Saturday, October 29, 2016

Jerusalem papyrus latest

EPIGRAPHY: Archaeologists question ‘oldest’ Hebrew mention of Jerusalem. After Antiquities Authority unveils papyrus from 7th century BCE, several experts warn it is far from certain artifact is authentic (APF/Times of Israel). I don't want to keep recycling the same news, but I thought one place in this article merits comment. I still think that, on balance and on the basis of the limited information now available, the inscription on the papyrus is more likely to be genuinely ancient than not. Nevertheless:
“If I were a forger, I’d choose a more impressive text,” Shmuel Ahituv said.
This is a very weak argument and actually highlights the main thing that makes me doubt that the inscription is genuine. If I were a forger and were going to forge a late Iron Age II Hebrew inscription, this is exactly what I would come up with. I would make it a banal economic text but put a bombshell reference in it, perhaps naming a specific king of Judah or Israel or, yes, mentioning Jerusalem. There is a real danger that this papyrus is too good to be true.

I hope it turns out to be genuine, but we'll see. Again, publication by press release is just not good enough. The lab reports for materials tests that have been conducted on the object should be released in full immediately and the case for its genuineness should be published in a peer-review journal with good photographs, a full account of how it was obtained, and all relevant details. The latter will take time, but let it be done with all deliberate speed.

Background here and links.

Review of Mroczek, The Literary Imagination in Jewish Antiquity

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Book Note | The Literary Imagination in Jewish Antiquity (Jillian Stinchcomb).
The Literary Imagination in Jewish Antiquity by Eva Mroczek.
Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2016.

I first saw Eva Mroczek speak at Yale in the fall of 2013. She was presenting on the Psalms at Qumran, making an argument that eventually became the first chapter of her 2016 book, The Literary Imagination in Jewish Antiquity. In the talk, she achieved a rhetorical effect that animates her book: the ability to present arguments which are startling, even field-changing, in a way that makes her conclusions seem obvious.

Some past PaleoJudaica posts on the book and the author's other work are collected here.

Funding for Rome’s Jewish Catacombs

INTERNATIONAL CATACOMB SOCIETY: Rome’s Jewish Catacombs Receive Italian Government Funding for Conservation and Restoration in 2017. Good news.

Seen on Facebook. Background on Rome's Jewish catacombs is here and links.

The phoenix in the Talmud (and the Bible?)

TALMUD WATCH: Is the Phoenix a Real Bird? (Yehuda Shurpin,
Unlike some other mythical creatures found in fantasy books, there is reference to the phoenix in ancient Jewish sources as far back as the Book of Job. When Job reminisces about his “good old days,” he says, “And I said, ‘I will perish with my nest, and like a chol [ וְכַחוֹל] I will multiply my days.’”1 According to many translations, the word chol refers to the phoenix.

The reference is Job 29:18. I would make a distinction here. The word clearly means "phoenix" in rabbinic texts, but we shouldn't retroject that meaning into the much earlier reference in the Book of Job. The Revised Standard Version (cf. the NIV) translates the word as "sand," which indeed is one of its meanings and which fits the context.

Be that as it may, the Talmud and a midrash do take the meaning to be "phoenix" and they run with it. Follow the link for details.


YONA SABAR: Hebrew Word of the Week: bet-sefer 'School.'

Friday, October 28, 2016

More authenticity questions about the "Jerusalem" papyrus

EPIGRAPHY: Papyrus With Earliest Hebrew Mention of Jerusalem Likely Fake, Experts Say. Archaeologists are usually wary of any finds not discovered in a supervised dig, though Antiquities Authority insists ancient scroll is authentic (Nir Hasson, Haaretz).
But at Thursday’s session of an antiquities authority conference on Innovations in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and its Region, archaeologist Prof. Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University cast doubt on the document’s authenticity. He also assailed the authority for deciding to publicize it even though “it was clear in advance that it would be controversial.”

Maeir said there were too many unanswered questions about the papyrus. “How do we know it isn’t a forgery intended for the antiquities market?” he demanded, adding that forgers could have deliberately “sacrificed” this document in order to prepare the way for selling other papyri that they would “discover” later.

The fact that carbon-14 dating proved the papyrus’ age is insufficient, he added. “After all, there are well-known cases in which writing was forged on an ancient ‘platform,’” he said. “It’s very possible that only the papyrus itself is ancient.

“In my humble opinion, the need for additional tests is glaring, especially if a government agency is publishing this and giving it a seal of approval. Why wait for the arguments and only then do the additional tests? They should have done them first.”

Prof. Christopher Rollston of George Washington University also voiced skepticism, writing on his blog that he believed the document was a forgery.
read more:
PaleoJudaica readers will already be familiar with Professor Rollston's concerns. He doesn't say that he believes the document to be a forgery, he says it may be one. Professor Ahituv and others defend its authenticity, though. I think Professor Ahituv's comment is worth highlighting: “Would a forger buy an ancient, dry, fragile papyrus, write text on it that’s typical of the seventh century, and then fold it up and tie it with a cord and thereby endanger all his work?”

Two thoughts. First, the IAA should release the lab reports for all the tests they did on the papyrus, so that other specialists can evaluate them too. Really, this should be the industry standard. It's not that hard these days to post a pdf file online.

Second, this latest announcement exemplifies an unhelpful trend to give potentially important discoveries early media attention with enthusiastic press releases that sometimes later have to be walked back. Perhaps there's no way to get around this in the modern world, but I wish such things could be delayed to coincide with the publication of peer-review research about the discovery. It is only at that point that a real case can be made for authenticity. Even then, for a given discovery the debate may continue in the peer-review literature for years before any kind of consensus is reached.

Peer-review is not a panacea, but it is the best tool we have for making sober judgments about historical questions. I know I harp on this a lot, but it is important to keep it in view. Scholarship is a slow and painstaking process and it does not conform well to the timetable of news cycles. With this case, as always, let us proceed with all deliberate speed, but with caution, rigor, and method.

Background here and links.

Early Syriac mosaics from Turkey

SYRIAC WATCH: Rare 1st-century mosaic unearthed in southeastern Turkey (Daily Sabah).
Rare ancient mosaics, believed to date back to the 1st century BC, have been unearthed in the southeastern Şanlıurfa province of Turkey, the municipality said Wednesday.

Archaeologists have discovered five base mosaics from Abgar V (BC 4 – AD 7), the fifth king of the kingdom of Osroene (132 BC to AD 244), depicting fine engravings and Syriac inscriptions, as part of a project titled "The Castle Skirts". The mosaics will be displayed in museums after their restoration is completed.

The Syriac dialect of Aramaic developed in this region at about this very time, so it is quite significant to have such early Syriac inscriptions. Syriac was the dialect of the city of Edessa, but it developed from there into the language of the Eastern Church for many centuries.

Update on St. Matthew's Monastery near Mosul

MODERN ARAMAIC WATCH: Mountainside Monastery a Sanctuary From the Battle for Mosul (ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, ABC News).
As ISIS swept through northern Iraq in the summer of 2014, the six Syriac Orthodox monks and their bishop prepared for the 1,600-year-old monastery to be overrun. They quickly packed up their most valuable items, texts and manuscripts, and sent them deeper into Kurdish Iraqi territory for safekeeping.

They watched as ISIS took over Christian towns nearby, ransacking churches and driving thousands from their homes. As militants came within three miles, occupying the village of Bashiqa, they did what their predecessors have done for centuries and braced for the invaders.

“We think if they harm us, it’s a reward,” said Father Joseph Ibrahim, referring to martyrdom.

They are still there and are still safe for the present, although they can hear the fighting. I wish them continued peace and safety. There is video at the link.

I have not been posting on the current campaign to retake Mosul from Isis, but I have been following it and will continue to note any stories that seem relevant to PaleoJudaica. Past posts on St. Matthew's Monastery are here and here.

Ancient burial caves discovered in Jerusalem

ARCHAEOLOGY: Burial caves discovered on road to Shimon Hatzadik's tomb. During maintenance work on road to Shimon Hatzadik's tomb, ancient burial caves were discovered, rendering the road inaccessible to kohanim (Yoel Domb, Arutz Sheva).
..During the course of maintenance and upgrading work on the road leading up to Shimon Hatzadik's tomb, more ancient burial caves were discovered.

The work, which is being performed by the Moriah company for the Jerusalem Municipality, is taking place on Derekh Shekhem near the Pierre Van Passan traffic circle in the Wadi Joz neighborhood adjacent to Shimon Hatzadik's grave, in order to ease traffic on the main road leading up to Sheikh Jarrah.

During the course of the work, a number of ancient burial graves were discovered on the site of the road, including a burial cave with crypts, which testify to it being a Jewish burial site.

As noted in the sub-headline, this is causing some halakhic difficulties. The article does not give any more specific information about the date of the burials.

Maggie Anton on "Fifty Shades of Talmud"

INTERVIEW: ‘Fifty Shades of Talmud.’ Novelist Maggie Anton comes to North Jersey to talk about her new book (Joanne Palmer, New Jersey Jewish Standard).
Ms. Anton, the novelist who wrote the “Rashi’s Daughters” trilogy and the more recent “Rav Hisda’s Daughter” (and who has a wide-ranging intellect — she also is a clinical chemist and worked in that field for three decades), has been entranced by the Talmud since she first encountered it 25 years ago. She’s studied it seriously ever since — in fact, and non-coincidentally, one of her teachers, first in class settings and then in chavruta, was Rabbi Aaron Katz, at whose shul she will be speaking next week — and used much of what she’s learned in her books.
There follows an extended quotation from Ms. Anton about the writing of the book, about its content, and about the origin of its cover. A brief excerpt:
“At first, it was so surprising to me, how progressive the rabbis were,” Ms. Anton said. “We are talking about guys who lived more than 1,500 years ago, more or less.” (The Mishna, the Talmud’s inner section, was compiled about 200 CE, and the Gemara, which surrounds, explicates, and dances its ideas into wild intellectual and fanciful flourishes, was compiled around 500 CE.)

“So I thought that I really could write ‘Fifty Shades of Talmud,’” she said.

And the ideas came flying at her.
Background here and links.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Politics and the "Jerusalem" Papyrus

THAT DIDN'T TAKE LONG: Holding Up Ancient ‘Jerusalem’ Papyrus, Netanyahu Condemns UNESCO’s ‘Scandalous’ Resolution (David Israel, The Jewish Press).
Speaking Wednesday at the dedication of the Adelson School of Entrepreneurship at IDC Herzliya, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu connected the announcement of a rare, First Temple era Hebrew language papyrus that mentions the name Jerusalem, with the second UNESCO resolution this month that contradicted the Jewish history of the eternal city as well as the fact that two Jewish temples had stood on the compound now taken up by the Al Aqsa mosque.

I think this sort of political use of the newly announced papyrus is premature and unhelpful. It illustrated the concern I expressed yesterday about the papyrus, with its mention of "Jerusalem" in Hebrew in a late Iron Age II setting, as being "too good to be true." Like the Gospel of Jesus' Wife, the papyrus is exactly what the present Zeitgeist would want to have turn up in an ancient inscription. That doesn't prove it's a forgery, and so far the chances of it being genuine look pretty good to me, but it does make me worry. And if it turns out to be a forgery — and it may — the Prime Minister's action here will backfire.

Let's be cautious and take our time here. The IAA should release the full lab report of the carbon-dating testing so it can be evaluated independently. And all the media coverage and blog commentary in the last day is interesting and informative, but the real scholarly discussion of the new fragment only begins when we start to have peer-review publications on it.

Background on the "Jerusalem" papyrus is here and links. Background on the UNESCO resolutions is here and links.

Temple Mount pottery display

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Israel Displays First Temple-era Pottery Fragments Found on Temple Mount. State antiquities agency hopes disclosures will quell competing claims about work carried out at the holy site (Nir Hasson, Haaretz).
Discoveries found in situ on Temple Mount dating to the late First Temple period, excavated and collected by the Israel Antiquities Authority over the last 10 years, were displayed by the agency in Jerusalem on Wednesday. Other finds on display include the remains of a previously unknown monumental Muslim edifice that had been on the northern part of Temple Mount.

With these finds, the IAA hopes to refute that claims on the political right that archaeology on Temple Mount is in a state of anarchy, and also claims leveled by the Palestinians and UNESCO that Israeli archaeologists are party to damaging Muslim antiquities on the Temple Mount and are “Judaizing” Jerusalem.

Then there is some new information about an old story:
Come 2007, there was another incident in which the Waqf dug a channel to lay an electricity cable. Temple Mount activists and the Public Committee Against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount claimed that the Waqf had again destroyed archaeological finds on the Mount.

Following that incident, the state comptroller wrote a report on the cable project, but at the request of the government, the report remained sealed and confidential.

In a paper in publication, written with Dr. Ronny Reich and Deborah Sandhaus, Dr. Yuval Baruch, head of the Jerusalem District at the IAA, reveals that during the process of digging for the cable, a great number of archaeological finds were made and hastily excavated.

The excavations were carried out by IAA people on the site while the cable channel was being dug, with the acquiescence of the Waqf people, under spotlights (since the digging for the cable was being done at night).

The finds included pottery, broken bowls, cooking pots and pitchers dating to the late First Temple period (Kingdom of Judah). By them the excavators found animal bones and olive pits.

The pits were sent for carbon 14 dating, without revealing that their source was the Temple Mount, lest that fact influence the conclusions, Baruch told Haaretz.

The results complied with the dating of the pottery to around 2,500 to 2,600 years ago.
I covered the story of the cable excavation back when it happened here and here. It looks as though none of this important information was made public then. Past posts on the State Comptroller's report mentioned in the article are here, here, here, and links. Recent posts on the relevant UNESCO resolutions are here and here and links.

Another UNESCO resolution adopted

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Israel recalls ambassador after second UNESCO vote (APF). The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has adopted the latest resolution, whose full text I still have not seen.

Background here and links.

The Holy Sepulchre tomb uncovered in renovations

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC: Exclusive: Christ's Burial Place Exposed for First Time in Centuries. Restorers working in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Israel uncover stone slab venerated as the resting place of Jesus Christ (Kristin Romey).
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL For the first time in centuries, scientists have exposed the original surface of what is traditionally considered the tomb of Jesus Christ. Located in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem, the tomb has been covered by marble cladding since at least 1555 A.D., and most likely centuries earlier.

"The marble covering of the tomb has been pulled back, and we were surprised by the amount of fill material beneath it,” said Fredrik Hiebert, archaeologist-in-residence at the National Geographic Society, a partner in the restoration project. “It will be a long scientific analysis, but we will finally be able to see the original rock surface on which, according to tradition, the body of Christ was laid."

Whoever may have been buried there (and I neither insist on nor exclude Jesus), this is an excellent opportunity for scholars and archaeologists to study a rock-cut tomb that probably dates to the first-century CE. At least the other tombs nearby fit that description. Todd Bolen has some helpful background on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Holy Sepulcher) at Background on the current renovations to the Church are here (cf. here) and links.

DSS fragments on sale in London

MORE NEW DEAD SEA SCROLLS FRAGMENTS: Dead Sea Scrolls fragments put on sale for first time by Hampstead dealer (Anna Behrmann, Ham & High).
The 2000-year-old relics originally from the West Bank are being marketed for $1million dollars in London as part of a unique exhibition

Hampstead dealer Bernard Shapero is putting the 2,000-year-old relics up for sale at his private sale of Jewish books, manuscripts, art and jewellery.

The five Dead Sea Scroll fragments in Mr Shapero’s possession are extremely rare, with the vast bulk of the fragments now belonging to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Interesting, but buyer beware. There is good reason to believe that some of the supposed Dead Sea Scrolls fragments now circulating are forgeries. I have no idea what the situation is with this particular set of fragments, but in general caution is warranted.

Background here and links.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Much more on the "Jerusalem" papyrus [with updates]

A MAJOR EPIGRAPHIC DISCOVERY: Oldest Hebrew mention of Jerusalem found on rare papyrus from 7th century BCE. Reference to consignment of wineskins ‘to Jerusalem’ appears on 2,700-year-old First Temple-era scrap believed plundered from Judean Desert cave (Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel).
A rare, ancient papyrus dating to the First Temple Period — 2,700 years ago — has been found to bear the oldest known mention of Jerusalem in Hebrew.

The fragile text, believed plundered from a Judean Desert cave, was apparently acquired several years. Radiocarbon dating has determined it is from the 7th century BCE, making it one of just three extant Hebrew papyri from that period, and predating the Dead Sea Scrolls by centuries.

The slip of papyrus, which was being formally unveiled by the Israel Antiquities Authority on Wednesday, measures 11 centimeters by 2.5 centimeters (4.3 inches by 1 inch). Its two lines of jagged black paleo-Hebrew script appear to have been a dispatch note recording the delivery of two wineskins “to Jerusalem,” the Judean Kingdom’s capital city.

There is a reasonably clear photo of the papyrus with the article. The earlier report said the script was dated to the eighth century BCE. This one says to the 7th century BCE. Either looks possible to me.

I had composed this post and was about to press "publish," when a couple of people sent me the following Israel Antiquities Authority press release, which had just come out. The post has been extensively revised, accordingly.

A Rare Document Mentioning the Name of Jerusalem from the Time of the First Temple was Exposed. In a complex enforcement operation, inspectors of the IAA seized a papyrus that includes the earliest reference to Jerusalem in an extra-biblical document, which is written in ancient Hebrew script. Excerpt:
A rare and important find was exposed in an enforcement operation initiated by the IAA’s Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery: a document written on papyrus and dating to the time of the First Temple (seventh century BCE) in which the name of the city of Jerusalem is clearly indicated. This is the earliest extra-biblical source to mention Jerusalem in Hebrew writing.

The document, which was illicitly plundered from one of the Judean Desert caves by a band of antiquities robbers and was seized in a complex operation by the IAA’s Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, was presented today (Wednesday) in a press of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Two lines of ancient Hebrew script were preserved on the document that is made of papyrus (paper produced from the pith of the papyrus plant [Cyperus papyrus]). A paleographic examination of the letters and a C14 analysis determined that the artifact should be dated to the seventh century BCE – to the end of the First Temple period. Most of the letters are clearly legible, and the proposed reading of the text appears as follows:

[מא]מת. המלך. מנערתה. נבלים. יין. ירשלמה.
[me-a]mat. ha-melekh. me-Na?artah. nevelim. yi’in. Yerushalima.
From the king’s maidservant, from Na?arat, jars of wine, to Jerusalem

I have only briefly tried to read the inscription, but the proposed decipherment looks plausible to me. The name "Jerusalem" is clear in the second line.

Is it genuine? Could it be a forgery? On general principles I would be tempted to file an unprovenanced 7th-8th century BCE Hebrew papyrus that happens to mention Jerusalem under "likely too good to be true." But apparently it was seized by the IAA rather than, as originally reported, being bought from an antiquities dealer. (Or at least, it is not yet clear how the two reports fit together.) And the radiocarbon dating of the papyrus is important. It is not entirely impossible that a forger would be able to get hold of a blank papyrus fragment dating to the 7th-8th century BCE, but it seems very unlikely. And even then, how would the forger be sure enough of the date to make the script of the Hebrew match so well? So I think it is very probable that the papyrus and the inscription on it are genuine and that we should proceed with that as our preliminary conclusion, as the IAA is doing. Sometimes we are just lucky.

This post from February of this year seems a bit prophetic now, doesn't it?

As I've said before, the papyrus needs to be fully published in a peer-review publication before any definitive conclusions can be reached. But meanwhile, this appears to be a very significant discovery and it’s a pity that it was not found in a scientific excavation. It is important that the place where it was discovered be established if that is at all possible.

Background here and here. I have already replied to one journalist with a statement, so some of the above may appear in the media soon. I'll let you know if it does.

UPDATE: Epigrapher Christopher Rollston has put up an important blog post on the papyrus: The New ‘Jerusalem’ Papyrus: Not so Fast….Two excerpts:
IV. The Jerusalem Papyrus is from the antiquities market and it has been floating around on the market for a few years now. It was not found on an actual archaeological excavation. I saw some good images of it a few years ago in Jerusalem.


VIII. Ultimately, I believe that there is a fair chance that although the papyrus itself is ancient the ink letters are actually modern…that is, this inscription is something that I would classify as a possible modern forgery.
Read it all. If Professor Rollston is skeptical, then I should imagine there is good reason for skepticism. But here I would repeat my earlier point above. Yes, ancient blank papyrus is not terribly hard to come by, but the cases I remember hearing of involve papyrus from late antiquity and the Byzantine era (such as the Gospel of Jesus' Wife). There are far fewer papyri surviving from as early as the 7th-8th century BCE. Is it really likely that a forger got a blank piece of papyrus this ancient along with a context that told the exact age of the papyrus so the forger could fake the Hebrew script accordingly? I would think not, but I am open to correction by those better informed. In any case, I note Professor Rollston's objections and they should be taken seriously.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Owen Jarus has published a piece at Live Science which interviews Professor Rollston and which provides more (sometimes confusing) information about the discovery/seizing of the papyrus: Ancient Hebrew Papyrus Seized from Looters, But Is It Authentic?

A photo of the royal steward's tomb

EPIGRAPHY AND ARCHAEOLOGY: Jerusalem — The Neighborhood of Silwan — The Royal Steward’s Tomb (HolyLandPhotos' Blog). A rare photo by Carl Rasmussen in a difficult area to visit.
Unfortunately the second most important tomb from the First Temple Period is located in this village [Silwan]. This tomb was discovered by Clermont-Ganneau in 1870. It had two Hebrew inscriptions – one above the door and the other to the right of it. Both were carved out and sent to the British Museum where they are still housed. The largest inscription was over the door (note the large “gash” there).
I have not encountered this blog before, but it looks very interesting.

HT Todd Bolen at the Bible Places Blog.

More on the Samaritan Ten Commandments tablet

EPIGRAPHY: The media has taken notice of the imminent auction of the "Yavneh 10 Commandments Stone" by Heritage Auctions. I have found several stories on it. All of them seem to be based on the information given at the Heritage Auctions web page. The first below is the most thorough.

Earliest 10 Commandments Tablet Slated For Heritage Auctions (Fine Books and Collections)

Earliest Ten Commandments Tablet On Auction in Beverly Hills (JNi.Media/The Jewish Press)

Got $250,000? Earliest known 10 Commandments inscription up for auction (Grace Williams, Fox News)

Ten Commandments Up for Sale? What the Ancient Document Is Going For (CBN News)

Background here.

Mroczek interview

MARGINALIA REVIEW OF BOOKS: First Impressions # 95: Eva Mroczek on the Literary Imagination in Jewish Antiquity.
There was no such thing as the Bible when ancient Jewish literature was composed. With a more expansive view of sources, we can glimpse our way into a completely different picture of how ancient people might have imagined their own literary world.

Joseph Ryan Kelly speaks with Eva Mroczek, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of California Davis, about her new book The Literary Imagination in Jewish Antiquity.
Some past posts on Dr. Mroczek's book and her other work are here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Petition protesting the UNESCO resolution

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Tens of Thousands Demand UNESCO Stop Denying Ancient Jewish Ties to Jerusalem. Tens of thousands of signatures are on a petition demanding that UNESCO stop denying ancient Jewish ties to Jerusalem (Hana Levi Julian, The Jewish Press).
The Israel education organization “Stand With Us” and the International Legal Forum joined hands with the Israeli delegation to UNESCO on Tuesday and submitted a petition with more than 76,000 signatures of concerned people calling on the world body to recognize the historic ties between Judaism and Jerusalem.

The petition was submitted in Paris to Irina Bokova, secretary-general of the United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Background here and links. Background on the new UNESCO resolution now under consideration is here. I am still waiting to see the full draft text of the latter.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Jewish history in Malta

TRAVEL: Jewish roots in Malta run deep (eTurboNews).
Jewish roots in Malta date back to the 4th and 5th Century during the Roman period as evidenced by several Jewish Catacombs with drawings depicting the Jewish Menorah (candelabra) that can be found at the St. Paul’s Catacomb site near Rabat. The long Jewish history includes periods of enrichment as well as slavery, depending on who was ruling Malta at the time.


Malta, an archipelago located in the sunny Mediterranean, has been one of the best kept secrets for a Jewish Heritage Experience. Not anymore! The Malta Tourism Authority (MTA), in partnership with North American based Exclusively Malta, a destination marketing company with expertise in developing exclusive and unique experiences for visitors to Malta, announced the launch of a Malta program infused with Jewish history that dates back to the Roman Period to the present.


Even the Island of Comino, almost uninhabited today but famous for the Blue Lagoon, has Jewish roots. Comino is where the well-known Jewish Mystic Avraham Abulafia lived from 1285 until his death in the 1290s. During this period, he compiled his Sefer ha Ot "Book of the Sign" as well as his last, and perhaps his most intelligible, work, the meditation manual Imrei Shefer "Words of Beauty".

Malta has shown up in PaleoJudaica from time to time, but always before, if memory serves, in connection with its Phoenician and Punic history and archaeology. See here and links.

The Bible and abortion

Ending a Life That Has Not Begun—Abortion in the Bible

All in all, the Bible does not speak as clearly about abortion as some politicians might wish. Where it does speak about pregnancy and abortion, the God-given character of human life is an important point of departure. On the one hand, there are passages that state how God has plans for some special human beings, his prophets, already during their stay in their mother’s womb. This implies that already at that stage God had selected them as the persons they would become. On the other hand, some passages indicate that human life was only thought to begin either at the moment the fetus was fully developed or even up to a month after the baby’s birth. It is therefore difficult to refer to anything like “the Bible’s teaching on abortion.”

Article from The Bible in Political Debate: What Does it Really Say? (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016).

By Bert Jan Lietaert Peerbolte
Theology Department
Vrije Universit
The statement "It is therefore difficult to refer to anything like 'the Bible's teaching on [fill in any current political issue]'" is usually pretty accurate.

Hugoye 19.2

Hugoye 19.2


"Bar ʿEbroyo on Identity: Remarks on His Historical Writings"
Dorothea Weltecke, Universität Konstanz

"Wooden Stirrups and Christian Khans: Bar ʿEbroyo's Juwaynī's 'History of the World Conquerer' as a Source for His 'Chronography'"
Pier Giorgio Borbone, University of Pisa

"'And the Impure and Abominable Priests Fled for Help to the Names of the Devils': Amulets and Magical Practices in Syriac Christian Culture Between Late Antiquity and the Modern World"
Marco Moriggi, Università degli Studi di Catania

"British Library Additional 14,686: Introduction, List of Readings, and Translations of Colophon and Notes"
Nils Hallvard Korsvoll, MF Norwegian School of Theology
Liv Ingeborg Lied, MF Norwegian School of Theology
Jerome Alan Lund, Accordance Bible Software

Conference Reports

Recovering the Role of Christians in the History of the Middle East: A Workshop at Princeton University
Michael Reynolds, Jack Tannous, and Christian Sahner

Allographic Traditions among the Arabic-Speaking Christians, Jews, and Samaritans. Workshop on the Writings Systems of Garshuni, Judeo-Arabic, and Samaritan-Arabic
Ekaterina Pukhovaia, Princeton University

Book Reviews

Nestor Kavvadas, Isaak von Ninive und seine Kephalaia Gnostica. Die Pneumatologie und ihr Kontext
Lucas Van Rompay, 's-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands

David A. Michelson, The Practical Christology of Philoxenos of Mabbug
Pauline Allen, Australian Catholic University, University of Pretoria, Sydney College of Divinity
The articles etc. can all be accessed for free at the link.

#AARSBL16 app

NEWS YOU CAN USE: The #AARSBL16 app is here! (James McGrath). That is, if you're going to the 2016 annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion next month.

Christian Apocrypha at SBL 2016

APOCRYPHICITY: Christian Apocrypha at the 2016 SBL (Tony Burke).
Here is a quick rundown of the sessions and papers at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature focusing on Christian Apocrypha. I hope I found them all. See you in San Antonio.
Good to know.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Late-antique Samaritan Ten Commandments for sale

EPIGRAPHY: 1,500 years old Ten Commandments tablet heads to auction in Texas (News Network Archaeology).
A stone tablet thought to be about 1,500 years old with a worn-down chiseled inscription of the Ten Commandments will be sold next month at auction, with a stipulation that the buyer must put it on public display, an auction house said on Friday.

The two-foot (61 cm) square slab of white marble weighs about 200 pounds (90 kgs) and is believed to be the oldest existing stone inscription of the commandments, Dallas-Based Heritage Auctions said. Opening bid is $250,000 for the stone, which the current owner likes to point out is not the original.

The tablet is inscribed in Samaritan script with the principles which are fundamental to Judaism and Christianity. It was probably chiseled during the late Roman or Byzantine era, between 300 and 500 A.D., and marked the entrance of an ancient synagogue that was likely destroyed by the Romans, Heritage said in a statement.

Although I don't think I have heard of this object before, it has been around for awhile, there is some literature on it, and it seems to have been authenticated as a genuine ancient artifact. The article has a good photograph of the badly eroded inscription. The link to the auction company site has some closeups and views from other angles. The auction site dates it to 300-830 CE, with a somewhat wider range than the article suggests. It also gives considerably more details about the provenance. The report is that it was found near Yavneh.

I assume that any prospective buyer will have all the provenance and authentication details checked thoroughly before the purchase. If those hold up and it is sold, I hope that the buyer donates or lends it to a museum for permanent display.

HT James McGrath on Facebook. Cross-file under Samaritan Watch. For Rabbi Shaul Shimon Deutsch and the Living Torah Museum, see here and here.

Mazza on the Judean Desert papyrus

FACES AND VOICES BLOG: “New” Judean desert papyrus sold by an anonymous antiquities dealer? Dr. Roberta Mazza is a papyrologist at the University of Manchester and the Rylands Library and she provides some expert commentary and links in this blog post, including the identification of the papyrus photo in the Jewish Press article which announced the discovery last week. Over the weekend Corrado Martone also e-mailed me with the identification: "The image published at the top of the article is the so-called Document Dated to Four Years After the Second Jewish Revolt published by the Eshels in 2009." I noted the story of the recovery of that papyus at the time here and here.

As for the new papyrus, which is reported to be in Hebrew and possibly to mention the name "Jerusalem," and which has been carbon-dated by the IAA to the eighth century BCE, we are all awaiting further information that should be released later this week. Watch this space.

Background here.

Another UNESCO resolution

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: UNESCO to vote on yet another anti-Israel resolution. Vote expected on Wednesday on another resolution ignoring the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount (Nitsan Keidar, Arutz Sheva).
The watered down version drops the words "occupying power" in relation to Israel, in an attempt to soften the resolution’s tone and thus make it easier for it to be approved.

In addition, the new version uses the term Western Wall without quotation marks as the original version did.

At the same time, the resolution still includes a denial of the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount is mentioned in the resolution as “Al-Aqsa Haram Al-Sharif” and described as place of Muslim worship. The words “Temple Mount” and the fact that the Temple Mount is a holy place for Jews are not mentioned.

The resolution further argues that Israel’s archaeological work in the area is "intentional destruction" and calls on Israel to respect the status quo. The document ignores the Palestinian’s archaeological excavations underneath the Temple Mount.
I would like to see the full text of the draft resolution before I comment in any detail. But from what this article says, it looks as though the many criticisms of the last resolution are having some effect. Watch this space.

Background on the previous UNESCO resolution etc. is here and links.

Visotzky lecture

EVENT: Kent library hosts author Burton Visotzky, discussion of Aphrodite and the Rabbis (The Register Citizen).
KENT >> The Kent Memorial Library will host Kent resident and author Burton L. Visotzky Sunday, Nov. 6 at 2 p.m. He will discuss and sign copies of his newly published book, Aphrodite and the Rabbis: How the Jews Adapted Roman Culture to Create Judaism as We Know It. His writing is published in America, Europe, and Israel. He is the author of eleven books and over 120 articles and reviews.

Rabbi Burton Visotzky serves as Appleman Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He is the Louis Stein Director of the Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies at JTS, charged with programs on public policy. Visotzky also directs the Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue at JTS.

Background on Professor Visotzky and his new book is here.

SBL Coptology party

ALIN SUCIU: Coptic Sushi, SBL, San Antonio 2016 Unfortunately Alin will not be able to attend SBL next month in San Antonio. There are a great many of these parties and dinners at SBL this year and I don't know how many I will be able to attend. But I will try at least to stop by as many as I can.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Shemeni Atzeret and Simchat Torah 2016

SHEMINI ATZERET begins tonight at sundown. In Israel, this is also the holiday of Simchat Torah (Simhat Torah). Outside of Israel, the latter holiday begins tomorrow at sundown. Best wishes to all those celebrating!

The biblical and other background is noted here.

Langer, Midrasch



2016. XI, 368 pages.
utb Jüdische Studien 4675/1
27,99 €
ISBN 978-3-8252-4675-4

Published in German.
Midrash is Jewish scholars' study of the Bible and its result, the eponymous literary genre. But Midrash is also teaching, mediation and preaching. Gerhard Langer examines the phenomenon of Midrash from its beginnings in inner-biblical interpretation up to the present. He thereby reveals the ways and means used by the scholars to make the writings accessible and keep them alive. The author presents the major Midrash works and highlights important topics with many examples. When it comes to the Jewish religion, Midrash is about nothing less than recognizing the ever-valid Word of God, conveying its constantly to be reinterpreted message, and by so doing become close to him.

Lee, Mapping Judah's Fate in Ezekiel's Oracles against the Nations

Mapping Judah's Fate in Ezekiel's Oracles against the Nations
Lydia Lee

ISBN 9781628371512
Status Available
Price: $49.95
Binding Paperback
Publication Date October 2016
Pages 316

A unique study of ancient challenges to identity boundaries

Ezekiel 25–32 contains some of the most virulent speeches directed against Judah's neighboring nations. Some scholars emphasize that the destruction of the nations in chapters 25–32 means the upcoming salvation of God’s people. Other scholars presuppose that the nations are judged by a separate moral standard and render the judgment executed upon the nations irrelevant to that upon Judah. In this study, Lydia Lee postulates a third way to perceive the rhetorical roles of the nations in Ezekiel 25–32. Unraveling the intricate connections between the oracles against the nations and those against Judah, Lydia Lee argues that Ezekiel 25–32 contains a daring message directed not only against the foreign nations, but also against Judah's land, temple, and nation. Lee places Ezekiel 25–32 in a broader context, considering how samples of its early reception within the prophetic book affirm or transform the bleak message about the oblique judgment for the house of Judah.


• Materials that addresses the historical roles of various nations with Judah for students of Hebrew Bible
• Critique of widespread assumptions about the absolute antagonism between the nations and the kingdom of Judah in Ezekiel
• Exploration of the commonalities between Judah and the surrounding nations
Follow the link for ordering information and more details. Also available in hardback.

The Schøyen Collection

AWOL: The Schøyen Collection: Manuscripts from around the world spanning 5000 years of human culture & civilization. It's been a while since I linked to the main page of the Schøyen Collection. This AWOL post will take you there.

I was able to visit Martin Schøyen's house and see some of his collection firsthand a couple of years ago while at a conference in Norway. Some other past posts on the Schøyen Collection are here, here, here, and here. The last link notes some questions being raised about the provenance and even authenticity of some of the Dead Sea Scroll fragments in the Schøyen Collection and the Green Collection, on which more here.

Levirate marriage

BIBLE ODYSSEY: Levirate Marriage (Dvora E. Weisberg).
Levirate marriage is one response to the challenges that arose when an Israelite man died leaving a widow but no children. What becomes of a widow with no children to care for her? What becomes of a man’s “name” and property in the absence of direct heirs? Levirate marriage, as described in Deut 25:5-10, offers a solution to both questions: Let the dead man’s brother marry the widow and let the children, or at least the first child of this union, be “accounted” to the deceased.

Some past PaleoJudaica posts on Levirate marriage in the Talmud are here and here.