Saturday, August 09, 2014

Nebuchadnezzar Cylinder sold

BIBLE HISTORY DAILY: Nebuchadnezzar Cylinder Goes for $605,000! (Megan Sauter).
While the Cyrus Cylinder has been making its rounds on an international exhibition circuit,a another cylinder of a famous Mesopotamian emperor has recently been brought to the public eye. One of Nebuchadnezzar’s cuneiform cylinders was auctioned off on April 9, 2014, by Doyle New York, Auctioneers and Appraisers for $605,000. The purchaser of the cylinder has requested to remain anonymous. Unfortunately, his anonymity may make it difficult for further scholarly study of the text.

The Neo-Babylonian kings were very interested in ancient (already to them) Babylonian history and put a lot of effort into restoring old temples. They even engaged in very primitive archaeological efforts to find inscriptions by their predecessors — for example, in cornerstones like the one mentioned in this article. The sixth-century BCE King of Babylon Nabonidus was a keen amateur archaeologist and philologist, which contributed to later generations looking down on him as something between a nerdy poser and a madman. See the related story here about his daughter, Ennigaldi-Nanna, who seems to have taken after her father. Likewise, the Neo-Assyrian King Ashurbanipal (7th century) is mostly know for his cruel conquests in the Middle East, but he too had a great interest in ancient Babylonian history and he amassed a substantial library of Babylonian texts in Nineveh. For more on Nabonidus and Ashurbanipal as ancient historians, see:
Eckart Frahm, "Keeping Company with Men of Learning: The King as Scholar," in The Oxford Handbook of Cuneiform Culture (ed. Karen Radner and Sleanor Robson; OUP, 2011), pp. 508-532.
Much more on the Cyrus Cylinder is here and links.

I very much hope that the new owner of the Nebuchadnezzar Cylinder will make the artifact available for scholars to study, even while remaining anonymous. This will only increase its value, so everybody wins.

Eshel and Levine (eds.), “See, I will bring a scroll recounting what befell me” (Ps 40:8)

Esther Eshel, Yigal Levin (Ed.)
“See, I will bring a scroll recounting what befell me” (Ps 40:8)
Epigraphy and Daily Life from the Bible to the Talmud

Dedicated to the Memory of Professor Hanan Eshel

1. Edition 2014
245 pages
ISBN 978-3-525-55062-5
Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht

Journal of Ancient Judaism. Supplements -
99,99 €
incl. VAT
plus S&H
If you have placed a standing order for the series: 89,99 €
PDF eBook 79,99 €

In January 2011, the David and Jemima Jeselsohn Epigraphic Center for Jewish History held its second international conference at Bar-Ilan University, dedicated to the memory of Professor Hanan Eshel, the founding academic director of the center who passed away on April 8th, 2010. This collection of articles, traces, when taken together, daily lifein the land of Israel from the First Temple Period through the time of the Talmud, as seen in the various types of inscriptions from those periods that have been discovered and published. Schiffman’s summary of Hanan’s work serves as an introduction to the book. Ahituv discusses the language and religious outlook of the Kuntilet ‘Ajrud inscriptions. Mazar and Ahituv survey the quite large corpus of short inscriptions found in Mazar’s excavation of Tel Re?ov, south of Beth-Shean. Maeir and Eshel deal with four very short more-or-less contemporary inscriptions found at Tell es-Safi, identified as the major Philistine city of Gath. Demsky deals with the theoretical aspects of literacy in ancient Israel. Grabbe discusses the functions of the scribe during the Second Temple Period. Zissu, Langford, Ecker and Eshel report on both an Aramaic-language graffito and a Latin one, inscribed on the wall of a first and 2nd century CE oil press from of Khirbet ‘Arâk Hâla in the Judean Shephelah. Rappaport’s survey of Jewish coins from the Persian Period through the Bar-Kokhba Revolt, focusing on the Hasmonean coins. Amit describes a group of bread stamps and oil seals, in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Latin, found in different parts of the country. Klein and Mamalya describe two Byzantine Period Nabatean Christian burial sites and their epitaphs.
More on Hanan Eshel here, here, here, here, and links.

The Talmud on Hebrew

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: American Jews Speak English, but Our Sacred Texts Are in Hebrew. What happens when the most authoritative guardians of the tradition are sometimes baffled by the tradition themselves?
You don’t have to spend much time in a Reform or Conservative synagogue to realize that American Judaism has a language problem, one that’s simple to describe but hard to solve. American Jews speak English, but our sacred texts—the Torah readings, the prayers—are in Hebrew. As a result, most of us don’t know what we’re hearing, or even what we’re saying, during a prayer service. Yet if you try to reduce the amount of Hebrew in the service, by saying prayers in English, you lose the sense of connection with ancient tradition that is such a large part of Jewish spirituality. The only real solution to this dilemma would be for every Jew to become fluent in Hebrew, but we will be waiting a long time before that day comes.

It was consoling to read Daf Yomi this week, then, and realize that this is not just an American problem; it’s been with Judaism since the Babylonian exile. The language of the Tanakh is Hebrew, but by the time the Talmud was compiled, the Jewish people even in the Holy Land no longer spoke Hebrew as a native language; instead, they spoke the closely related Aramaic. And Jews in other parts of the classical world didn’t even know Aramaic, conducting their lives instead in Greek. Indeed, Philo of Alexandria, the biblical commentator who lived in the 1st century C.E., based his detailed explication of the Torah on the Greek translation known as the Septuagint; it’s not certain that he even knew Hebrew at all. Judaism has been a religion of and in translation almost since the beginning.


Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Research Assistant: Hebrew and Aramaic Qumran-Dictionary, Göttingen

Research Assistantship, Hebrew and Aramaic Qumran-Dictionary, Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Germany

The Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities invites applications for a Research Assistantship associated with the Hebrew and Aramaic Qumran-Dictionary. Applicants, who must also be fluent in German, are expected to have excellent Hebrew Language skills. Some interest and experience in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Hebrew Bible would be an advantage. Information can be found on the website of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities: Applications will be reviewed beginning Monday, September 15, 2014, and it is recommended that the usual application materials be submitted before that date.
I have posted the English version of the advert (provided by Annette Steudel as circulated on the Agade list and by Eibert Tigchelaar on the Facebook IOQS page), but note that the job requires fluency in German.

Seth Sanders strives for preeminence

COULD BE ... Could This Be the Most Pretentious Semitic Philology Footnote of the 21st Century? But the 21st century is still young.

Related post here.

McGrath on Notsrim in the Talmud

JAMES MCGRATH: Notsrim in the Talmud: Mandaeans, Christians, or Both? This in response to a recent Daf Yomi column by Adam Kirsh in Tablet. Lots more on the Mandaeans (Mandeans) here and links.

More persecution of the Yazidis reported

ACCORDING TO AN IRAQI MP: Who Cares About an Impending Genocide in Iraq? Amid deafening international silence, tens of thousands of Yazidis are dying at the hands of the 'Islamic State'. (Ari Soffer, Arutz Sheva). More on the Yazidis (whose religion seems to have connections with Gnosticism) and the persecution that has been inflicted on them in recent years is noted here and here and links.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Selwood on the two Jewish revolts against Rome

DOMINIC SELWOOD: Two millennia after the sack of Jerusalem, what does history tell us about violence in the Middle East? (The Telegraph). This longish article, published on Tisha B'Av in the context of the current Israel-Gaza conflict, covers the history of the Great Revolt against Rome in 66-74 CE, as presented by the first-century Jewish historian Josephus, and also covers the Bar Kokhba Revolt of 132-135 CE and its background. It is a thorough summary and is pretty accurate, although it does not distinguish between Zealots and Sicarii, which Josephus treats (in a not particularly clear way) as two different movements. It is the Sicarii who held out until the end at Masada. As for the question in the headline, Selwood concludes:
The eastern Mediterranean seaboard is — and has always been — a troubled region that has seen too much blood spilled for one reason or another, all of which seemed important at the time. As Churchill noted, so bluntly but accurately, the first casualty of war is truth. And the truth of the land is that the various competing webs and roots of nationhood, identity, and memory that have flourished for millennia are thick and run deep into its dust and soil.

As Josephus observed, “as for war, if it be once begun, it is not easily laid down again.” History may not repeat itself exactly, but it does teach us lessons. One thing is certain: in 1,000 years’ time, the Near East will look different. And perhaps the lesson for the troubled land is that throughout history extreme military force has been used there time and time again — but, in over five millennia, it has never yet brought lasting peace for anyone.
More from Mr. Selwood on the Knights Templar is noted here.

Coins from the Great Revolt

TWO RECENT DISCOVERIES: Trove of Jewish Revolt coins discovered near Jerusalem Bronze bits minted months before destruction of temple on Tisha B’Av; ‘Judea Capta’ coin found in north in summer excavations (Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel).
A hoard of coins from the fourth year of the Jewish Revolt against Rome — minted months before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE — was found outside the capital and announced by the Israel Antiquities Authority on Tuesday to coincide with the Ninth of Av, the date commemorating the destruction of the Second Temple.

The trove, which consists of 114 bronze coins, was unearthed during the expansion of Route 1, the major highway connecting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, in February. In the past several months, the IAA team led by Judea District chief archaeologist Pablo Betzer has excavated the remains of a small Roman-era Jewish village near the modern town of Abu Ghosh. Amid the ruins was a broken juglet containing the verdigris-coated coins.


The announcement came shortly after the discovery of another ancient coin in the far northern site of Bethsaida, to the north of the Sea of Galilee. A team led by Professor Rami Arav of the University of Nebraska, Omaha, found a Roman coin this summer from the years immediately after the revolt bearing the phrase “Judea Capta,” commemorating the victory over the Jewish rebels and the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.

Other notable coin finds at Bethsaida in recent years are noted here and here and links.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Music inspired by Hannibal

Esperti Project
Le Voyage d'Hannibal
Eclectic Art Records (

"I will either find a way, or make one." These famous words are attributed to Hannibal, son of Hamilcar Barca and Carthaginian commander of the First Punic War (264-241 BC). The proverb also applies to the sonic paths taken by Andrea Esperti, whose eponymous trio project sonically re-imagines the legendary military leader's travels.

Andrea Esperti "When I was young I studied the history of Hannibal and Rome," recalls the Italian trombonist and composer in our email interview, "and I immediately appreciated the courage, strength, and will of this man. No one would have thought he could win against the strongest empire in the world. His accomplishment therefore goes beyond historical fact. It's an encouragement to realize our dreams and overcome obstacles."

Joining Andrea for this journey is his brother Antonio Esperti, a formally trained musician versed in the traditional music of Italy. He plays duduk, clarinets, and recites original poetry inspired by Hannibal's cartographic sweep.

With them is Luca Fusconi, a veteran circuit-bender who holds the narrative together with his spacious electronics.

Follow the links to listen to some of the music.

Diesel still keen on Punic films

VIN DIESEL, interviewed about the challenges of his latest acting role playing a tree, mentions in passing that he still very much hopes to complete his long-awaited movie (trilogy) on Hannibal (and the Punic Wars):
In stark contrast to the part-animated comic book blockbuster, the 'Fast and the Furious' star is hoping to complete a historical film trilogy, based on the three Punic wars - fought between Rome and Carthage from 264 BC to 146 BC - which he has had in the pipeline for a decade.

He explained: 'As so many people know, I want to do this his historical piece. And I want to do the trilogy about the Punic wars it's still something that I have been working on the 10 years and it's something that has to be realised.'
Background going back to 2005 is here and links. Cross-file under "Punic Watch."

Monday, August 04, 2014

Joosten becomes Regius Professor of Hebrew

Press release
Regius Professor of Hebrew, Oxford University: Jan Joosten

From: Prime Minister's Office, 10 Downing Street
History: Published 24 July 2014
Part of: Higher education

The Queen has approved that Professor Jan Joosten be appointed Regius Professor of Hebrew in the University of Oxford.

The Queen has approved that Professor Jan Joosten ThM, PhD, Professor of Old Testament Exegesis at the University of Strasbourg, be appointed Regius Professor of Hebrew in the University of Oxford in succession to Professor Hugh Williamson, MA PhD DD Camb DD Oxf FBA, who retires on 30 September.

Professor Jan Joosten

Professor Joosten (55) has been Professor of Old Testament Exegesis at the University of Strasbourg since 2004, before which he was Professor of Biblical Philology (1994-2004). Prior to this he was Lecturer in Biblical Hebrew at the Faculty of Protestant Theology in Brussels (1991-94), Pastor of the United Protestant Church in Belgium (1988-94) and Lecturer of Old Testament at the École de Théologie in Butare, Rwanda (1985-87).

Professor Joosten was born in Belgium and holds degrees in Theology from the Faculty of Protestant Theology in Brussels (1981) and from Princeton (1982), and doctorates from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1989) and Brussels (1994). He has a considerable international reputation in the field of Old Testament / Hebrew Bible engaging particularly with Biblical Hebrew Syntax, the Septuagint, and Old Testament exegetical questions.

Streaker ring?

ARTIFACT: 'Naked runner' sheds light on a little-known art of ancient Rome. The carved jasper stone, found in Israel, was apparently commissioned by a wealthy man and passed down for generations ( Ran Shapira, Haaretz).
A unique gemstone found in Israel that may have adorned a ring has shed light on a little known art in ancient Rome: fine carving.

On the floor of a room dating to the early Byzantium period, around 4th century CE, archaeologists spotted a red gemstone beautifully engraved with the figure of a naked running man holding a laurel wreath in one hand.

Or maybe he's holding a wreath of olive branches. It's hard to tell. In any case, in the other hand the bare gentleman holds what is clearly a date palm branch.

Based on his research, the engraving on the stone is unique in the annals of Israeli excavation, says Dr. Michael Eisenberg of Haifa University's Zinman Institute of Archaeology, director of the Shikmona Excavation Project.

Modern forensics in search of answers

Human remains at Tel Shikmona and the nearby town date from the Late Bronze to the Late Byzantine period, but the gemstone appears to date from the Roman era, indicating that it may have been handed down over generations.


The Zohar

ZOHAR WATCH: Print puts the Zohar in reach of the masses. Controversy still surrounds the foundation text of Jewish mysticism, which was first printed in 1558 and written nearly 300 — or 1,400 — years earlier (Ruth Schuster, Haaretz). A nice little summary of the history and reception of the Zohar. Excerpt:
Aramaic was the lingua franca of the Jews during the period of the Second Temple (leading to endless arguments over which language Jesus actually spoke), and the language in the Zohar has been described as an “exalted” form of the language. But based on the form of the Aramaic used, latter-day academics believe de Leon wrote the books himself, which to some detracts from their sacredness and authority.

That hasn’t touched its standing among today’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, which takes its writings with deadly seriousness. It is sometimes quoted in daily life, for instance when raising money for charity. The Zohar has also been used as a source for hexes, and is often wrongly associated with being the source of the infamous “pulsa denura” (“whip of fire”) curse of death. The Zohar mentions the curse, but no more.
Zohar specialists seem to think it's more complicated than Moses de León writing the Zohar all by himself, but they agree that it was produced in his time and he was involved in a central way. For much more on the Zohar, especially Daniel Matt's new edition and English translation of it, see here and links. Also, there's lots more on the pulsa de-nura curse rite here and links, and on the golem tradition (mentioned later in the article) here and links.

Hamas in Hebrew

FOLK ETYMOLOGIZING: Word of the Day / Hamas: The terror movement that didn't do its Hebrew homework. It's quite the coincidence and 'Hamas' terror is spelled differently from 'hamas' the nasty act, but both originate from the Aramaic for 'hard' (Shoshana Kordova, Haaretz). The headline just about sums up the article.

Tisha B'Av

TISHA B'Av (THE NINTH OF AV) begins this evening at sundown. An easy fast to all those observing it.