Friday, April 28, 2017

More on the latest (?) "ancient" Torah from Turkey

AND THE JERUSALEM POST YAWNS: 1,500-YEAR-OLD TORAH RECOVERED FROM TURKISH SMUGGLERS. In addition to the Torah, many other historical artifacts belonging to the Hellenistic and Seljuq periods, including statues, stone rubbings, jewelry, and coins were recovered (Daniel K. Eisenbud et al., Jerusalem Post).
An ancient Torah estimated to be 1,500-years-old was seized from smugglers in Ayvalik, a western resort town in Turkey, the Anadolu news agency reported on Tuesday.

In addition to the Torah, many other historical artifacts belonging to the Hellenistic and Seljuq dynasty periods, including statues, stone rubbings, jewelry, and 200 ancient bronze and silver coins were recovered.

Turkish law enforcement detained two suspects and later released them on probation, and believe the smugglers brought the artifacts from Istanbul and Bingol, an eastern Turkish province.

The Torah, inscribed on leather, was handed over with the other artifacts to the Balikesir Museum Directorship.

I assume that this is the same "gold-plated" ancient Torah that was reported by Turkish media earlier this week (see here). Or maybe it's another one. There's no mention of gold-plating on this one and no date was specified for that one. But it would be a bit rich if there were two in one week.

In any case, I'm calling Bullgeschichte. I don't doubt that the Turkish police have seized some antiquities from smugglers, and well done to them for doing so. And there may well have been a Torah scroll among them, but I don't believe it was 1,500 years old. That would be the oldest complete Torah scroll in existence by many centuries. The oldest ones verified so far are in the range of 700 to 800 years old (see here and here). The oldest complete Torah manuscript is the Leningrad Codex (a little after 1000 CE) and the oldest substantially preserved but incomplete one is the famed Aleppo Codex (c. 930 CE). For more on both, see here and links.

If this scroll were actually 1,500 years old, i.e., from c. 500 CE, it would be a monumental discovery not much less significant than the recovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This would be true even if it were badly damaged but still recognizable as a scroll. But the reports just say this is a leather scroll and give no indication it is damaged. And there is still no photograph. Yes, the Jerusalem Post article has a photo, but the caption explains that it is of a different, much more recent scroll. Always read the fine print.

Sadly, the probability of a 1,500-year-old leather Torah scroll surviving relatively unscathed to the present is pretty close to zero. Now, yes, it is possible that some smugglers found such a scroll in Turkey in a jar in a cave or something and the police caught them and we won the lottery. But given the track record of reports coming out of Turkey about massively significant biblical antiquities finds, that's not the way to bet.

The really disappointing thing about this Jerusalem Post report is its ho-hum attitude, as though there's nothing particularly significant about the claim of the recovery of a Torah scroll from 500 CE. That indicates that the writers have no sense of the field or what counts as an extraordinary claim. And no biblical scholar was consulted to comment on the story. How much effort would a phone call or two have taken? Daniel K. Eisenbud normally does good reporting on stories about antiquities, but I'm not impressed this time.

As always, no one would be more delighted than I to learn that my skepticism this time was unwarranted. If a real 1,500-year-old Torah Scroll has really just been discovered in Turkey, then let's have photographs and let's set scholars loose on it. Bring it on. But I shall be very surprised indeed if that's where this story goes.

Past posts on dubious reports of biblically-related antiquities finds in Turkey have been collected in the previous post on (I assume) this one here.

Lim, When Texts Are Canonized

When Texts Are Canonized (Brown Judaic Studies) Paperback – May 5, 2017 by Timothy H. Lim (Author [i.e. Editor])

How did canonization take place, and what difference does it make?

Essays in this collection probe the canonical process: Why were certain books, but not others, included in the canon? What criteria were used to select the books of the canon? Was canonization a divine fiat or human act? What was the nature of the authority of the laws and narratives of the Torah? How did prophecy come to be included in the canon? Others reflect on the consequences of canonization: What are the effects in elevating certain writings to the status of 'Holy Scriptures'? What happens when a text is included in an official list? What theological and hermeneutical questions are at stake in the fact of the canon? Should the canon be unsealed or reopened to include other writings?


• Essays that contribute to our understanding of the complex processes of canonization
• Exploration of early concepts of canonicity
• Discussion of reopening the New Testament canon
The release date is 5 May, but Professor Lim reports on Facebook that he has already received an advance copy.

Coloring the Arch of Titus

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: The Arch of Titus’s Menorah Panel in Color. A glimpse of what ancient Rome looked like (Megan Sauter).
Today the Arch of Titus appears colorless, but how did this monument look in ancient Rome?

Using technology, an international team of scholars has digitally restored a panel from the Arch of Titus to its original color—offering us a glimpse of what ancient Rome looked like. Steven Fine of Yeshiva University, Peter J. Schertz of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and Donald H. Sanders of the Institute for the Visualization of History detail their restoration efforts in the article “True Colors: Digital Reconstruction Restores Original Brilliance to the Arch of Titus,” published in the May/June 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
As usual, this article is behind the subscription wall. But you can get a good idea of its contents from this brief BHD essay. Aside from the yellow of the menorah, the coloring is educated guesswork.

There have been many, many past PaleoJudaica posts on the Arch of Titus. This one noted the announcement of the discovery of the yellow pigment back in 2012. I have posted some of my own photos of the Arch of Titus here. Some other recent posts are collected here and here, and follow the links. You can find more by running "Arch of Titus" through the blog search engine.

Review of Bockmuehl, Ancient Apocryphal Gospels

Bockmuehl, Markus. Ancient Apocryphal Gospels. Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 2017.

I am typically leery of studies of Christian apocrypha that come from conservative or Evangelical perspectives (I have written about such works in SBL Forum and her eon this blog). Scholars with faith commitments typically do not treat the texts objectively and sympathetically as expressions of Christian belief that are equally as valid as canonical texts; they frequently disparage the contents of apocryphal texts and spend much of their time lauding and defending the canonical texts against some perceived liberal-scholar pro-apocrypha bogeyman. But I was pleasantly surprised by Bockmuehl’s introduction. Granted, it is not empty of conservative rhetoric (the series is subtitled “Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church” after all), but the book is nevertheless a worthy and up-to-the-minute survey of the texts that draws upon and points readers toward a deep base of Christian apocrypha scholarship.

Past posts on this book are here and here.

The watchers and their women in art

REMNANT OF GIANTS BLOG: Foetal Dystocia resulting from Watcher-Human Sex: Eric Ondina’s Art (Deane Galbraith).
In a piece entitled “Fall of the Watchers”, artist Eric Ondina has managed to capture an aspect of the myth of sex between Watcher angels and human women that usually gets glossed over in renditions of the story.


Cross-file under Contemporary Art. Some recent PaleoJudaica posts dealing with the legend of the watchers are here, here, here, and here.

NSEA panel at 2017 ESSWE conference

CONFERENCE NOTICE: NSEA PANELS AT THE 6TH INTERNATIONAL ESSWE CONFERENCE (Sarah L. Veale at the Network for the Study of Esotericism in Antiquity Blog).
The preliminary schedule for the 6th International ESSWE Conference in Erfurt is out. We are happy to report that the Network for the Study of Esotericism in Antiquity has two panels scheduled, both on the first day of the conference (Thursday, June 1st).

For your convenience, the NSEA panel schedule is below.

The NSEA hopes to see you in Erfurt!
Esotericists seem to like long acronyms. NSEA is as above. ESSWE stands for the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism. This looks like a good panel.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Discoveries at Caesarea

ARCHAEOLOGY: Unique mother-of-pearl menorah etching found in ancient Caesarea. Tablet decorated with candelabrum, likely part of a box for a Torah scroll, uncovered in ancient Roman temple; dates to circa 4th-5th century (Ilan Ben Zion with Stuart Winer, Times of Israel).
A 1,500-year-old mother-of-pearl tablet inscribed with a six-branched menorah, which was likely part of a box housing a Torah scroll, was recently found at the ancient Roman city of Caesarea, on Israel’s coast, archaeologists announced Wednesday.

The artifact, the first of its kind made of the precious material bearing Jewish iconography, was among an assortment of discoveries made by the Israel Antiquities Authority amid new excavations carried out as part of the restoration of the ancient port. It was found close to a Roman-era temple dedicated to Augustus Caesar that was constructed by King Herod in the first century BCE, but dates to the fourth or fifth centuries CE.

The find was made just a few days before the Jewish festival of Passover, which began on April 10, said Israel Antiques Authority archaeologist Peter Gendelman.

A fragment of a Greek inscription was also found.

Other articles are also reporting that the excavation found the head of a Roman-era figurine of the healing-god Asclepius. An article by Nir Hasson in Haaretz has good photos of all three artifacts: Archaeologists Uncover Ancient Entrance to Caesarea in Israel. 'Herod’s megalomaniac spirit hovers over Caesarea': Discoveries lend credence to the Roman historian Josephus’ the 'Wars of the Jews.'. Hasson's article reports that some of the ruins may be of a temple of Augustus mentioned by Josephus:
The Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus wrote of a temple atop a hill above the harbor. The temple, devoted to the emperor Augustus and the goddess Roma, did not survive the ages. As with many sacred compounds elsewhere, a Byzantine church was built on the same grounds, then another temple and finally, a Crusader church. But recent excavations found the base of a large altar that stood close to the entrance.

“Josephus relates how the Romans who conquered Jerusalem planted their banners [the flags of the victorious legions] across from the gate, followed by offering a sacrifice. This could be a similar arrangement,” says Dr. Peter Gandelman, who heads the dig along with archaeologist Mohammed Khater.

Most beautiful

In his book “Wars of the Jews," Josephus waxes prolix on the wonders of the Caesarea temple: “On a hilltop across from the entrance to the harbor was Caesar’s temple, prominent in its size and beauty. It contained a gigantic statue of Augustus which was no less magnificent than the statue of Zeus in Olympia, on which it was modeled. There was also a statue of Roma, equal in beauty to the statue of Hera in Argos,” he wrote.
If the Haaretz article has gone behind the subscription wall, you can also find good photos with an AFP article in the Daily Mail: Israeli archaeologists find altar dedicated to Augustus Caesar and mother-of-pearl tablet inscribed with a menorah at Mediterranean port.

A week ago I noted the announcement of a NIS 100 million project to renovate the ancient Caesarea harbor. That post also collects some links to recent past posts on the archaeology of Caesarea.

Tsiyyonut and tsiyyon

YONA SABAR: Hebrew Word of the Week: tsiyyonut "Zionism." This word is a modern coinage, but this column has some interesting philological background on the the biblical word tsiyyon, Zion, on which it is based.

Postnatal purification in Leviticus etc.

DR. RABBI ZEV FARBER: The Parturient’s “Days of Purity”: From Torah to Halacha (
In reference to the parturient, the Torah speaks of a 33 or 66 day period of דמי טהרה “blood of her purity” as distinguished from a 7 or 14 day period “like menstruation.” What is the difference between these two periods according to Leviticus and how did later groups such as rabbinic Jews, Karaites, Samaritans, and Beta Israel understand it?

Hatra retaken from ISIS

THE MOSUL CAMPAIGN CONTINUES: Iraqi forces seize ancient site of Hatra from IS. Full extent of terror group’s damage to well-preserved ruins at UNESCO world heritage site unclear (AHMAD AL-RUBAYE, AFP). Hatra was an important Aramaic-speaking city on the Silk Road in late antiquity. The archaeological site was bulldozed by ISIS in March of 2015.

Past posts on Hatra since it was captured by ISIS in 2014 are here, here, here, here, and here. Some past posts pertaining to the Mosul Campaign are collected here (cf. here).

Albert Henrichs 1942-2017

SAD NEWS: Albert Henrichs, professor of Greek literature, dies at 74. Classical scholar was known for his edition of Manichaeism tract (Kathleen M. Coleman, The Harvard Gazette).
Henrichs’ most stunning coup was his discovery of a minuscule 192-page book, written in Greek in the fifth century A.D. Henrichs had carried the text — four lumps of ancient leather ― in a cigar box from Cologne to Vienna, where an expert conservator gradually unpeeled what turned out to be a sensation for the history of religion: a detailed tract about Manichaeism, a rival of Christianity, founded in Mesopotamia in the third century by a young mystic called Mani, whose autobiographical account of his divine revelations is quoted in the text.

Henrichs was just 26. His subsequent publication of the codex with the papyrologist Ludwig Koenen established his reputation as a Wunderkind of classical scholarship.
Requiescat in pace.

A couple of past posts pertaining to the Cologne Mani Codex are here and here. Cross-file under Manichean Watch (Manichaean Watch).

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Review of Stronk, Semiramis' Legacy

Jan P. Stronk, Semiramis' Legacy: The History of Persia according to Diodorus of Sicily. Edinburgh studies in ancient Persia. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016. Pp. 552. ISBN 9781474414258. £120.00​.

Reviewed by Christopher Tuplin, University of Liverpool (

This book consists of annotated translation of 178 non-contiguous sections of Diodorus I-XL, four discursive chapters, bibliography, and indexes of classical sources, modern authors and general themes. The Diodorus sections are those that deal with what Stronk defines as “Persian history”.

After general remarks about Diodorus’ enterprise and a useful description of salient MS traditions, the bulk of the introduction is devoted to sources. Stronk is a source-maximizer, arguing that Diodorus produced his text by a process involving more than one principal source per book, several secondary sources, personal additions and the imposition of stylistic unity: he was not Stylianou’s “epitomator [who] would always seek to simplify his task”. The impression created is a far cry from e.g. the view that non-Sicilian bits of XI-XV are essentially Ephorus.1 But how far a genuinely alternative view of Diodorus as weaver of multiple sources can be demonstrated remains moot: with only 55 pages, Stronk does not have space to show much working or offer many proofs. The survey is a valuable starting point for those wishing to pursue the topic and the recent scholarship, but it functions less as a framework for annotation of the translation than as an ostensive demonstration of Stronk’s vision of Diodorus’ intellectual enterprise. It is an intellectual enterprise for which Stronk has some respect. As in his work on Ctesias, Stronk is dealing with an author whom he considers to have an unjustifiably low reputation. It is certainly true that no other single Greek work contains such a wide range of Persian history, and there is merit in having this brought home by presentation of the material between the covers of a single book.

I noted the publication of the book in 2016 here and an essay by Dr. Stronk on his work here. Past PaleoJudaica posts on Diodorus are collected in the latter post.

Leprosy in P and in Mesopotamian rites

DR. YITZHAQ FEDER: Tzaraat in Light of Its Mesopotamian Parallels (
Notwithstanding its lengthy coverage of tzaraat (צרעת, biblical “leprosy”), why does the Torah omit discussion of its cause (sin?), its infectiousness, and its treatment? Comparison to the Mesopotamian rituals pertaining to a strikingly similar disease (Saḫaršubbû) shows that these omissions were far from accidental.

Galley slaves and Leviathans in the Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: WHEN YOU BUY A COW (OR A BOAT) WHAT DO YOU GET FROM THE SELLER? WHEN IS IT YOURS? AND WHAT REALLY IS A COW ANYWAY? This week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ Talmud study goes straight to the essence of the matter. Plus, ‘fish tales’ and 750-mile-high waves.
Before Pesach, Daf Yomi readers were exploring the rules governing real estate transactions in Tractate Bava Batra, such as what exactly is included when you purchase a field or a house. During the holiday, Daf Yomi readers began Chapter Five, which applies the same sort of inquiry to various types of movable property. To avoid the kind of ambiguity that can give rise to litigation, the rabbis dictate exactly what the buyer is entitled to receive when he purchases items ranging from a ship to the head of a cow. They go on to explain what action the buyer must take to officially gain possession of the item—a process known as “pulling.”

The Talmud says that the sale of a ship does not include the galley slaves. As I have remarked before, the world of the ancients took for granted a level of cruelty and brutality that we can scarcely imagine today.

The passage also includes some entertaining tall tales:
The chief dish in this heavenly feast will be the flesh of Leviathan, the biblical sea creature around which Judaism developed a whole mythology. Rav explains that when God first created the earth, He made a male and a female leviathan, but He realized that if beasts of such enormous size reproduced, “they would have destroyed the entire world.” To prevent this, “He castrated the male and killed the female, and salted her for the righteous in the future.” This kind of folk belief is very different from what most American Jews learn as Judaism today. In our reformed, rationalized faith, there is no room for heavenly banquets on giant sea-monsters. And the proximity of these ostensibly religious tales to outright absurdities, like the one about the 750-mile-high wave, does not exactly inspire confidence. One of the most fascinating things about the Talmud, I have found in my Daf Yomi reading, is the way the same rabbinic minds can embrace both the most rigorous logic and the most florid fantasies.
Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

3rd edition of Sokoloff's Dictionary of Jewish Palestinian Aramaic

THE ARAMAIC STUDIES TODAY BLOG: A New Edition of DJPA (Steve Kaufmann).
Just a brief note to alert readers to the appearance of a “Third Revised and Expanded Edition” of Sokoloff’s A Dictionary of Jewish Palestinian Aramaic by Bar-Ilan University Press, Ramat Gan, 2017.

Cross-file under Aramaic Watch.

Looting arrest near Nablus

APPREHENDED: Police uncover antiquities trove in West Bank bust. Palestinian suspect arrested; artifacts confiscated include Hellenistic and Roman-era coins, jewelry and ceramics (Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel).
A Palestinian man suspected of smuggling hundreds of antiquities was arrested early Tuesday morning by Israeli police in a village outside Nablus in the West Bank.

A police spokesman said officers working in cooperation with the Civil Administration’s archaeological unit searched the suspect’s house in Hawara and found a trove of antiquities mostly dating to the Hellenistic, Second Temple and Roman periods “estimated to be worth thousands of dollars.”

Among the antiquities were “hundreds of coins from various historical periods, jewelry and pottery,” police said.

This happens a lot. Reports of looting arrests so far in Israel and the West Bank in 2017 have been noted here, here, here, and here. As I've said before, these are just the arrests. Presumably most looters get away with it most of the time, which means that the full scale of the looting is probably considerably larger.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Perrin on apocalyses and Aramaic in the DSS

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: The Inception and Idiom of the Apocalypse in the Qumran Aramaic Texts (Andrew Perrin).

Over the years scholars have increasingly noted that the preponderance of ancient Jewish apocalyptic literature was penned in Aramaic, not Hebrew. Statements of this nature are found as early as the 1979 Uppsala conference and as recently as the 2012 Nangeroni meeting of the Enoch Seminar. In view of this, the Aramaic texts that have been the subject of this forum provide a new space to explore how ancient Jewish writers at once contributed to the development of the apocalypse and deployed it to advance ideas on a host of topics ranging from history and empire, to temple and priesthood, to identity and otherness, to name but a few. While research on the Qumran Aramaic texts has only recently come to the fore in Dead Sea Scrolls studies, there are at least four items within these materials that illumine the formation and background of ancient Jewish apocalyptic literature. These are outlined here with select examples in order to point the way forward for future conversations on the intersection of apocalypses and Aramaic in the Qumran library.

For more on this topic, see Dr. Perrin's book, The Dynamics of Dream-Vision Revelation in the Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015), on which more here, here, and here.

AJR continues to publish its essays for Aramaic month apace. Earlier essays in the AJR series on the Dead Sea Scrolls (in honor of the 70th anniversary of their discovery) are noted here and here and links.

Review of Kaizer (ed.), Religion, Society and Culture at Dura-Europos

Ted Kaizer (ed.), Religion, Society and Culture at Dura-Europos. Yale classical studies, 38. Cambridge; New York: Pp. xxii, 310. ISBN 9781107123793. $99.99.

Reviewed by Graeme Clarke, Australian National University (

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

This handsomely produced and richly indexed set of essays originated from a colloquium held at Durham University in 2008. Its focus is on aspects of life in the small town of Dura-Europos on the west bank of the Middle Euphrates on the fringes of the Roman Empire, especially during its last century of occupation as a Roman fortress town before its destruction in the course of the 250s CE, the period from which we have the best evidence. Its first two centuries of life as a Greek town are unfortunately largely lost as foundation debris and one chapter only deals specifically with life at Dura-Europos for the long period when it was effectively under nominal Parthian control (c.100 BCE – 165 CE): “Dura-Europos: A Greek Town of the Parthian Empire,” by Leonardo Gregoratti. Even so, there are problems enough in trying to delineate a society which was so culturally diverse, literate in a wide range of languages and dialects (but with Greek dominating), and devoted to an astonishing array of divinities, including a community of (not strictly orthodox?) Jews and a conventiculum of Christians. Border-town Dura-Europos may have been, but its destruction enables us to recover, as nowhere else, the rich texture of multi-cultural life on the periphery of the high Roman Empire.

The ancient Jewish community at Dura Europos receives attention, as does the remnants of ancient Palmyrene Aramaic there. Background on Dura Europos is here with many links. Background on Palmyra and Palmyrene is here with many links.

53 biblical persons mentioned in inscriptions

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: 53 People in the Bible Confirmed Archaeologically. A web-exclusive supplement to Lawrence Mykytiuk's BAR articles identifying real Hebrew Bible people. I noted the 2014 version of this article here. Follow the link there for more on Professor Mykytiuk's work on ancient Northwest Semitic inscriptions and the Hebrew Bible. This updated version of the article adds three new confirmed names to the list. But it does not specific which three are the new names.

"Discarded History" opens this week

EXHIBITION: Genizah treasures to go on exhibit (posted by San Diego Jewish World).
CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND (Press Release)– Treasures from the world’s largest and most important collection of medieval Jewish manuscripts – chronicling 1,000 years of history in Old Cairo – will go on display in Cambridge this week for a six-month-long exhibition at Cambridge University Library.

Discarded History: The Genizah of Medieval Cairo opens to the public on April 27 and provides a unique and unparalleled window into the daily life of men, women and children at the centre of a thriving city over the course of a millennium.

From the 9th to the 19th century, the Jewish community of Fustat (Old Cairo) deposited more than 200,000 unwanted writings in a purpose-built storeroom in the Ben Ezra synagogue. This sacred storeroom was called the Genizah. A Genizah was a safe place to store away any old or unusable text that, because it contained the name of God, was considered too holy to simply throw out.

But when the room was opened in the late 19th century, alongside the expected Bibles, prayer books and works of Jewish law – scholars discovered the documents and detritus of everyday life: shopping lists, marriage contracts, divorce deeds, a 1,000-year-old page of child’s doodles and alphabets, Arabic fables, works of Muslim philosophy, medical books, magical amulets, business letters and accounts. Practically every kind of written text produced by the Jewish communities of the Near East throughout the Middle Ages had been preserved in that sacred storeroom.


Dr Ben Outhwaite, Head of the Genizah Research Unit and co-curator of the exhibition, said: “This colossal haul of writings reveals an intimate portrait of life in a Jewish community that was international in outlook, multicultural in make-up and devout to its core; a community concerned with the very things to which humanity has looked for much of its existence: love, sex and marriage, money and business, and ultimately death.

“The Genizah collection is undeniably one of the greatest treasures among the world-class collections at Cambridge University Library. We have translated most of these texts into English for the first time – and most are also going on display for the first time, too. With Discarded History we hope to make this medieval society accessible and recognisable to a modern audience.”

The Cairo Geniza is important also for the study of late antique Judaism, with lots of early fragments of rabbinic texts and piyyutim (liturgical poetry) etc. It also preserves many fragments of early versions of the mystical texts in the Hekhalot literature. Likewise, fragments of late antique and medieval Jewish magical literature. It even contains a few fragments of Second Temple-era Jewish texts, such as the Damascus Document, Ben Sira, and Aramaic Levi.

I noted the upcoming exhibition here last December, with links to older posts on the Cairo Geniza (of which there are many). More recent posts on the Geniza are here, here, here, here, here, and here. The website of the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit at Cambridge University is here.

Erbil update

STILL THERE: As War Destroys Ancient Iraq, Erbil Works to Rebuild Citadel (Ulf Laessing, Reuters).
Erbil, Iraq: High on a rocky outcrop, just 50 miles from the fighting that is wrecking historic sites across Iraq, workers are busy laying out floor tiles, determined to save at least one ancient structure amidst the turmoil.

The team is rebuilding the last remains of the fortified citadel in the Iraqi-Kurdish capital of Erbil, constructed on top of the world’s longest continuously-occupied site according to UNESCO, parts of it up to 8,000-years-old.

While ISIS sends out suicide bombers and snipers in Mosul to the east, the authorities in Erbil are already looking ahead to the day when they can pull in more visitors.

“We not only want to preserve the citadel but also revive it,” said Dara al-Yaqoobi, head of the project. “Around 14 sites are ready for visits. More will come as this is a long-term plan.”

Although this article does not mention it, Erbil is the site of ancient Adiabene. Queen Helena ruled there and she and her family converted to Judaism in the first century CE. More on Erbil/Adiabene here and links (cf. here and here).

Monday, April 24, 2017

Yom Shoah uMeshoah in Zephaniah

PROF. EHUD BEN ZVI: Memories Evoked by Yom Shoah uMeshoah (
Reading the Book of Zephaniah and remembering a day of desolation and devastation in association with a utopian day to come.
In Israel (etc.) Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, was yesterday (27 Nisan).

The Rephaim as ancient ghosts?

REMNANT OF GIANTS IS BACK after a long spell behind a subscription wall. A new post flags some new information that may be relevant to our understanding of the biblical Rephaim: JoAnn Scurlock: Evidence from Babylon that “Rephaim” refers to the long dead?
I spotted an interesting observation about Rephaim from JoAnn Scurlock, in “Mortal and Immortal Souls, Ghosts and the (Restless) Dead in Ancient Mesopotamia”, Religion Compass 10, no. 4 (2016): 77–82 (79). She is discussing how Ancient Mesopotamians treated the dead.

Past PaleoJudaica posts pertaining to the Rephaim are here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Jack on the resurrection, history, and myth

CSCO EASTER SERIES: The Resurrection: History and Myth (PT. 3).
In this final video of our “Resurrection” series, Dr. Alison Jack discusses the important differences between history and “myth” as it relates to the resurrection.
The earlier videos in the series were noted here and here.

Zealots and Sicarii

READING ACTS: Roots of the Rebellion: Zealots and Sicarii.

A couple of thematically related PaleoJudaica posts are here and here. Past posts in Phil Long's series on the Second Temple Period are noted here and links (cf. here).

Gold-plated Torah worth millions seized in Turkey!!!!!!

HERE WE GO AGAIN: Gold-plated ancient Torah seized by Turkish security forces in anti-smuggling drive (Daily Sabah).
An ancient Torah, estimated to be worth at least $3 million, was recovered in an anti-smuggling drive in southern Turkey's Adana last week, the Interior Ministry announced Monday.

Alongside the gold-plated Torah, which is written on gazelle skin, an ancient decree was also seized in the operation, the ministry said in a statement.

Authorities, however, did not elaborate on the details of the operation or whether they were questioning any of the suspects.

The Torah's place of origin could not be initially determined and it will now be examined by experts to find out when it was actually written.
Yes, yet another supposedly priceless biblical manuscript has turned up in Turkey. It's pretty hard to fathom how the Torah could be both "gold-plated" and "written on gazelle skin." My guess is that "gold plated" is a dodgy translation of some Turkish phrase that refers to gold leaf or gold lettering. If so, the manuscript is probably something like this one. But without a photo, it's hard to tell. Count me skeptical about the gold plating and the reported valuation.

I commend the Turkish police for keeping the pressure up on smugglers, but I wish that the Turkish media would hold back on these breathless announcements. They can at least wait until these supposedly priceless manuscripts are actually examined by the abovementioned experts.
Previously in 2012, police in Adana had confiscated a 1,900-year-old Torah, which was smuggled in from Syria.
Yes, I noted this story here when it came out and there is more on it here. The accounts are very far-fetched and the manuscript has never been authenticated.
Another Torah, believed to be 600-years-old, was confiscated in Istanbul in April 2016, when a suspect tried to sell it to undercover police officers.
I don't recall this story, but I may just have decided that it wasn't interesting enough to mention.

We regularly encounter reports of supposedly ancient and priceless biblical manuscripts being apprehended in Turkey. In addition to the above two stories, see here, here, and here. In each case follow the links for the full story. None of these manuscripts has so far lived up to the extravagant claims made in the announcements.

VR apps for ancient Jerusalem

LEEN RITMYER: Virtual Jerusalem. I have already noted the Lithodomos app here and links. The BYU app is new to me.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Did Jesus use weed?

READING ACTS: Jesus and Cannabis? You will probably not be surprised to hear that the evidence for a connection is extremely weak. And by extremely weak I mean there isn't any. Likewise for Moses and cannabis. But the relationship of the Archangel Metatron to weed is another matter.


YONA SABAR: Hebrew Word of the Week: navi’ “prophet.” Another important biblical word.

Where did boy Jesus hang out with the sages?

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH? Twelve-year-old Jesus in the Temple at Passover (Leen Ritmyer).
This Temple Court was separated by the Nicanor Gate from the Court of Women, which lay to the east of the Temple. Buildings, called gates, surrounded this complex. In front of the gates was a terrace (ḥel – pronounced chel with the “ch” sounding guttural as in the Scottish “loch”) of 10 cubits wide, which was reached by a flight of steps of half a cubit high and deep. This terrace bounded the wall of the gate buildings on their southern, western and northern sides.

It is on this ḥel that we get our first glimpse of Jesus after the birth narratives in the Gospels. Scripture is silent about his youth although it is clear from the observations of nature and Biblical history later attributed to him by the Gospel writers that he absorbed every spiritual and historical lesson that was provided by his upbringing in the countryside around Nazareth.
Although there is no doubt that there was an historical Jesus, I do not insist that this particular event actually happened in his life. There is no way to know. The point of the story in Luke 2:41-52 is that even when Jesus was not yet an adult (at age 13), he showed precocious learning and wisdom that impressed even the sages of Jerusalem. But Luke or his source may well have had this spot in mind as the location of the story.

Wilke, Farewell to Shulamit

Wilke, Carsten L.

Farewell to Shulamit
Spatial and Social Diversity in the Song of Songs

Series: Jewish Thought, Philosophy, and Religion 2


Aims and Scope
The Song of Songs, a lyric cycle of love scenes without a narrative plot, has often been considered as the Bible’s most beautiful and enigmatic book. The present study questions the still dominant exegetical convention that merges all of the Song’s voices into the dialogue of a single couple, its composite heroine Shulamit being a projection screen for norms of womanhood. An alternative socio-spatial reading, starting with the Hebrew text’s strophic patterns and its references to historical realia, explores the poem’s artful alternation between courtly, urban, rural, and pastoral scenes with their distinct characters. The literary construction of social difference juxtaposes class-specific patterns of consumption, mobility, emotion, power structures, and gender relations. This new image of the cycle as a detailed poetic frieze of ancient society eventually leads to a precise hypothesis concerning its literary and religious context in the Hellenistic age, as well as its geographical origins in the multiethnic borderland east of the Jordan. In a Jewish echo of anthropological skepticism, the poem emphasizes the plurality and relativity of the human condition while praising the communicative powers of pleasure, fantasy, and multifarious Eros.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Was Jesus a real person?

A HISTORICAL JESUS? What is the historical evidence that Jesus Christ lived and died? Today some claim that Jesus is just an idea, rather than a real historical figure, but there is a good deal of written evidence for his existence 2,000 years ago (Simon Gathercole, The Guardian).
How confident can we be that Jesus Christ actually lived?
The historical evidence for Jesus of Nazareth is both long-established and widespread. Within a few decades of his supposed lifetime, he is mentioned by Jewish and Roman historians, as well as by dozens of Christian writings. Compare that with, for example, King Arthur, who supposedly lived around AD500. The major historical source for events of that time does not even mention Arthur, and he is first referred to 300 or 400 years after he is supposed to have lived. The evidence for Jesus is not limited to later folklore, as are accounts of Arthur.

This article came out for Easter and I'm just now getting to it. It has a good overview of the early historical evidence that Jesus was a real person. This is not in any way controversial. No specialist doubts the existence of Jesus. The historical evidence is ample.

A more controversial question is who the historical Jesus was. What did he do, what did he teach, and what kind of religious practitioner was he? For my thoughts on the matter, see here and links.

False messiahs

READING ACTS: Roots of the Rebellion: False Messiahs.
In addition to Jesus, there were several false messiahs appeared in the first century. Each of this examples are from humble origins (shepherds, etc.), sought to set themselves up as kings, and developed a peasant following.

Chronology, even fairly recent chronology, was difficult to get right in antiquity. I think it is more likely that Luke was a little mixed up on the date of the rebellion of Theudas than that there were two Theudases rebelling within a decade or so of each other. But anything is possible.

Crowd numbers are very difficult to verify even now, so it is no surprise that Josephus and Luke give different estimates of the size of the crowd that was following the Egyptian.

Past posts in Phil Long's series on the Second Temple Period are noted here and links.

Review of Amihai, Theory and Practice in Essene Law

READING RELIGION BLOG: Theory and Practice in Essene Law (reviewed by Matthew Goldstone).
Aryeh Amihay
London, England: Oxford University Press , November 2016. 240 pages.
$99.00. Hardcover. ISBN 9780190631017.

In his Theory and Practice in Essene Law, Aryeh Amihay challenges us to synthesize the insights of legal theory and sociology in order to observe the gap between law and its application within the Judean Desert Scrolls. Offering us a new framework for thinking about the legal texts from this Jewish community, Amihay emphasizes the universality of tensions preserved within these sources while simultaneously highlighting their particularities. By exposing the discrepancy between theory and practice, Amihay animates the authors of these works and draws us into the lived world of these ancient sectarians.

I noted the publication of the book here.

Unicorns in the Bible

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: You Can Find Unicorns in Frappuccinos, but What About in the Bible? Scripture mentions strange visions of nameless single-horned beasts. But what did the ancient word translated as 'unicorn' really mean? (Ilan Gilad, Haaretz).
With Starbucks’s release of its new “Unicorn Frappuccino” Wednesday, the latest in a growing trend of bright multi-colored foods, we thought it an opportune moment to answer the question on everyone’s minds: are there unicorns in the Bible?

Only one creature is explicitly described in the Bible as having a single horn, and can thus be said to be a unicorn. It is nameless and is a figment of the Prophet Daniel’s imagination: “And as I was considering, behold, an he goat came from the west on the face of the whole earth, and touched not the ground: and the goat had a notable horn between his eyes” (Daniel 8:5). Later in the chapter this goat-unicorn fights a ram, beats it, and then things really get crazy.

This goat-unicorn was not a real unicorn, though. It was just something Daniel possibly hallucinated. But are there any real unicorns in the Bible?

I never thought of the beast in Daniel as a unicorn, but I suppose that could work. Incidentally, in Daniel's vision the one-horned he-goat from the west represents Alexander the Great.

In what follows the article gives good coverage of the usual suspects: the re'em (via the Septuagint, the Latin Vulgate, and the King James Bible) and the takhash, along with some Talmudic traditions about both. The latter are worth quoting:
According to [Rabbah bar bar Hana of Babylonia] this strangest of Talmudic rabbis, the re’em is a mountain-sized creature, of which only two exist in the world at any given period, a male and a female, each at an opposite side of the world. Every 70 years, the two meet, mate, and then the female kills the male. After an 11-year pregnancy, two re’emim are born, a male and a female. The mother re’em dies, and the two offspring go to opposite sides of the world, where they bide their time for their incestuous rendezvous 70 years later. The rabbi doesn’t say whether or not they have a single horn.


According to Rabbi Meir, a takhash was a unicorn that appeared during the time of Moses, who killed it, skinned it, and used its hide to build the Tabernacle, the mobile Temple of the Israelites during their travels from Egypt to the Land of Canaan. So if Rabbi Meir is correct, there was one unicorn in the Bible and Moses killed it.
Modern biblical scholars have rather different understandings of the two animals.

Also, before this I didn't know what takhash meant in Modern Hebrew.

Past posts on unicorns in the Bible are here, here (although more on unicorns in Montana), here, here (briefly mentioned), here, and here.

More on that ancient Jewish pyramid

ARCHAEOLOGY: Archaeologists to probe ancient pyramid in Judean Hills. Summer excavation at Khirbet Midras will try to determine who resettled town after ruin in Bar Kochba revolt (Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel).
An enigmatic and little-known pyramid southwest of Jerusalem will be excavated for the first time this summer in an effort to determine who built it and when.

Hebrew University archaeologists will start digging at the pyramid at Khirbet Midras, in the Judean Hills south of Beit Shemesh, for the first time in July. This summer’s dig is the second season of excavations at Khirbet Midras, but the first in which scientists attempt to find out more about the massive structure.

The Khirbet Midras pyramid is believed to be the largest and best preserved of a handful of pyramid-topped mortuary complexes in Israel dating back to the Second Temple and Roman eras. The structure was first documented by former Israel Antiquities Authority director Levi Yitzhak Rahmani during a survey of the site in the 1950s.

As the article notes, we know of other Jewish pyramids from antiquity:
While their great Egyptian counterparts are larger and better known, Judeans apparently began building pyramid-topped tombs during the end of the First Temple periods and through the Second Temple period. The book of 1 Maccabees describes how Simon Maccabee erected a monument near Modiin with “seven pyramids facing one another for his father and his mother and his four brothers” slain in the uprising against the Seleucid Greeks.
Background to this article is here. More on those elusive tombs of the Maccabees is here and links.