Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Queen Helena of Adiabene's sarcophagus?

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

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

Samaritan Passover 2014

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

Past posts on Samaritan Passover are here and links.

More doubts about the GJW

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

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

Background on the GJW is here and links.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

On the DSS

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

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

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

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

St Andrews Symposium

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

Mouse in Hebrew

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

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

Monday, April 21, 2014

Sof pasuk

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

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

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

Maaloula, Easter, Assad, and Aramaic

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

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

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

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

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

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

The world is watching.

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

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter 2014

HAPPY EASTER to all those celebrating!

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

Friday, April 18, 2014

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

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

Contributions to Biblical Exegesis & Theology, 72

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

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

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

Thursday, April 17, 2014

GJW: Depuydt replies to King

MARK GOODACRE: Jesus' Wife Fragment Latest: Leo Depuydt responds to Karen King . Mark posts the response as a pdf file. I'm not a Coptologist, so I won't try to address the substantive issue. But I do have two observations. First, King's response addresses many of Depuydt's objections, whereas his reply only addresses one of her points. What about the others? Second, the tone of the two responses is very different. King writes objectively and respectfully. She accuses Depuydt of making a grammatical error. If she is wrong, she made a mistake, but she isn't rude about it. Depuydt's reply is very sarcastic and it tries too hard to sound hip and edgy, complete with emoticons. Now regular readers know that I am by no means above a little sarcasm if I think it's justified, but it isn't justified here. King is trying to advance the discussion. If she accused Depuydt incorrectly of making a mistake, this could be pointed out politely and respectfully.

I am still quite skeptical that the Gospel of Jesus' Wife is an ancient artifact, but King has made a real effort to keep the tone high and the skeptics should do the same.

Background here and links.

Maaloula in ruins

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Syria fighting leaves Maaloula, a historic Christian town, in ruins. Syrian forces have driven most rebels from Maaloula, home to ancient churches and monasteries now smashed and defaced after months of battles (Patrick J. McDonnell and Nabih Bulos). Excerpt:
Maaloula never had the strategic value of other nearby areas, such as the city of Yabroud to the north, which was recaptured by the military in March. But it possesses vivid symbolic importance. The Christian enclave has long been a signature site for Syria's diverse assemblage of faiths and ethnicities.

Assad's government has presented itself as a staunch defender of religious tolerance and minorities in the face of Islamic militants who make up some of the strongest rebel forces. Recapturing Maaloula helps reinforce that message.

The town is acclaimed as one of the few places where a version of Aramaic, said to be the language of Jesus, is still spoken and taught. Its ancient churches and monasteries are iconic.

Most of the 2,000 or so residents fled long ago. A group of 13 nuns abducted by Islamic rebels who overran the town last year has since been freed in a prisoner exchange.

One of the first tasks facing officials will be to determine the damage inflicted on Maaloula's historic churches and other Christian sites. Statues of Jesus and Mary that once looked down from twin ridges have been destroyed — whether by the rebels or government shelling is not clear.

St. Thecla monastery, from where the nuns were kidnapped last year, remains in a perilous zone. It was impossible on Tuesday to assess the damage. But crosses had been removed from the tops of St. Thecla and other churches, apparently by Islamic rebels. It seemed likely that the crosses and hillside statues will be easier to replace than other, more profound losses yet to be cataloged.

Up the hill from St. Thecla, the ancient Church of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus lay in ruins. The sturdy brick structure still stands, but shells have crashed through the dome, and much of the interior has been reduced to wreckage.
The record of the Syrian Government with regard to Maaloula has been at best mixed (e.g., here and here). But now is their chance to demonstrate their support of religious tolerance. Let them rebuild the city and restore it to its ancient inhabitants. And re-open that Aramaic Institute.

Much more on Maaloula (Ma'aloula, Malula) here and links.

Lod mosaic at Waddesdon Manor

THE LOD MOSAIC IS COMING TO THE U.K.: Predators and Prey: A Roman Mosaic from Lod, Israel (PastHorizons). The article has lots of cool detail photos.

From there the Lod Mosaic will go on display in St. Petersburg, then back to Israel to be housed in its new permanent museum home, the Shelby White and Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Archaeological Center.

More on the Lod Mosaic and other, related ancient mosaics here with many links.