Saturday, October 19, 2013

Northwest Semitic epigraphy latest

ASOR BLOG: What’s New in Biblical Inscriptions? (George Athas). Quite a bit, it seems. But I'm not sure the word "biblical" is helpful in this context.

Report on Legio excavations

Legio Excavations Reveal the Camp of the Roman VIth Ferrata Legion in Israel

CONTACT: Noah Wiener
The Biblical Archaeology Society
Phone: 1.800-221-4644 ext. 241
Fax: 202-364-2636


WASHINGTON, D.C. (October 18, 2013)—This summer, the Jezreel Valley Regional Project (JVRP) teamed up with Israeli archaeologist Yotam Tepper to expose a Roman camp just south of Tel Megiddo. The first archaeological investigation of a second-century C.E. Roman camp in the Eastern Empire uncovered remains from the legendary Roman VIth Ferrata Legion. In a free web-exclusive report, directors Matthew J. Adams, Jonathan David and Yotam Tepper share dramatic discoveries from the 2013 Legio excavations.

The legion was deployed during the reign of the Roman emperor Hadrian (117–138 C.E.), and it remained stationed in Judea through most of the third century C.E. Based in the Jezreel Valley near Tel Megiddo, the Sixth Ironclad Legion was well situated to control important centers of the local Jewish population. Surveys conducted by Yotam Tepper clarified the location of the military base, and in the summer of 2013 Tepper and the JVRP excavated part of the long-lost camp of the Legio VI Ferrata.

In a free, web-exclusive report, the directors describe discoveries from test trenches excavated over an area of 295 by 16.5 feet. Finds include defensive earthworks, a circumvallation rampart, barracks areas and artifacts including roof tiles stamped with the name of the Sixth Legion, coins and fragments of scale armor.

The excavation of a Roman military headquarters with clear ties to major political and cultural events in the formative years of Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity is exciting in itself, but Legio also provides a new window into the Roman military occupation of the eastern provinces. No military headquarters of this type for this particular period had yet been excavated in the entire Eastern Empire.

Legio and Tel Megiddo are identified with Biblical Har Megiddo, the gathering place for the armies before the Last Battle in the New Testament (Revelations 16:16), the origin of the modern term Armageddon. The Jezreel Valley Regional Project is only in its opening stages, but excavations at this theological and historical military gathering point have already yielded dramatic discoveries.

Click here to read the free online excavation report by Matthew J. Adams, Jonathan David and Yotam Tepper:

Friday, October 18, 2013

Fifth-century Jewish tombstone discovered in California —

An Ancient Gift, An Unlikely Friendship

Deena Yellin (The Jewish Week)

Steven Fine, a professor of Jewish history at Yeshiva University and director of the school’s Center for Israel Studies, figured an article he published last year in Biblical Archeology Review about ancient tombstones in the Holy Land, would resonate with other archeology buffs.

But he never imagined that “Tales From Tombstones” would move a reader to give him one of those rare relics.

The reader, Pastor Carl Morgan of Woodland, Calif., curator of the Woodland Museum of Biblical Archeology, sent Fine a photo of a limestone gravestone in his collection. Yes, said Fine – it was undoubtedly one of the stones about which he had written.


Thus began a beautiful and unlikely friendship between the East Coast students and the West Coast pastor. The students called Morgan on a regular basis seeking information about the stone’s measurements, design and other details.
Although it was worn, the students, with Fine’s help, were able to decipher the text. They dated the stone to 430 C.E. — some 360 years after the destruction of the Second Temple, and reconstruct the name on the stone to be ‘Sa’adah, daughter of Pi[nchas].”

“Here’s a Jewish woman we never knew of before in a place were there weren’t likely any rabbis,” says Fine. “When it comes to ancient history, every little scrap of anything is worth something. We try to squeeze as much as we can out of every scrap. Each stone is another brick in our knowledge about Jews in the talmudic period — you never know what connects to what until we have it all together.”

As always with unprovenanced inscriptions, I would like to know more about the authentication process. But it does sound likely just from the story that this is a genuine ancient artifact.

Bit by bit, a letter at a time, whatever it takes. Until we're done.

(Via Joseph Lauer.)

UPDATE: Joe Lauer also circulated a couple of photographs of the tombstone, courtesy of Steven Fine. With Professor Fine's permission I post them here. For larger versions, click on the images.

George Smith and Gilgamesh

A MOVING STORY: The tragic tale of George Smith and Gilgamesh
In 1873, the Telegraph funded a groundbreaking expedition. Now, a new book by Vybarr Cregan-Reid tells the story of what happened when George Smith rediscovered The Epic of Gilgamesh.
(Vybarr Cregan-Reid, The Telegraph).
Had he not died so young, Smith could have gone on to become the Darwin of archaeology. As it is, even the little work that he was able to do still refashioned the landscape of his own and other disciplines forever.
Man is snapped off like a reed in a canebreak.*

As regular readers know well, Gilgamesh resurfaced in Second Temple Judaism as a giant.

*X.301, Andrew George's Penguin translation, 1999.

Two Old Testament pseudepigrapha papers

LIV INGEBORG LIED: Two Papers: Pseudepigrapha, New Philology and Media Culture.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Still more on the York Christian Apocrypha Symposium


The 2013 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium in Retrospect: Part Two.

The 2013 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium in Retrospect: Part Three.

Background here and links.

Defining the gospel genre

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: WHAT IS A GOSPEL? (Philip Jenkins). Not as easy to answer as you might think.

Postgraduate study at the University of British Columbia

Located in Vancouver, British Columbia - the 3rd best city in the world in which to live (Global Liveability Ranking – 2013), - the Department of Classical, Near Eastern and Religious Studies at the University of British Columbia offers students the unique opportunity to conduct graduate level research in the classical texts, archaeology, and history of the entire Mediterranean world.

In our department, students can take a spectrum of courses from Roman and Greek archaeology, literature and history to Near Eastern languages (we offer Coptic and Akkadian as well as Hieroglyphs) to Christianity, Islam and Judaism. We are a student-centred department which seeks to enrich and nourish all of our MA and PhD students as a deeply held principle.

CNERS offers MA-level programs in

Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology
Religious Studies
Ancient Culture, Religion and Ethnicity (a unique MA-level interdisciplinary program that draws on the unique synergy of our department’s faculty)

There are two programs at the PhD level:

PhD in Classics (with possible specializations in Classics, Ancient History and Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology)
PhD in Religious Studies

The department is looking for committed, self-motivated students and anticipates being able to offer up to four financial packages to well-qualified PhD applicants (with a completed MA) valued at approximately $25,000 per year for four years (contingent upon academic performance).

Typical support for incoming MA students is around $20,000 per year for two years (contingent upon academic performance).

In addition, there is money earmarked for student travel and research abroad. Funding is also available for qualified international students.

Recent PhD graduates are teaching in leading Canadian and international universities, and our MA students have gone on to study at outstanding universities such as McGill, Yale, UC-Berkeley, Stanford, and Oxford.

Our departmental website:

Our graduate programs:

We encourage students to contact our Director of Graduate Studies [] – or any of our faculty (all of whom are interested in supporting graduate students) with questions about our program, courses, and living in Vancouver.

The deadline for applications is December 15th for PhD programs and January 15th for MA programs.

To apply:

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

“Hot feces in torn date baskets in your mouth, witches.”

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN FROM ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Magical Thinking, Superstition, and Incantations in Jewish Oral Law. By elevating witches and demons to the level of gods, Talmudic rabbis diminished religious thought.

Kirsch's mind is kind of blown by finding this sort of thing in the Talmud, although he does his best to accommodate it:
The ease with which magic and witchcraft find a place in the Talmudic worldview is, to my mind, both illuminating and compromising. For it suggests that the Talmud’s general commitment to exact measurement and correct action—the need to find out exactly how to behave in order to please God, down to the order in which you put on your shoes in the morning—is itself a kind of magical thinking.

For the rabbis, Jews are the protagonists of a cosmic drama in which their every slightest action will be either rewarded or punished. There is something ennobling about this, but when the same kind of scrutiny is attributed not just to God but to demons and witches, it begins to seem oppressive and even absurd. What’s more, it impugns the authority of the rabbis themselves. If we have to listen to the Sages when they tell us about the 39 melachot of Shabbat, aren’t we just as bound to listen to them when they tell us that a “sorb tree that is close to the city contains no less than 60 demons?” And if they are wrong about the demons, mightn’t they also be wrong about the melachot?
Acceptance of the idea of the demonic (and angelic) supernatural is the norm for human societies and it is ours that is out of step with the rest of humanity. Not that we don't have good reason, but that supernatural idea does find a place for subterranean and often dark aspects of the human mind and gives them a coherent place in human society. There is a vast anthropological literature on this: off the top of my head, I. M. Lewis, Ecstatic Religion: An Anthropological Study of Spirit Possession and Shamanism (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1971), comes to mind as an old classic.

It's not as though these aspects of human consciousness can be ignored. They will get our attention one way or another and I am far from convinced that replacing the old supernatural paradigm with some widely used modern ones, notably Freudian Psychoanalysis, represents much of an advance. On the latter, see Karl Popper's critique, which can be found, for example, summarized by Bryan Magee in Popper (Modern Masters; London: Fontana, 1973), chapter 3.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Syriac Seminar at the University of Iowa

ROBERT CARGILL: Announcing Spring 2014 Seminar in Syriac at the University of Iowa. An exciting course that will include readings from the Syriac version of Joseph and Aseneth. The Syriac text is the earliest extant version of this work, although it is a translation from Greek. Bob's post has also reminded me of Mark Goodacre's excellent Aseneth Home Page.

Cross-file under "Syriac Watch" and "Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch."

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Underwater archaeology at Tel Dor

NEW MARITIME CIVILIZATIONS MA: Underwater archaeologists: Unlocking the mysteries of an age-old port. Who sailed from the harbor - or harbors - at Tel Dor? Haifa University students find clues on the Mediterranean floor (Alona Ferber, Haaretz). Excerpt:
It's cold. It's silent. It's murky. It's the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea and it's the hangout of choice for students of maritime archaeology, seeking clues to the dawn of modern man. Or in the case of participants on Haifa University’s new English MA in Maritime Civilizations, signs of a harbor at the ancient site of Tel Dor.

The Tel Dor expedition, some 30 kilometers south of Haifa, is a collaboration between Dr. Assaf Yasur-Landau and Dr. Ayelet Gilboa of the University of Haifa, and Prof. Ilan Sharon of the Hebrew University. Students of the new English-language program, which started its second year this fall, take part in underwater surveys of Tel Dor mostly in shallow waters but also at depths of up to 10 meters of water.

The documented history of Tel Dor begins in the the 13th century BCE and continues through to the Crusader era. Excavators are seeking evidence of the location of a harbor or harbors at the site that are documented in written sources.

During the Roman and later Crusader periods the harbor seems to have been in the town's northern bay– but earlier, during the Iron Age, and perhaps even in the Bronze Age, it seems to have been located in Tel Dor’s south bay. Researchers still don’t know for sure why the harbor moved.
I was as an assistant square supervisor at Tel Dor back in the 1980s, but that work was strictly above ground.

Gold cuneiform tablet update

A MESSY CASE: Dispute over ancient gold tablet goes to US court (AP). The tablet was excavated by German archaeologists, looted from a German Museum in 1945, and bought by a Holocaust survivor. Now the museum wants it back, but the heirs of the late most recent owner want it to go to a Holocaust museum.

I have been following the case, which has had a number of twists and turns, for a while. Background here and links. There's a photograph here and more photos in this video from June 2012.

Monday, October 14, 2013

CSM on the Bible and archaeology

THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR has a couple of interesting articles by Christa Case Bryant on the Hebrew Bible and archaeology, with emphasis on the current debate between the "minimalists" and the "maximalists" regarding the historicity of the United Monarchy (Saul-David-Solomon).

What archaeology tells us about the Bible
A contentious dig in Israel delves into the kingdoms of David and Solomon, stirring a debate over the veracity of the biblical record.
For the past 20 years, a battle has been waged with spades and scientific tracts over just how mighty David and the Israelites were. A string of archaeologists and Bible scholars, building on critical scholarship from the 1970s and '80s, has argued that David and his son Solomon were the product of a literary tradition that at best exaggerated their rule and perhaps fabricated their existence altogether.

For some, the finds at Qeiyafa have tilted the evidence against such skeptical views of the Bible. [Archaeologist Yosef] Garfinkel says his work here bolsters the argument for a regional government at the time of David – with fortified cities, central taxation, international trade, and distinct religious traditions in the Judean hills. He says it refutes the portrayal by other scholars of an agrarian society in which David was nothing more than a "Bedouin sheikh in a tent."

"Before us, there was no evidence of a kingdom of Judah in the 10th century [BC]," says Garfinkel. "And we have changed the picture."

But critics question his methods on the ground and his interpretations in scholarly journals.

The dispute transcends the simple meaning of ancient inscriptions found at Qeiyafa, or the accuracy of carbon-dating tests on olive pits. It highlights the whole dynamic between archaeology and the Bible – whether science can, in fact, help authenticate the Scriptures.

"If you are in the trenches of what's going on today, the battle for Qeiyafa looks very important," says Israel Finkelstein, an archaeologist at Tel Aviv University and one of Garfinkel's most prominent critics. "But if you are zooming out, you see that all this is another phase in a very long battle for the question of the historicity of the biblical text, for understanding the nature of the Bible, for understanding the cultural meaning of the Bible."
More on the archaeology and inscriptions of Khirbet Qeiyafa is here with many links.

In Jerusalem, the politics of digging up the past
As a nexus of religions, and archaeology, Jerusalem inspires intense fights over moving even a single 'grain of dirt.'
While the debate over the extent of King David's realm has focused heavily on Khirbet Qeiyafa to the southwest, archaeological work in Jerusalem also offers evidence about David and the biblical record – but in an even more fraught environment. Gabriel Barkay, who has worked as an archaeologist in the city for decades, says that even moving a single "grain of dirt from one place to another is political."

"It is a boiling caldron, the stew of which is stirred up by so many spoons," says Dr. Barkay. He cites the Chief Rabbinate of Israel (the supreme spiritual authority for Jewish people in the country), the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, UNESCO, the city of Jerusalem, the Israeli Antiquities Authority, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and the Vatican.

"The Temple Mount is the soul, heart, and spirit of Jewish history ... [and of events] in Islamic periods, also in medieval periods, and up to our day," says Barkay. "It is a focal point in the understanding of what goes on here. And the Temple Mount is a black hole in the archaeology of Jerusalem. It was never, ever excavated."

So it's perhaps not surprising that he fought a prolonged battle to reclaim hundreds of truckloads of dirt that he calls "saturated with the history of Jerusalem." In 1999, Palestinians began removing the material from the Muslim-controlled Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif, and dumping it in the Kidron Valley at night.

The Palestinians said they were simply trying to build an emergency exit at a mosque. But the dirt included material that archaeologists determined was from the First and Second Temple periods, vital to Jewish history, and the project expanded beyond what Israeli authorities were expecting. Five years later, Barkay managed to reclaim it and established the Temple Mount Sifting Project to find artifacts among the rubble.

Palestinian leaders have increasingly refrained from acknowledging the existence of a Jewish temple in Jerusalem – and some outright deny it. Meanwhile, those seeking to shore up the Jewish nation's ties to the city have largely ignored the legacy of centuries of Muslim presence as well as that of early ethnic groups such as the Canaanites, believed by some to be the ancestors of Palestinians.
More on the Temple Mount Sifting Project is here, again with many, many links. More on the Palestinian Authority and its Jewish Temple denial is, for example, here and here and links.

Boustan et al., Hekhalot Literature in Context

Ra'anan S. Boustan, Martha Himmelfarb, Peter Schafer (eds.), Hekhalot Literature in Context: Between Byzantium and Babylonia (TSAJ 153; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013)
A review copy from the Journal for the Study of Judaism.

More details here.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Iraqi Jewish Archive debate heats up

THIS IS BECOMING A CONTENTIOUS ISSUE: Plan to ‘return’ Jewish artifacts to Iraq sparks outrage (dan pine, Excerpt:
The United States agreed to return the materials to Iraq in 2014 in exchange for a promise that the Iraqi antiquities ministry would take good care of them.

But the Iraqi Jewish community in the United States is having no part of it.

In advance of the exhibition, Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC) and Jews Indigen-ous to the Middle East and Africa (JIMENA) have launched a campaign to prevent the archives from returning to Iraq where, they believe, the materials will either rot or be destroyed.

“The archives were looted by the Iraqi government from the Jewish community,” said Gina Waldman, executive dir-ector of the S.F.-based JIMENA. “We hope the U.S. government will bar the return of the archives to Iraq, and do everything possible to [reach] a mutually agreeable, fair and just agreement so that the Iraqis are encouraged to hand the archives to the rightful Jewish owners.”

Stanley Urman, executive vice president of JJAC, cites the legal principle “jus ex injuria non oritur,” which in international law means that a state cannot assert legal rights to property illegally obtained. “[The materials] were seized from Jewish institutions, schools and the community. There is no justification or logic in sending these Jewish archives back to Iraq, a place that has virtually no Jews, no interest in Jewish heritage and no accessibility to Jewish scholars.”
But others disagree. No word on whether the U.S. Government is taking any notice of the objections.

Background with, for what it's worth, my own commentary on the situation is here and links.