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.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Rosenfeld (ed.), What Ifs of Jewish History

What Ifs of Jewish History
From Abraham to Zionism

EDITOR: Gavriel D. Rosenfeld, Fairfield University, Connecticut
DATE PUBLISHED: September 2016
FORMAT: Hardback
ISBN: 9781107037625

What if the Exodus had never happened? What if the Jews of Spain had not been expelled in 1492? What if Eastern European Jews had never been confined to the Russian Pale of Settlement? What if Adolf Hitler had been assassinated in 1939? What if a Jewish state had been established in Uganda instead of Palestine? Gavriel D. Rosenfeld's pioneering anthology examines how these and other counterfactual questions would have affected the course of Jewish history. Featuring essays by sixteen distinguished scholars in the field of Jewish Studies, What Ifs of Jewish History is the first volume to systematically apply counterfactual reasoning to the Jewish past. Written in a variety of narrative styles, ranging from the analytical to the literary, the essays cover three thousand years of dramatic events and invite readers to indulge their imaginations and explore how the course of Jewish history might have been different.

• The first major scholarly study to systematically apply counterfactual reasoning to the Jewish past
• Spans three thousand years of Jewish history, ranging from the Exodus to the founding of the modern State of Israel
• Contributions range from analytical essays to entertaining works of literary fiction
Two of the essays are relevant to ancient Judaism:
1. What if the Exodus had never happened? Steven Weitzman
2. What if the temple of Jerusalem had not been destroyed by the Romans? René Bloch
Regarding the first, I'm not sure that the Exodus did happen, at least as anything like what is described in the Book of Exodus. But this is a mainstream view and I'm sure the author of the essay took account of it.

I have done some work on counterfactual history, including a published article that dealt with the Dead Sea Scrolls. See this post for some relevant discussion, as well as bibliography and links to a couple of my draft essays online.

The Italian PM on the UNESCO resolution

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Italy PM says officials should have voted against UNESCO Jerusalem resolution (Middle East Online). Another voice in the chorus of condemnation.

Background here and links.


YONA SABAR: Hebrew Word of the Week: ‘atseret “festive assembly; general, special assembly”. Again, timely. See tomorrow and cross-file under Shemini Atzeret.

Laird, Negotiating Power in Ezra-Nehemiah

Negotiating Power in Ezra-Nehemiah
Donna Laird

ISBN 9781628371390
Status Available
Price: $55.95
Binding Paperback
Publication Date October 2016
Pages 418

Donna Laird examines Ezra and Nehemiah in the light of modern sociological theorist Pierre Bourdieu. How did this context of hardship, exile, and return change what Ezra and Nehemiah viewed as important? How did they define who was a part of their community, and who was an outsider? It goes on to explore how the books engaged readers at the time: how it addressed their changing circumstances, and how different groups gained and used social power, or the ability to influence society.


• Chapters dedicated to penitential prayer and to the role of ritual
• Illustrations of how the writers used past traditions to justify dividing those who belong, the repatriates, from the local population
• Demonstration of how shifting strategies of discourse in the various sections of Ezra-Nehemiah reflect the changing political and social contexts for the community and the authors
Follow the link for ordering information and more details. Also available in hardback.

Friday, October 21, 2016

A Hebrew papyrus from the 8th century BCE? [Now updated]

EPIGRAPHY: Discovery: ‘Jerusalem’ on Hebrew Papyrus (David Israel, The Jewish Press).
A unique, 2,700-year-old Papyrus which mentions the Hebrew word “Yerushalma” (possibly meaning “to Jerusalem”) will be revealed next week at a conference on Innovations in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and Its Environs, at the Rabin Jewish Studies Building on the Mount Scopus Campus of the Hebrew University, Makor Rishon reported. Researchers say the papyrus may be the earliest evidence in Hebrew of the connection between the city of Jerusalem and the period of the Kings of Israel.

The papyrus is a document written on paper made from the pith of the papyrus plant, cyperus papyrus. Such documents were written on sheets of papyrus, joined together side by side and rolled up into a scroll, in an early form of a book. In a dry climate, like that of Egypt or the Judaean desert, the papyrus pages are stable, since they are made of highly rot-resistant cellulose; but storage in humid conditions can result in molds attacking and destroying the material.

First, just to be clear, the photo of "an ancient Hebrew text written on papyrus" at the top of the article is not a photo of the new Hebrew papyrus (nor does the caption claim that it is). That would be written in the paleo-Hebrew script, but the one in the photo is written in the much later square script. Offhand, I don't know what it is. [UPDATE (24 October): For the identification of the papyrus in the photo, see here.]

In any case, this announcement is very exciting. Papyri are fragile and there are very few that survive from the eighth century BCE and as far as I know all of those come from Egypt rather than the Judean Desert. The earliest surviving Hebrew(ish) papyrus is the Marzeah Papyrus, which appears to date to the seventh century BCE. Unfortunately it surfaced on the antiquities market and is unprovenanced. You can see a photo of it here (center, second from the top). As I noted back in 2005, epigrapher Christopher Rollston doubts that the Marzeah papyrus is authentic. I have no view myself, except that I am always skeptical of unprovenanced inscriptions, especially ones that are not available for examination.

With that as background, my heart sunk a bit when I read the last paragraph of the article on the new papyrus:
The Hebrew papyrus was discovered recently in the Judaean desert and purchased from an antique dealer. It was examined by the Israel Antiquities Authority’s labs, and carbon dated. The results showed with certainty that the papyrus dates back to the 8th century BCE, near the end of the Kingdom of Judea, a short while before the destruction of the First Temple.
The new papyrus is unprovenanced, but materials testing dates the papyrus material used for it to the eighth century BCE. That's good, but we must keep in mind that, going back all the way to the nineteenth century, modern forgers have know to use ancient materials. The most recent well-publicized case is that of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife.

Thus the date of the papyrus material used for this new inscription may or may not tell us when the inscription itself was written on it. That said, although I am going to reserve a little skepticism, I recognize that the authentication by the IAA should be taken very seriously. Also, I recognize that blank papyrus from the eighth century BCE would not be easy for a forger to find.

I look forward to more information when Professor Achituv gives his lecture on it next week. Ultimately the case needs to be made and decided in the peer-review scholarly literature and that will take time. The preliminary indications look good and I hope it turns out to be authentic.

By the way, I mentioned the cave inscription that refers to Jerusalem (at Khirbet Beit Lei) some years ago here.

HT: thanks to Joseph Lauer for his e-mail drawing attention to the announcement.

Weissenrieder (ed.), Borders

Borders: Terminologies, Ideologies, and Performances
Ed. by Annette Weissenrieder

[Grenzen: Terminologien, Ideologien und Eigenschaften.]
2016. IX, 508 pages.
Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 366
149,00 €
ISBN 978-3-16-154375-3

Published in English.
What are the relevant conceptualities and terminologies marking political, cultural, cultic, or religious borders and border zones? What terms represent “border” or “border zones” and what did they signify in antiquity? In this volume, an international group of archaeologists, classicists, historians, and biblical scholars investigates various terms, performances, and qualities of borders, and ideologies of boundaries in antiquity. Their primary focus is on physical borders and border zones of political organizations as well as of sanctuaries and houses, and on borderlines which can be experienced in demarcations and their relevance for religious life. The contributions also discuss instances where definitions of external borders are renounced altogether and states are organized from the center toward the outer margins, for example, with the sub-divisions of a given territory remaining undefined. And they look into trans-boundary social relationships, investigated on the basis of archaeological finds and textual sources, and their significance for the transfer of knowledge.
Many of the essays deal with ancient Judaism and related matters.

Sukkahs for Sukkot

JEWISH AND SAMARITAN: Two very different Sukkot celebrations in Israel (J.weekly.com).
In many ways, the unusual sukkah customs of Israel’s little-known ancient Samaritan community can’t hold a candle to the country’s most expensive “desert” huts. But it all depends on what you’re looking for.

The elegant sukkahs built by the Samaritans are designed in accordance with the ancient tradition of using dozens of kilograms of fruit picked by family members.


A more common sight in Jerusalem is the many homemade sukkahs built on private balconies and in courtyards. Hotels get into the act, competing with each other to build the fanciest constructs.

Also, reader Yoel points me to this brief but picturesque Times of Israel video: Inside the Samaritan high priest’s fruity sukkah, literally. It presumably goes with the article I noted yesterday. Follow the links there for more on Samaritan Sukkot and the Samaritans. For this year's Jewish Sukkot celebrations (and relevant background), start here and follow the links.

Islam, Jews, and Jerusalem

HISTORY AND TRADITION: Opinion - Islam Has Never Denied the Jewish Connection to Jerusalem. On the contrary, anywhere you look in early Islamic literature, if it discusses the city at all you’ll find its Jewish connection (Salman Masalha, Haaretz). Excerpt:
The deepening occupation and the ongoing conflict are also driving the other side out of their minds and their religion. I’ve discussed this at length in articles I have published in Arabic. Islam has never denied the Jewish connection to Jerusalem. On the contrary, anywhere you look in early Islamic literature, if it discusses the city at all you’ll find its Jewish connection.

There is a plethora of examples. For instance, it’s no accident that the ancient name of Surah al-Isra, the chapter of the Koran that discusses the Prophet Mohammed’s legendary journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and his ascension to heaven, was Surah Bani Israil, that is, the Surah of the Children of Israel.
There is a debate within Islam over the direction in which Muslims originally prayed. Some claim that Muslims prayed toward Mecca from the start, while others claim that they initially prayed toward Jerusalem. Ancient and canonical Muslim traditions cite Mohammed referring to Jerusalem as Qibla al-Yahud, meaning the Kaaba of the Jews. (The Kaaba in Mecca is Islam’s holiest site.) The reference is to the rock on which the Dome of the Rock was built in the seventh century.

Muslim commentators also discuss Al-Aqsa Mosque, which appears in the Koran as Suleiman’s Mosque or Suleiman’s Temple — in other words, Solomon’s Temple. Such commentaries even cite a tradition, or hadith, attributed to Mohammed, who said of the First Temple: “Solomon son of David raised [it] with gold and silver, with rubies and emeralds.” The tradition also says that this temple was destroyed twice, but all its looted contents are destined to return to it when the Mahdi comes, the Messiah who will restore our ancient glory.
I am no expert on Islamic literature, but I am aware of early Islamic traditions that take the connection of Judaism and Jerusalem for granted, and I am unaware of anyone claiming that there were no Jewish temples on the Temple Mount until quite recently, probably the 1990s.

Some relevant past posts are here, here, here, and here.

Jewish-Temple denial from an MK

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Arab MK: No Jewish Temple Ever Existed on Temple Mount (David Israel, The Jewish Press).
In a zeal reminiscent of the ISIS hordes destroying archaeological treasures belonging to cultures and religions before the birth of Islam, and a fervor matching that of the Arab members of UNESCO who voted to erase millennia of Jewish history in Jerusalem, MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint Arab List) on Thursday said that “There has never been any connection to the Al Aqsa Mosque to any other religion, and although I don’t wish to enter a religious dispute, there was no Temple.”

There's audio of the interview (in Hebrew) at the link. Reports of such denials, alas, are not new. See here and here.

"Solomon's Pools" at Gush Etzion

PHOTO ESSAY: Welcome to Breichot Shlomo (Solomon’s Pools) (Photo of the Day, The Jewish Press).
The Kfar Etzion Field School gave a special tour during Succot to Breichot Shlomo / Solomon’s Pools, just north of the town of Efrat in Gush Etzion.

Solomon’s Pools consist of 3 large pools that are an integral part of the water network that supplied ancient Jerusalem and the Second Temple with water. Much of the network was built by Herod, but parts (the lowest pool) are of earlier, Maccabean origin.

There was a report of damage to Solomon's pools earlier this year.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

New evidence for Roman breach of Jerusalem's third wall

ARCHAEOLOGY: Excavation Reveals Spot Where Romans Breached Jerusalem’s Wall 2,000 Years Ago (JNi.Media).
Exciting evidence of the breaching of the third wall that surrounded Jerusalem at the end of the Second Temple period was uncovered last winter in the Russian Compound at the city center. The discovery was made in an archaeological excavation the Israel Antiquities Authority conducted in the location where the new campus of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design is slated to be built. In the course of the excavation, archaeologists discovered the remains of a tower jutting from the city wall. Opposite the tower’s western facade were scores of ballista and sling stones that the Romans had fired from catapults at the Jewish guards who were stationed at the top of the tower.

According to Dr. Rina Avner and Kfir Arbib, excavation directors on behalf of the IAA, “This is a fascinating testimony of the intensive bombardment by the Roman army, led by Titus, on their way to conquering the city and destroying the Second Temple. The bombardment was intended to attack the sentries guarding the wall and provide cover for the Roman forces so they could approach the wall with battering rams and thereby breach the city’s defenses.”


Review of Belser, Power, Ethics, and Ecology in Jewish Late Antiquity

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Book Note | Power, Ethics, and Ecology in Jewish Late Antiquity (Catherine Bonesho).
Julia Watts Belser. Power, Ethics, and Ecology in Jewish Late Antiquity: Rabbinic Responses to Drought and Disaster. Cambridge University Press, 2015.

In 2014 the governor of California declared a state of emergency due to drought and claimed, “We can’t make it rain” (Martineau 2014). In the Deuteronomic and rabbinic traditions, however, God makes it rain as part of a relationship with the land and the people of Israel. Drought is not a natural disaster but a moral crisis, an explicit sign of a broken relationship with God. Julia Watts Belser, an assistant professor of Jewish Studies at Georgetown University, presents how tractate Taʿanit in the Babylonian Talmud (hereafter BT) both inherits this Deuteronomic understanding and challenges the seemingly straightforward notion that “piety and virtue can assure good fortune in this world” (p. 5).


IAA director compares UNESCO to ISIS

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Israel’s antiquities chief compares UNESCO to Islamic State. UN cultural body’s resolution on Jerusalem akin to jihadist group’s destruction of Palmyra, says Yisrael Hasson (Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel).
“Around us, world heritage treasures are being destroyed… They murdered Syrian archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad, who tried to protect heritage,” Hasson said recalling the 82-year-old retired head of antiquities in Palmyra who was beheaded by IS militants last year.

IS overran Palmyra — a UNESCO world heritage site known as the “Pearl of the Desert” — in May 2015 and used its ancient amphitheater for public executions.

The extremist group blew up temples and tower tombs as part of it campaign against pre-Islamic monuments it considers “blasphemous.”

“And recently UNESCO in essence joined this system of destruction by diplomatic means. This is essentially the same action by a diplomatic course,” Hasson said.
That's harsh, but there's no question that the wording of the UNESCO resolution was unhelpful.

Meanwhile, Hamas is displeased with Ban Ki Moon for backing away from the resolution: Palestine: Hamas slams UN chief over Al-Aqsa resolution (Ola Atallah, The Muslim News).
Ban, for his part, said that the holy site belongs to all religions.

“The Secretary General reaffirms the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions and stresses the importance of the religious and historical link of the Jewish, Muslim and Christian peoples to the holy site,” Ban’s spokesman Estefan Dogrec said.

Hamas described Ban’s statement as a “violation of his duties”.
And let's not fail to take note of the intimation of Jewish-Temple denial in the article:
For Muslims, Al-Aqsa represents the world’s third holiest site. Jews, for their part, refer to the area as the “Temple Mount,” claiming it was the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times.
Background on the UNESCO resolution and the responses to it are here (today's first post, but composed and meant for yesterday) and links.

Interview with Visotzky on Aphrodite and the Rabbis

NEW BOOK: The Aphrodite exchange, part 1: On how Greek and Roman culture influenced Judaism (Samuel Rosner, The Jewish Journal).
Rabbi Burton Visotzky serves as Appleman Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies at The Jewish Theological Seminary, where he joined the faculty upon his ordination in 1977. Rabbi Visotzky is the Louis Stein Director of the Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies of JTS, charged with programs on public policy. He also serves as director of the Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue of JTS. Rabbi Visotzky holds degrees from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Harvard University, and JTS. He has been visiting faculty at Oxford, Cambridge, and Princeton universities, and at the Russian State University of the Humanities in Moscow. With Bill Moyers, Rabbi Visotzky developed 10 hours of television for PBS. Their collaboration, Genesis: A Living Conversation, premiered in 1996. He also consulted with Jeffrey Katzenberg and DreamWorks for the company's 1998 film, Prince of Egypt. Rabbi Visotzky's articles and reviews are published in America, Europe, and Israel. He is the author of 10 books and more than 100 articles and reviews.

The following exchange will focus on Rabbi Visotzky’s new book Aphrodite and the Rabbis: How the Jews Adapted Roman Culture to Create Judaism as We Know It.
I have replaced the first link in the quotation, which is dead, with one that works. Parts two and three of the interview are available at the following links:

The Aphrodite exchange, part 2: On Judaism’s ambivalence toward Rome;

The Aphrodite exchange, part 3: What we can learn from Jewish-Roman relations.

More on Samaritan Sukkot

SAMARITAN WATCH: Inside the Samaritan high priest’s fruity sukkah, literally. While Jews use holiday to spend time outdoors, this ancient Israeli community, now numbering just 750, builds its festive huts indoors, and not out of wood, but fruit (Dov Lieber and Iacopo Luzi, Times of Israel).

More on Samaritan Sukkot is here and links. And there's more on the Samaritans in general here with many links.

UNESCO resolution latest

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH (FROM YESTERDAY - IT SEEMS I FORGOT TO PRESS "PUBLISH"): UNESCO ratifies Jerusalem resolution, Mexico withdraws support. Under pressure from Western states, Mexico backed away from its initial intention to call for a new vote on the resolution so that it could withdraw its support from the resolution (Tovah Lazaroff, Jerusalem Post).
UNESCO’s Executive Board on Tuesday afternoon ratified a 24-6 vote taken last week on a resolution that ignored Jewish ties to the Temple Mount.

Under pressure from Western states, Mexico backed away from its initial intention to call for a new vote on the resolution so that it could withdraw its support from the resolution.

Instead Mexico noted for the record that its position on the matter was one of abstention, but its statement does not technically change the vote numerical count as the 58-member board wrapped up its 200th session in Paris.

Mexico’s Foreign Ministry posted a statement on its web site that it had abstained in recognition of the undeniable Jewish cultural heritage that is located in east Jerusalem.

It added that it was also doing so out of a deep appreciation for the contribution the Jewish community has played in Mexico’s economic, social and cultural development.

Brazil also spoke at the final board session and indicated that it was unlikely to support such resolutions in the future.

This is getting complicated, isn't it? Then there's this: Mexico fires Jewish ambassador who protested UNESCO vote, but will now abstain
RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) — Mexico has fired its ambassador to UNESCO, Andre Roemer, who is Jewish, for protesting against his country’s decision to vote for a resolution denying Jewish ties to Jerusalem.

“For not having informed diligently and with meticulousness of the context in which the voting process occurred, for reporting to representatives of countries other than Mexico about the sense of his vote, and for making public documents and official correspondence subject to secrecy,” read the official statement released on Oct. 17.

However, the Latin American country announced it will now change its vote from “in favor” to abstain on the proposal concerning the preservation of cultural heritage and religion in eastern Jerusalem.

“Changing the vote reiterates the recognition that the government of Mexico gives to the undeniable link of the Jewish people to cultural heritage located in East Jerusalem. It also reflects the deep appreciation that this government has for the Jewish community and in particular for their significant contributions to the welfare and economic, social and cultural development of Mexico,” the statement also said.

To recap: Mexico fired the ambassador who walked out of the UNESCO meeting (on the grounds that he did not properly fulfil some specific obligations of his job), but also announced that it wished to change its vote from approving the resolution to abstaining on it. And Brazil voted for this resolution but said it is unlikely to do so again in similar situations in the future. Meanwhile, UNESCO's Executive Board ratified the original vote (despite a report yesterday that they were taking a new vote), so all the talk around it is just talk. Important talk, though, because it appears to weaken the authority of the resolution and, by extension, of UNESCO. And appearances count for a lot in the realm of diplomacy.

Background here and links.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Sukkot priestly blessing at the Temple Mount 2016

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Thousands flock to Western Wall for Priestly Blessing. Amid tight security, worshipers invited to special sukkah by chief rabbis, rabbi of the Western Wall (Times of Israel).
Thousands of Israelis flocked to the Western Wall in Jerusalem Wednesday, for the traditional biannual Priestly Blessing.

The ceremony sees male descendants of the Kohanic priestly caste gathering to recite a benediction. It is performed daily by devout Jews at synagogues throughout Israel, while mass blessings at the Western Wall take place on the festivals of Passover and Sukkot.

The Western Wall is the closest spot to the Temple Mount where Jews can legally pray. Though they are allowed to visit the Mount, where two ancient Jewish temples stood, Jews are not allowed to pray there.

Last year's Sukkot priestly blessing was noted here. Subsequent posts on the priestly blessing (Numbers 6:24-26) are here, here (briefly), here (Passover), here, and here. This year's post on Sukkot is here.

The Economist on the Samaritans

SAMARITAN WATCH: Who are the Samaritans and why is their future uncertain? An ancient tribe survives in Israel (A.V., The Economist Explains Blog).
THIS week millions of Jews are celebrating Sukkot, a week-long Jewish holiday commemorating an ancient pilgrimage linked to the harvest. It is a time to relax, see family and eat good food. Jews are not the only ones to indulge. Some 800 Samaritans, dotted around Israel and the West Bank, also join in. Most people only know Samaritans from a bit part in the Bible, or as a charity for the emotionally vulnerable. So who are the Samaritans—and why are their numbers dwindling?

The rest of the article is a pretty good summary of the history of the Samaritans and their current situation. This sentences requires some unpacking:
And because it hosted an older Jewish temple, Mount Gerizim, near the Palestinian town of Nablus, is held by Samaritans to be holier than Jerusalem.
This issue goes back to a variant reading in the book of Deuteronomy which has Moses building an altar on Mount Gerezim rather than Mount Ebal. This has been discussed here, here, and here. (I'm not sure whether the Deuteronomy fragment in question is genuine or not [see here and links], but that does not matter for the broader discussion.) The larger historical situation has been discussed here. Archaeology shows that there was a Samaritan temple at Mount Gerizim in the Second Temple period, but it was not older than the Second Temple on the Temple Mount, let alone older than the original Judean temple established on the Temple Mount during the Iron Age II (a.k.a, the First Temple period).

More on the Samaritan Sukkot is here and links. Other past posts on the Samaritans are here and here and many, many links.

Fake Dead Sea Scroll fragments?

FORGERIES? Newly Discovered Dead Sea Scrolls are Skillfully Crafted Fakes, Experts suspect (Nina Burleigh, Newsweek). I have noted this story before, but this article has some new specifics:
American Steve Green, the evangelical Christian heir to the Hobby Lobby craft chain fortune and the force behind the Museum of the Bible, an endeavor Newsweek covered earlier this year, has spent millions on the new finds. One fragment sold to the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary conveniently refers to the biblical prohibition against homosexuality in the Book of Leviticus.

The problem is, experts suspect many of these sensational and pricy new fragments are expertly crafted fakes. For example, the fragment references passages in Leviticus 18 and 20 that contain the two strongest condemnations of homosexuality in the Bible. Such a strong coincidence is a flag of fakery.

“It is extremely unlikely that a small Dead Sea Scroll fragment would preserve text from both chapters” of Leviticus, says religion scholar Arstein Justnes, at University of Agder in Norway, who called the new fragments “amateurish” imitations that seem to have been copied from modern textbooks about the scrolls. “I think this fragment was produced for American evangelicals.”
Too good to be true is often too good to be true. But this is a guideline, not a rule. Watch this space.

Background here and here. For background on the Green collection, start here and follow the many links.

The Golden Tanit

PUNIC WATCH: Ahram's Osama Abdel-Fattah selected to jury at Carthage Film Festival. Osama Abdel-Fattah is the editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram's evening paper. Congratulations to Mr. Abdel-Fattah, but what caught my eye in this article is the modern use of a bit of ancient punic religious lore:
The festival's main prize is the Golden Tanit, which is named after the Phoenician goddess of the same name.
Tanit (or Tannit) is actually a Punic goddess — that is, she is known from ancient Carthage but not, as far as I know, from Phoenicia. Her name means roughly "dragon lady" and she was the consort of the chief god Baal and co-recipient with him of Carthaginian child sacrifices.

I have noted some Punic Tanit coins here and here.