Saturday, November 12, 2016

Hurtado on Mugridge, Copying Early Christian Texts

LARRY HURTADO: “Copying Early Christian Texts”: New Book.
An important new book presents a case that early Christian texts were typically copied by trained, skilled scribes, and that “there is no firm evidence that the copyists were generally Christians”: Alan Mugridge, Copying Early Christian Texts: A Study of Scribal Practice (Tuebingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2016), the publisher’s online catalogue entry here.

The book was noted earlier here. As Professor Hurtado explains, it covers a lot of material that is of interest to PaleoJudaica:
The labor that went into this book is prodigious. Mugridge examined over 500 papyri, noting the characteristics of the copyist of each, these data given in the valuable “Catalogue of Papyri” that comprises pp. 155-410 of the book. These papyri include copies of Old Testament texts, New Testament texts, “Apocryphal” texts, Patristic writings, Hagiographic texts, Liturgical prayers, hymns, etc., Gnostic and Manichaean texts, and “Unidentified” texts. Tables at the end of the book present the manuscripts in these categories, each item described as to contents, writing material (papyrus or parchment) and whether it derives from a bookroll, codex, sheet, or wooden tablet.

Sumerian in Peru?

THE ASOR BLOG: Ask a Near Eastern Professional: How the Sumerians Got to Peru (Alex Joffe). The short answer is that they didn't — or at least this artifact does not prove that they did, because it is a fake. But the long answer is quite interesting, so read it all. It would be exciting to find evidence of contact between the ancient Near East and the Americas in antiquity, but it doesn't seem very likely, and so far no convincing evidence has surfaced. Related post here with links.

Free registration is required to read the full text of essays at the ASOR Blog.

Syriac Christianity in Central Asia

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Christianity in Central Asia. New article: Dickens, Mark. 2015. Le christianisme syriaque en Asie centrale. In Borbone, Pier Giorgio & Pierre Marsone (eds.), Le christianisme syriaque en Asie centrale et en Chine (Études Syriaques 12), 6–39. Geuthner.

The article is posted on Follow the link above for a link to it. Cross-file under Syriac Watch. Related posts here, with some links relevant to the book. Likewise here and here and links.


YONA SABAR: Hebrew Word of the Week: hinneh “lo,* behold, look, here, now, yea.” A fine biblical word. There's nothing quite like it in modern English.

More new JHS articles


Speaking to One’s heart: DBR and its Semantic Extensio (Natalie MYLONAS, Stephen LLEWELYN and Gareth WEARNE)
Abstract: Cognitive linguists are increasingly recognising the value of metonymy for understanding the way language works. This article applies recent advancements in the theory of metonymy to the Hebrew noun DBR in order to explain its broad semantic range. It argues that metonymy and its function in the processes of grammaticalization account for the majority of lexical senses listed for DBR. It also aids in the translation of this polysemous noun by highlighting some contextual features of speech that help determine the meaning of DBR in any given sentence.
Narrative Toledot Formulae in Genesis: The Case of Heaven and Earth, Noah, and Isaac (Sarah SCHWARTZ)
Abstract: This paper reexamines the literary function of the narrative toledot formulae in Genesis, claiming that the formula thrice (Gen 2:4; 6:9; 25:19) introduces a passage about the specified father rather than one solely about his sons. This finding is based on a philological analysis of the word toledot and the formula's unique literary design in these three instances. This reading illuminates the inner tension between renewal and continuity in the Flood narrative; leads to the exposure of a unit about Isaac within the patriarchal cycles; and offers a new understanding of chapter 1's exclusion from the toledot framework.
Both can be accessed in full at the links.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Syriac tablet found at Edessa

SYRIAC WATCH: Syriac tablet found at Edessa in Turkey (Roger Pearse). There's a photo at the link. This is different from the Syriac mosaic inscriptions found recently in the same area, on which more here and here.

Lourié on 3 Maccabees, 2 Enoch, and the calendar

BASIL LOURIÉ: The Liturgical Cycle in 3 Maccabees and the 2 Enoch Calendar (proofs). Proofs posted at
3 Maccabees provides a hagiographical legend related to a 50-day liturgical cycle. This cycle implies a modification of the already known calendar shared by 2 Enoch and the Joseph and Aseneth and covers the third pente-contad after the Passover within the 364-day year having its first day (1.I) falling on Sunday (not Wednesday) 3 Maccabees’s innovation consists in shifting the former New Wine pentecontad from the second to the third position while transforming the original day of the New Wine festival into a day of mourning. This kind of liturgical transformation of some feasts is not unique, however, in the Second Temple Judaism.

King on the GJW aftermath

THE HARVARD CRIMSON:‘Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’ Researcher Says Frenzy Distracts from Larger Issues (Bonnie K. Bennett).
A hotly debated piece of papyrus at Harvard that could help answer whether Jesus had a wife has been largely accepted as a forgery by the media and the woman who championed its cause.
And everybody else.
But for that same woman, a professor who has spent the past four years studying the small scrap of papyrus, the frenzy has distracted from the broader issues.

Professor Karen King raises some points worth discussion. And the following is indeed important and good news:
According to King, “the most significant development” resulting from the papyrus was the formation of the Ancient Ink Laboratory at Columbia University and that lab’s subsequent discovery of a nondestructive technique to date ancient inks.

Director of the Ancient Ink Laboratory Jim T. Yardley said the lab created a “totally unprecedented” method of dating manuscripts by analyzing tiny ink samples with a “scanning electron microscope.”
Also, as Alin Suciu notes on Facebook, an interesting takeaway from this article is that the date of the ink on the papyrus is earlier than the date of the papyrus. I don't think this has been mentioned before. Further proof, if any were needed, that it is a forgery.

Recent background on the whole, long saga of the Gospel of Jesus' Wife is here, here, and here, with many links to earlier posts.

Burke on the Syriac Life of Mary

In the course of my manuscript hunting and gathering, I came across some manuscripts that should be of interest to a wider audience of scholars than the few of us who work on Infancy Thomas. This is one of the joys of text-critical research: the serendipitous discovery of texts or versions of texts obscured, in many cases, by sloppy cataloguing—because the cataloger either missed or misidentified the material. ...
The discussion is technical, but will especially be of interest to specialists in Syriac studies and the New Testament Apocrypha.

Cross-file under Syriac Watch. Also, happy birthday, Tony!

Cataldo on "return" in Zechariah 1-8

NEW ARTICLE IN THE JOURNAL OF HEBREW SCRIPTURES (16.6): The Radical Nature of "Return" in Zechariah (JEREMIAH W. CATALDO).
Abstract: Scholarship has tended to emphasize a positivistic view of Zechariah--namely, that the text, constructivist in nature, reflects what the prophet viewed as the eventual outcome of his community. In contrast, using Melanie Klein's theory on the “death instinct,” this article is an experimental reading of Zech 1-8 meant to expose questions about Zechariah as a paranoid text produced under fears of social irrelevance, or “death.” The article therefore argues that the concept of return must be reinterpreted accordingly.
The full article can be accessed for free at the link.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Jorunn J. Buckley on her career in Mandaean studies

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Retrospective | Jorunn J. Buckley. Professor Buckley is a pioneer in the area of Mandaean (Mandaean) studies, an area in which Biblioblogger James McGrath is also a specialist.

Some recent past posts on the Mandeans (Madaeans) are here, here, here, and here, with links. There are many more posts in the archives.

Cross-file under Mandean (Mandaean) Watch.

The fall of Gamla

ANNIVERSARY: This Day in Jewish History 67 C.E.: Roman Forces Overrun Gamla, Jews All Die. The majority of Jews who died in Vespasian's conquest of the clifftop town were suicides, according to Josephus (David B. Green, Haaretz).
Most of what is known about the siege of Gamla comes from the historian Josephus Flavius, who before he went over to the Roman camp, was commander of the Jewish forces in the Galilee and was known as Joseph ben Matityahu. It was he who had overseen the fortification of Gamla, which included construction of a wall on its eastern side. He recorded the history of the revolt in his “Wars of the Jews.”

The siege of Gamla was led by Vespasian, who arrived from Rome in 66, and who required three attempts before he succeeded in conquering the village.

CFP ISBL 2017 Qumran

Program Unit Type: Section
Accepting Papers? Yes

Call For Papers: The Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls unit plans four sessions: 1. “Dead Sea Scrolls and the Genre Apocalypse” will be convened jointly with the Apocalyptic Literature program unit. This session will reconsider questions related to genre and definitions of apocalyptic literature, in light of the full publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls, exploring issues such as apocalyptic rhetoric, social setting, and eschatology. Some papers are invited but we also welcome proposals. 2. “Tracing and Facing Possibility of Forgeries: Methodology, Ethics, Policies” is an open session on the status of unprovenanced material in Qumran studies. SBL has recently announced a new policy on unprovenanced materials. In summer 2016, the controversy over the “Gospel of Jesus's wife” fragment was traced to Berlin by Ariel Sabar. Around that time, Qumran scholars began to express skepticism about the authenticity of some fragments attributed to Qumran which have surfaced since 2002. We invite papers to engage one or more of the following topics in a cooperative and collegial spirit: • Developments and discussion on post-2002 DSS fragments/other recent material: What has happened and what can we learn from these processes? • Methodology: How to identify forgeries? Which technological/material/paleographical analyses are available/most important? • Ethics: Whose responsibility is it to look into the nature of the material in collections? To what extent can their history and provenance be traced? How are discovery narratives constructing reality? • Policies: To what extent is the new SBL policy helpful? What implications can be expected? 3. The third session is an invited interdisciplinary session that will explore intersections between the Dead Sea Scrolls and Manichean literature, in particular the Turfan collection, which is kept in Berlin. 4. For our final session we welcome proposals on any issue pertaining to the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Program Unit Chairs

Jutta Jokiranta
Matthew Goff
Follow the link for instructions on how to submit a paper proposal. HT Dr. Molly Zahn on the IOQS e-mail list.

Places where Jesus might have been buried?

HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY? These are the places where people think Jesus might be buried — including Japan (Tom Murray, Business Insider, UK).
Last week, the tomb of Jesus Christ was opened for the first time in centuries, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Except that it might not be the tomb of Christ. In fact, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is just one of the places where people think Jesus might have been buried.

As per the nature of the Bible story — that Jesus was resurrected then ascended to heaven — it's pretty much impossible to say definitively what or where the Tomb of Christ is, as it won't contain any remains.

Although there will never be any archaeological evidence of Jesus' body, there are other factors that make certain sites look more probable than others.

In accordance with Jewish custom, researchers know that Jesus would have been buried outside of Jerusalem's city walls. However, soon after Jesus' death, the walls were expanded — meaning that Jesus' burial site could now rest within the modern-day 'Old City' of Jerusalem.

Over time, researchers have found over a thousand 'rock-cut' tombs that match those that Jesus could have been buried in, but only a handful have laid a convincing claim on the son of God's resting place.

See them below ...
Two of these, the ones in India and Japan, just have fanciful legends about Jesus associated with them and aren't in the running in any historical sense. And, as the article notes, the Garden Tomb really is not in the running archaeologically speaking. The Talpiot Tomb is at least from the right time period, but specialists in the New Testament and archaeology have not found the arguments for any connection with Jesus or his family persuasive. On that, see most recently here, here, here, and here, with links to many earlier posts.

The tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (Holy Sepulchre) seems to be from the right period as well, and if we know the place of Jesus' burial, it is the only possibility in the running. But for that matter, it is possible that the tomb narratives in the Gospels are partly or completely legendary and that the place where Jesus was buried is entirely unknown or even that, as was the norm for crucified criminals, his body didn't have any formal burial at all. We just don't know.

It is interesting that when Paul talks about the resurrection of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15, he refers to Jesus being buried (v. 4), but says nothing about a tomb. If he knew about a tomb tradition, it doesn't seem to have been important to him.

For more on the recent restoration work on the tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, see here and links.

Jonah and Eden

Jonah in the Shadows of Eden

Like the manna-hoarding Israelites who, after the splitting of the sea, believe they can preserve their latest installment of divine largesse, the rebellious Jonah, after his own salvation at sea, renews his quest for a permanent Eden-like existence. In neither case, however, is the wish granted. Rather, God teaches Jonah, as he showed in the story of the manna, that enduring value cannot be attained by unearned gifts amassed in a day. Rather, only by persistent, plodding effort can humans strive toward a more perfect world—an opportunity that the prophet seeks to deny to the flawed inhabitants of Nineveh.

See Also: Jonah in the Shadows of Eden (Indiana Studies in Biblical Literature; Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2016).

By Yitzhak Berger
Professor of Bible
Head, Hebrew Division
Hunter College of the City University of New York
November 2016

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

HB job in Finland


Seen on Facebook.

Hort once dissed Tischendorf

ETC BLOG: Tischendorf’s ‘Wounded Vanity’? (Peter Gurry). Rick Brannan once informed us that "Tischendorf was a stud." So there. More on Constantine Tischendorf, who is especially well known (or infamous) for recovering (or appropriating) the Codex Sinaiticus, is here and links.

"Methuselah" the movie

TOM CRUISE WILL PLAY THE WORLD’S OLDEST DEMON SLAYER IN ‘METHUSELAH’. Tom Cruise is no stranger to action-packed movies that keep viewers on the edge of their seats, and he always goes the extra mile and performs death-defying stunts that most actors will never even dare try. He hung off the side of a plane in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and scaled the Burj Khalifa in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. This versatile actor has played a variety of roles – from the mysterious yet powerful Ethan Hunt in the Mission: Impossible series, the virtuous yet dangerous Jack Reacher, the sought-after rock god Stacee Jaxx in Rock of Ages and the confident, fast-talking sports agent in Jerry Maguire. Tom Cruise most definitely pulled off a lot of characters most have not expected him to play.

One of his upcoming roles attracting controversy is the role of Methuselah, a biblical character in the Old Testament who defied the laws of aging, surpassed the mortal age of all the characters in the Bible, and lived to be 969 years old. Cruise plays the powerful yet fully mortal character, who, like a lot of protagonists he has played before, has the uncanny ability to defeat enemies and surmount obstacles with a nearly supernatural prowess. In the Bible, Methuselah is portrayed as a great leader and warrior. Although only briefly mentioned in the first book of the Bible, Genesis, he is given more attention in the book of Enoch. In this Jewish book, we find that Methuselah has a powerful weapon called the sword of Methuselah, an object that can kill evil spirits and demons.

Methuselah is mentioned a number of times in the book of 1 Enoch, but there is no reference to a "sword of Methuselah." There is reference to a knife of Methuselah in 2 Enoch chapter 69 and that may be where the sword comes from. Not untypically, the article is a mixture of correct and muddled information. The meaning of the name is unclear, but the first part ("Methu") means "man of." "Shelah" may be the name of an underworld god, a place, or something like "dart."

Be that as it may, it sounds like a fun film. Tom Cruise will have his work cut out for him following the act of Anthony Hopkins in Noah.

Azariah Dei Rossi

HISTORY OF SCHOLARSHIP: Rediscovering Azariah Dei Rossi (Eli Kavon, Past Imperect Blog, Jerusalem Post). Excerpt:
Azariah dei Rossi, a pioneer of Jewish scholarship born into a distinguished family in Mantua, earned the condemnation of the rabbis of his time. The rabbinic leadership in the 16th century in Italy, Central Europe, and the Middle East were especially outraged by Meor Einayim (“Light to the Eyes”). This was Azariah’s outstanding work of Jewish history, a harbinger of great modern Jewish historians such as Heinrich Graetz who would emerge later in the modern period. ...

Dei Rossi was also revolutionary in his rediscovery of ancient Jewish writings of the Hellenistic and pagan world—including the first great Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, the histories of Josephus, and the Letter of Aristeas that described the first translations of the Torah into Greek. In many cases, these texts went unrecognized by Jews and had worked their way into the cherished canon of the Church. It is impossible to think of the modern writing of the history of the Jews without acknowledging this pioneer of Mantua. ...

New Phoenician Tourism Route

PHOENICIAN WATCH: Phoenician Tourism Route launched at the World Travel Market.
( An integral component of Mediterranean trade and culture, the Phoenicians’ Route links 18 countries with a common heritage.

With the aim of revitalizing this itinerary as a tourism route, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Ministry of Tourism of Lebanon and Council of Europe launched the Phoenicians’ Route Cultural Tourism Programme, which integrates public and private sector, at World Travel Market in London.

During the event, participants discussed the development and marketing of three pilot cultural tourism itineraries along the Phoenicians’ Route. The itineraries will connect three continents, 18 countries and more than 80 towns. Theycover the various periods of Phoenician heritage: the Origin (Lebanon, Cyprus and Greece); the Punics and the Sea (Italy, Malta and Tunisia) and the Expansion (France and Spain).

Sounds like a good tourism initiative, although I would be cautious about visiting Lebanon at present.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Moss and Baden on the Jerusalem papyrus

EPIGRAPHY: Is Israel’s Big New Find for Real? A piece of recently found papyrus is said to prove that Jerusalem was the center of a kingdom thousands of years ago. But the timing of its discovery has cast some doubt on it (Candida Moss and Joel Baden, The Daily Beast). Excerpt:
Scholars who are not concerned with lab testing have openly questioned the authenticity of the Jerusalem papyrus, among them some of the most highly-respected archaeologists, epigraphers, and philologists in the world. Part of what drives this doubt may be technical concerns over issues such as whether the script used is what we would expect to find from the seventh century, or philological details such as whether the place name in the papyrus, Naharata, is grammatically correct. But for many, the overarching problem is how the text came to light in the first place.
As usual, Moss and Baden give us a good summary of the current state of play concerning the papyrus.

Background here (cf. here) and links.

SBL blogger events

MORE DETAILS on events for bloggers at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in San Antonio, Texas, next week.

RELIGION PROF: Blogger Gathering at #AARSBL16 on Saturday, November 19th at 7pm at Yard House (James McGrath)

ETC BLOG: SBL 2016 San Antonio ETC Blog Dinner (Christian Askeland)

The timeless Talmud

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Need a Reason to Hope This Campaign Season? Try the Timeless Talmud. Can it get any worse? Yes, yes, it can, a lot worse, but the continuity of learning in the ‘Daf Yomi’ cycle has remained unbroken for 2,000 years.
But then, perhaps this bad time is exactly the right time for Talmud. The Talmud cannot teach us how to resist our enemies—that requires a different kind of knowledge and skill. But there is something reassuring about the very remoteness of the rabbis from contemporary politics, and from politics in general. It has been nearly 2,000 years since Yehuda HaNasi compiled the Mishna, and in that time the Jewish people have been through much worse ordeals than the ones we are facing in America today. Yet the links in the chain of study have never been entirely broken. Judaism has passed through many places and forms, and there is no reason to think that the American phase of the Jewish story will last forever. But the Talmud does last, and by reading it I have the sense of participating in something, if not timeless, then as close to it as human beings can get.
The column is actually on chapter three of Tractate Bava Metzia, for which follow the link.

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Stiebert on incest in the Hebrew Bible

Incest in the Hebrew Bible

There is no persuasive reason, however, in Leviticus (or elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible) for arguing that daughters are depicted as sexually available to fathers (see Stiebert 2016: 33-44). Really, the Hebrew Bible provides us with very little to go on concerning child sexual abuse, including incestuous abuse of girls in particular, a topic so disturbing and prevalent in the clinical literature of contemporary Western contexts (Herman [1981] 2000). While violence against children is mentioned in numerous places (Michel 2003), the assumption in almost every single case in the Hebrew Bible is that sexual acts occur not with children and only between persons of marriageable and/or childbearing age (Michel 2004).

See Also: Stiebert, Johanna. First-Degree Incest and the Hebrew Bible: Sex in the Family (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016).

By Johanna Stiebert
School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science
University of Leeds, West Yorkshire
November 2016

Diplomatic replica trinkets

POLITICS: A diplomatic gift. Foreign Ministry will distribute gifts to foreign visitor from the City of David in honor of Jerusalem's re-unification (Arutz Sheva).
The gifts are replicas of artifacts found in the City of David excavations representing the millennia-long connection of the Jewish People to Jerusalem.

Diplomats from abroad will receive either a half-shekel coin or a gold pendant with the image of the menorah that was found in the Ophel excavations at the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount. The original was 1,400 years old, the oldest such decoration found.
There's more on ancient half-shekel coins here and links, and more on the Ophel golden menorah medallion here and links.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Sad news: Peter Flint

I AM VERY SORRY TO RELAY THE SAD NEWS that Professor Peter Flint, a well-known Dead Sea Scrolls scholar at Trinity Western University, died on 3 November. The news comes from his colleague Andrew Perrin, posted on the IOQS Facebook page. Peter's wife, Amanda, has asked that, in lieu of further flowers, contributions be made to Trinity Western's Dead Sea Scrolls Legacy Scholarship. Peter's personal website is here and his Wikipedia entry is here.

I have known Peter for a very long time, although I hadn't seen him much in recent years. He has been mentioned often at PaleoJudaica, most recently here. Peter was an endless font of energy and enthusiasm. It's hard to believe that he is gone. Requiescat in pace.

UPDATE: Molly Zahn has sent the following to the IOQS e-mail list:
Many of you will have heard the sad news of the sudden death of our dear colleague Peter Flint. Our hearts go out to Peter’s family, colleagues, and students. All of us in the community of Qumran scholarship will feel his loss keenly.

Rus Fuller has asked me to pass on information about a memorial session for Peter at the upcoming SBL meeting in San Antonio. It will be held at the end of the Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible session on Monday November 21. The session will be held in room 214B of the convention center and will start at approximately 5:45 pm. Please join us if you can.
I hope to see some of you there.

Newsom Elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

CONGRATULATIONS TO CAROL NEWSOM: Newsom Elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences (Emory University, Candler School of Theology News).
Charles Howard Candler Professor of Old Testament Carol A. Newsom has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious honorary societies and a leading center for independent policy research.


A member of the Candler faculty since 1980, Newsom became the second woman to hold a tenure-track position, and the first female faculty member appointed to a chaired professorship. Along with her teaching at Candler, she is a senior fellow at Emory’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion. Her research focuses on the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Wisdom tradition, the book of Daniel, apocalyptic literature, and theology and the environment.


Jenkins on Lazarus and James

THE ANXIOUS BENCH: Lazarus and James (Philip Jenkins).
I have been posting on the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man, as told in Luke’s chapter 16, and puzzling out its possible relationship to the miracle of Lazarus in the Gospel of John. Here, I will pursue that question by citing another curious source, namely the Epistle of James.

Offhand I don't find the suggested connection between the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man with the passage in James to be very convincing. Both passages may just be using stereotypical language about the rich and the poor. But a blog post is not the ideal place to present such arguments, and it is possible that I would find a more detailed presentation of the case more persuasive.

An earlier post by Professor Jenkins on the Lazarus traditions in the New Testament was noted here.

Yale conference on ancient divination, prophecy, and oracles

CALL FOR PAPERS: Between Heaven and Earth: Divination, Prophecy and Oracles in the Ancient World. International interdisciplinary conference.
The conference “Between Heaven and Earth: Divination, Prophecy and Oracles in the Ancient World,” will take place at Yale University, on April 20-21, 2017.

We are seeking papers from graduate students and postdoctoral fellows for an international interdisciplinary conference entitled “Between Heaven and Earth: Divination, Prophecy and Oracles in the Ancient World” at Yale University on April 20-21,
2017. Many studies have been conducted on the manner in which cultures across the globe have attempted (and continue to attempt) communication with higher powers. The study of divination, prophecy and oracles, however, has suffered from their being considered in isolation.

This conference invites graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty to an interdisciplinary exploration of prophecy, magic, and oracular and divinatory practices in the ancient Mediterranean and Near East. Bringing Egyptologists into conversation with scholars in Classics, ancient Judaism, and ancient Christianity, it will also seek new theoretical models for approaching prophecy, divination, and oracles in the ancient world. Sources for study can include both texts and material culture from the ancient Mediterranean and Near East. We invite papers on any topic related to the following five aims of the conference ...
Follow the link for further particulars. HT Annette Yoshiko Reed on the PSCO e-mail list.

Biblical archaeology conference in Tennessee

UPCOMING CONFERENCE: Biblical Archaeology Conference to be Held in Bristol (BRISTOL HERALD COURIER).
BRISTOL, Tenn. — King University will host a Biblical Archaeology Conference Nov. 13-14. The conference, which is free and open to the public, will answer the question, “What’s Going on with Biblical Archaeology in Israel.”

This meeting is part of a once-a-year seminar series designed specifically for those interested in the Bible and a better understanding of its history through archaeological digs and research. This year’s conference is held in conjunction with King’s Department of Philosophy and Religion and the King Institute for Faith and Culture’s 2016-17 Lecture Series, which contemplates faith engaging culture.

Sessions over two days will cover topics from the Old and New Testaments and the latest Biblical archaeological discoveries in Israel and Palestine. Regions of interest include Jerusalem, Judah, and Azekah which overlooks the Valley of Elah where David fought Goliath.


Sunday, November 06, 2016

New tests on the Jordan codices

FAKE METAL CODICES WATCH: ‘Lead Sea Scrolls’ row reopened (Richard Brooks, Sunday Times [of London]*). A report of some new materials tests on those lead codices:
The debate has been given new impetus after tests on one of the books at Surrey University’s Ion Beam Centre found the lead was at least 150 years old and could date back 2,000 years.

Professor Roger Webb, the centre’s director, said that while the metal was difficult to age, lead less than 150 years old was slightly radioactive and emitted alpha particles but “the page of the book we tested had no alpha particle emissions”.
It is not clear why this is news. Back in 2011 when the discovery of the metal codices was first announced, one had already been tested at Oxford and shown to have been manufactured from ancient lead. That does not by any means exclude the possibility that they are forgeries. More on that below.

I was already aware that some new tests on the lead of the codices had been undertaken, but the results that had been reported to me are a little different from what is indicated above, so they may have referred to other tests. I understand that a number of tests have been done.

If anyone involved with the tests thinks they are of any real interest for the study of the Jordanian lead codices, they should release full scans of the lab reports, so we can see exactly what they say and outside specialists in ancient metallurgy can evaluate their claims. Complete scans please, not excerpts and not retyped transcripts.

Meanwhile, this article seems particularly interested in the fact that Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, "has called for a fresh examination" of the codices and has said, "'The books are well worth a second glance. If I were a forger, I would frankly forge something more mainstream.'"

I have the greatest respect for Dr. Williams as a premier theologian and church leader, but his opinion as reported here does not count as a specialist evaluation of the codices — nor does he claim that it does.

It's fine to call for a reexamination of the codices, but to make this worthwhile, we need some new evidence that makes some kind of difference. Indeed, when I heard the news of the lab reports some time ago, I went back over all the evidence I have available about the codices to see if I wanted to change my mind on anything. Having done so, I remain fully convinced that they are not ancient artifacts (i.e., they are not two thousand years old or anywhere near that). My judgment is that the evidence against their being ancient is decisive and compelling. Most of the evidence is fully covered in archived past posts on the subject and I see no need to rehearse it again here.

If some of the lead codices turn out to have been manufactured a century or a century and a half or so ago, that does not exclude forgery. Forgers were around in the nineteenth century and some of them were pretty good for the time. And if the codices are forgeries, which I think very likely, they are not all that good.

I do not rule out the possibility that some of them could be that old, but I have seen no definitive evidence yet that requires them to be that old, and some of the evidence points toward some of them having been manufactured more recently. That is about as specific as I can be at present.

Back in 2015 an independent scholar named Samuel Zinner posted a draft article on that argued that the codices are modern amuletic art objects that were misunderstood when rediscovered as either ancient objects or forgeries. I am skeptical about this, but I encouraged him to try to publish the article in a peer-review journal so that other specialists in that area could evaluate his argument. (It is outside my areas of expertise.) The essay has been removed, but has not yet been published. Still, I am open to the possibility that he could be correct. But I cannot see how the codices could be ancient artifacts.

The Times article also quotes the views of Classicist Peter Thonemann of Oxford University and New Testament scholar Mark Goodacre of Duke University. Both were involved in the early discussion of the codices and neither thinks they are genuine ancient artifacts. The reporter also asked for and received a statement from me, but he did not use it. I have used a few bits of it in this post.

As for the tests, materials testing can be an important tool for evaluating the authenticity of unprovenanced artifacts, but modern forgers are very sophisticated and know to use ancient materials, etc. Materials tests initially seemed to support the antiquity of the infamous Gospel of Jesus' Wife papyrus, yet it has now definitively been shown to be a modern forgery. The new test results on the codices may turn out to be of interest, but I want to hear more about them and hear what independent specialists in ancient metallurgy make of them.

If there are people who want skeptical specialists to change our thinking on the metal codices, they need not only to release the lab reports, but also to make the full archive of photos available to art historians specializing in Jewish iconography and to palaeographers specializing in ancient Hebrew scripts. Their research should then be published in peer-review journals. I have been calling for years for this to be done. This is how scholarship advances, not through popular reports in the media.

I am prepared to listen to any scholarly case for what the codices are and to rethink my understanding of them if the evidence requires it. But I remain skeptical at present that they are anything but forgeries.

Background here, with many links going back to March of 2011.

*The Times article is behind a subscription wall, but you can read it with a free registration.

van Bladel, From Sasanian Mandaeans to Ṣābians of the Marshes

From Sasanian Mandaeans to Ṣābians of the Marshes

Kevin T. van Bladel (Ph.D. 2004, Yale University), The Ohio State University
This historical study argues that the Mandaean religion originated under Sasanid rule in the fifth century, not earlier as has been widely accepted. It analyzes primary sources in Syriac, Mandaic, and Arabic to clarify the early history of Mandaeism. This religion, along with several other, shorter-lived new faiths, such as Kentaeism, began in a period of state-sponsored persecution of Babylonian paganism. The Mandaeans would survive to become one of many groups known as Ṣābians by their Muslim neighbors. Rather than seeking to elucidate the history of Mandaeism in terms of other religions to which it can be related, this study approaches the religion through the history of its social contexts.
Cross-file under Mandean (Mandaean) Watch.

Archaeologists are returning to Masada

ANNOUNCEMENT: Israeli archaeologist announces return to Masada after ten-year absence. Dr. Guy Stiebel, former director of excavations at Masada, says much is yet to be discovered at the site (i24 News).
The Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archeology held the sixth session of its annual conference this Thursday at Tel Aviv University. Some 250 people gathered in the hallway including renowned researchers, representatives from the Israel Antiquity Authorities, and archaeology enthusiasts, for the event loaded with additional significance as the Institution was ranked 50th in the 2016 QS World University Rankings by Subject.


Dr. Guy Stiebel, former director of excavations at Masada, will this February conduct a new series of archaeological digs to pierce the secrets of this national shrine.

Dr. Stiebel expressed his excitement to return to the site after a ten year absence, enthusiasm that was reciprocated by conference organizers.

“A lifetime would not suffice to get a glimpse of all the hidden beauties of Masada," he said. "Its magic is not just in the military equipment, it is also in small things."


The Center for the Study of Ancient Religious Texts

ABILENE CHRISTIAN UNIVERSITY: New center to study ancient religious texts (Lauren Franco, The Optimist).
The Center for the Study of Ancient Religious Texts opened Thursday in conjunction with the 30th annual Carmichael-Walling lectures.

The new center, or CSART, will provide an opportunity for faculty and students to collaborate in cutting edge research of ancient texts. Dr. Jeff Childers, director of the CSART, said the center’s participants have already begun engaging in global partnerships, one of which is with St. Catherine’s monastery.

On Thursday, Father Justin, a librarian in the monastery of St. Catherine at Mount Sinai, Egypt, delivered three lectures about the treasures of the monastery.


The opportunity is open to all students, but Childers said mostly students who are skilled in ancient languages, no matter their major, can be involved in the research. Ancient languages include Ethiopic (ancient Ethiopian), Coptic, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. Resident Ethiopic expert Dr. Kurt Niccum, professor of Bible, will continue his research of Ethiopic texts, some of which are housed on campus in the Brown Library.

Sounds like an exciting project.

Palestinians to claim DSS?

POLITICS: Israel says Palestinians may try to claim Dead Sea Scrolls. In latest diplomatic tussle over archaeology, Palestinians reportedly raise demand at UNESCO panel; Israel slams fresh bid to deny Jewish ties to the land (Times of Israel).
Officials in Jerusalem are concerned that the Palestinians will make a formal approach to UNESCO demanding a return of the historic Dead Sea Scrolls, considered among Israel’s most important archaeological holdings.

During a meeting of the UN’s cultural agency last month, UNESCO officials told Eitan Klein, a deputy director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, that the Palestinians had informally raised the issue and were likely to make an official request too.

Something like this was tried back in 2009. You can read about it here. Nothing came of it. It isn't going to happen now either.