al-Nusra and Free Sham removed the bells of the churches of historic Maaloula, torched the iconostasis of the Orthodox Monastery of St Thekla as well as the Melklite Catholic Monastery of Saint Sergius, and they plundered the grave of St. Thekla after digging it up. They burned all the crosses and destroyed them.” The same witness complained that they stole the bronze statue of the enthroned Jesus adorning the Monastery erected by the Orthodox Foundation of Saint Paul of Syria.
HT Akma Adam on Facebook. Much more on Maaloula (Ma'loula, Malula) here and here and many links. Until its recent plundering by Jihadis in the Syrian civil war, it was known as one of the last places where Aramaic was still a spoken language.

Thecla is best known through the stories in the Apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla. More on her and the Acts here.

Cross file under "Aramaic Watch."

Review of Schniedewind, A Social History of Hebrew

FRED REISS: Book Review: ‘A Social History of Hebrew’ (San Diego Jewish World).
A Social History of Hebrew: Its Origins Through the Rabbinic Period by William M. Schniedewind; Yale University Press, New HavenISBN 978-0-300-167668-1 ©2013, $45.00, p. 261, including notes, bibliography, and index

WINCHESTER, California–William Schniedewind, UCLA professor of Mediterranean studies, Near Eastern languages, and the Bible, and author of A Social History of Hebrew explains that his motivation for writing this book is based on a statement he heard at a lecture many years ago: “I am only interested in the languages, not the people who spoke them.” For Schniedewind the purpose of studying languages is “to understand people, their societies, and their culture.”


Lod Mosaic heading to Russia

THE JERUSALEM POST: Unique 1,700-year old Lod mosaic from Israel to visit Russia. A tractor building a road serendipitously uncovered a tiger's tail, leading to a stone menagerie. (Ariel David).
Not only rock stars go on global tours. Great works of art do so too, and after being buried for 1,700 years, the Lod mosaic is taking the world by storm.

The ancient masterpiece, one of the largest and best-preserved Roman mosaics ever found, will be exhibited at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, starting December.

It is the first joint archeological exhibition of Israel and the Hermitage, renowned for its vast collections of antiquities and paintings, say the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Hermitage.

Much background on the Lod Mosaic and its recent international tour of museums is here and links. The post also contains links to coverage of many other ancient mosaics.

Monday, January 20, 2014

A Hodayot hymn translated

JOEL M. HOFFMAN: Translating an Ancient Hebrew Prayer of Thanks from the Dead Sea Scrolls. The hymn is from 1QHa Column 10.

HT James McGrath on Facebook.

The Indy Exhibition

FORT WORTH MUSEUM: Indiana Jones™ and the Adventure of Archaeology: The Exhibition.
Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology, opening March 8, 2014, uses the Indiana Jones™ film series as both a starting point and a backdrop for an exciting and entertaining introduction to the real science of field archaeology. Showcasing items from four different collections, Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology is far more than a static display of movie props. Museum-goers learn how archaeology has changed from the mid-20th century, when Indy’s adventures took place, until the present day.
Well, okay. I guess if there's a scholarly conference on The Life of Brian, there can be a museum exhibition on Indiana Jones and archaeology.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Masada at 50

To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Masada excavations Guy Stiebel of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and currently the archaeologist in charge of Masada, will give a lecture Past, Present and Future - The Excavations at Masada, between 4-6 p.m. on Wednesday 12th February in the Jewish Museum, 129-131 Albert Street, London NW1. The lecture will take into account excavations undertaken at Masada during the past 25 years and is being partially sponsored by the British Friends of Hebrew University.

Also marking 'Masada at 50' - The Observer will be holding a Masada Exhibit which will run from Tuesday 21 January to Friday 21 February in the foyer of its HQ at Kings Place, 90 York Way, London, N1 9GU. The exhibition concentrates on the Observer's role in championing the excavations and includes testimonies and memorabilia from some of the volunteers. Access is free, 10am to 6pm each day, 7 days a week.

"Biblical Studies Online"

NEW WEBSITE: Biblical Studies Online. Created by Sheffield blogger James Crossley and Antipodean giant-hunter Deane Galbraith. HT Mark Goodacre. Looks like a great site, but the lack of a "Pseudepigrapha" listing in the sidebar needs to be remedied.

UPDATE (22 January). Two things. First, the dead link has been fixed. Sorry about that. Second, Deane Galbraith e-mails:
I have just added an online pseudepigrapha site to Biblical Studies Online. The sidebar won't list a separate pseudepigrapha category, because we're avoiding (as far as one can) the canonical/non-canonical distinction. Instead, ancient Jewish and Christian literature (itself a problematic distinction, as you well know) is listed under each genre - whether canonical or non-canonical.