Thursday, January 19, 2017

Valmadonna Library acquired by Israel National Library

VALMADONNA LIBRARY UPDATE: National Library makes ‘historic’ acquisition of rare Hebrew texts. Valmadonna Trust Library’s manuscripts span the globe and a millenium, including a 1491 Bible; will be on display at institution’s new Jerusalem home (Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel).
Israel’s National Library on Wednesday announced the acquisition of thousands of Hebrew manuscripts and books from one of the most significant collections in the world.

The 8,000 or so texts from the Valmadonna Trust Library collection were purchased in collaboration with collectors David and Jemima Jeselsohn in a private sale through Sotheby’s for an undisclosed sum.

The Valmadonna’s 13,000-book assemblage of Hebrew texts from Amsterdam to Shanghai and a host of historic Jewish communities in between, spanning a millennium, was assembled by the late Jack V. Lunzer, a Jewish British industrialist. Lunzer died in December, at the age of 92.

This is good news. The acquisition will keep the library from being broken up any further to be sold piecemeal. Well done to the INL and to the Jeselsohns.

Background on the story is here and here and links. Past posts involving the Valmadonna Targum of Ruth are here and here, with more on the manuscript here. The Jeselsohns are also the owners of the Gabriel Revelation inscription (Vision of Gabriel).

The Journal for Late Antique Religion and Culture (update)

AWOL: Open Access Journal: The Journal for Late Antique Religion and Culture . There's not much directly about ancient Judaism in this journal, but there are articles on matters of background interest in late antique religion such as the Greek Magical Papyri, Syriac studies, Gnosticism, and Neoplatonism. Noted here in 2015, but there have been several new issues out since then.

Forness on Syriac homilies

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Dissertation Spotlight | Philip Michael Forness.
Philip Michael Forness, “Preaching and Religious Debate: Jacob of Serugh and the Promotion of His Christology in the Roman Near East,” Ph.D. diss., Princeton Theological Seminary, 2016.
My dissertation, “Preaching and Religious Debate,” investigates homilies as a source for understanding social history. The sermons of John Chrysostom and Augustine of Hippo contain a wealth of information about the places and contexts in which they preached. But this sets them apart from most extant homilies. Indeed, the homilies falsely attributed to Chrysostom and Augustine far outnumber their authentic works. These works were often written in non-classical languages and feature in the literature of a wide variety of eastern Christian communities. Scholars have little hope of finding the context of any one of these pseudonymous homilies.

I seek to answer questions about the homiletical literature in general by focusing on these texts within Syriac literature. Syriac homilies from late antiquity provoke an exploration of the possibility of using sermons without a defined context as historical texts. Around seven hundred homilies authored in Syriac survive from the fourth through sixth centuries. Yet most have resisted efforts to identify their dates, locations, and liturgical settings. By attending to these texts, we are forced to confront the difficulty of interpreting the seemingly de-contextualized remains of most sermons from late antiquity.
Cross-file under Syriac Watch

Jesus exhibition at the Israel Museum

CONTEMPORARY ART: A Second Coming for Jesus — at the Israel Museum (Aviya Kushner, The Forward).
‘It turns out that all Israeli art is about Jesus,” an American tourist said to me as he moved away from a painting in The Israel Museum’s paradigm-shifting new exhibit titled “Behold the Man: Jesus in Israeli Art.” In Hebrew, the title is a bit different: Zeh Ha’Ish, or “This Is the Man.” Throughout the exhibit, language makes a difference; the wall text often diverges in subtle but important ways in Hebrew and English.

The world’s museums are full of portrayals of Jesus, but scenes of the Madonna and child, the crucifixion and the Last Supper are generally not thought of as Jewish subjects, or as the stuff of Jewish art. The Jesus narrative was used to invoke hatred of Jews for centuries; some Jews interpret the Hebrew name for Jesus, yeshu, as an acronym for y’mach sh’mo u’zichro, or let his name and memory be obliterated.

But in this groundbreaking and utterly fascinating exhibit, Jesus is certainly not obliterated; instead, Jesus is used to symbolize the suffering and powerlessness of Jews in the Holocaust; Palestinians in both intifadas; Mizrachi Jewish refugees housed in ma’abarot, or temporary camps, in 1950s Israel, after being expelled from Arab countries; the disabled in Israeli society; Israeli soldiers sent to die in war; and in one of the most haunting pieces, the personal suffering of a major Israeli artist who lost his wife in childbirth, and their daughter three years later, and who painted himself as Jesus and then locked the painting in a cabinet. The painting was found a year after the artist’s death.



YONA SABAR: Hebrew Word of the Week: atHalah "inception, initiation; restart (computer)."

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Solomon's mines at Timna

ARCHAEOLOGY: Preserved fortification, donkey stables dating to King Solomon discovered at TAU's Timna Valley excavations (Tel Aviv University/PhysOrg).
Some believe that the fabled mines of King Solomon were located among copper smelting camps in Israel's Timna Valley. The arid conditions at Timna have seen the astonishing preservation of 3,000-year-old organic materials, which have provided Tel Aviv University archaeologists with a unique window into the culture and practices of a sophisticated ancient society.

An advanced military fortification—a well-defined gatehouse complex—unearthed recently at Timna, including donkey stables, points to the community's highly-organized defense system and significant dependence on long-distance trade. The research was recently published in The Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

The fortification dates to the reigns of Kings David and Solomon in the 10th century BCE.


In the remarkably intact two-room fortification, located in one of the largest smelting camps in the Timna Valley, the researchers also found evidence of a complex long-distance trade system that probably included the northern Edomite plateau, the Mediterranean coastal plain and Judea. The complex featured pens for draught animals and other livestock. According to precise pollen, seed, and fauna analyses, they were fed with hay and grape pomace—high-quality sustenance that must have been delivered from the Mediterranean region hundreds of miles away.

"The gatehouse fortification was apparently a prominent landmark," says Dr. Ben-Yosef. "It had a cultic or symbolic function in addition to its defensive and administrative roles. The gatehouse was built of sturdy stone to defend against invasion. We found animal bones and dung piles so intact, we could analyze the food the animals were fed with precision. The food suggests special treatment and care, in accordance with the key role of the donkeys in the copper production and in trade in a logistically challenging region."

I'm keeping a special eye on the Timna excavation, because of the abundant organic remains that have been found there. The arid climate seems ideal for their preservation and the discoveries have included textiles from the 10th century BCE. If there is any place where Solomonic-era scrolls or papyri might have survived, it is Timna. Let's hope that we get lucky and some turn up.

Warlord and Scribe

ASSIMILATED TO THE BLOGOSPHERE: Warlord and Scribe: Northwest Semitics in Context. A new blog by Nathaniel E. Greene, who is a Ph.D. candidate in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The opening post is Sinai 115 and Historical Canaanite Phonology.
Welcome, dear reader, to the first entry of Warlord and Scribe: Northwest Semitics in Context. I’ll have a post up soon about the name of the blog and, for those of you who stick around for that, I hope you enjoy it. Keep an eye out, too, for my forthcoming article on the Qubur al-Walaydah bowl in BASOR 377.

The Sinai 115 inscription has been in the news lately regarding a theory being promoted by Douglas Petrovich. See here and links. Mr. Greene agrees with the skepticism already expressed by other philologists about Prof. Petrovich's theory, and he adds additional arguments against it.

Cross-file under Philology.

Yom Tov

YONA SABAR: Hebrew Word of the Week: Yom Tov “(Jewish) Holiday (on which work is forbidden).” This column is from back in September of 2016, but I missed it then, so here it is. It looks as though I have missed a few (perhaps I need to refine my Google searches), so I will catch up in the coming days.

Bockmuehl, Ancient Apocryphal Gospels

READING ACTS: In Today’s Mail: Markus Bockmuehl, Ancient Apocryphal Gospels.
Thanks to WJKP for sending along a review copy of this new textbook by Markus Bockmuehl. This is the latest in the Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church series, which is itself a subset of the Interpretation commentary series.

I look forward to Phil Long's review in due course. Meanwhile, the publisher's blurb reads as follows:
In this reader-friendly guide, Markus Bockmuehl offers a sympathetic account of the ancient apocryphal Gospel writings, showing their place within the reception history and formation of what was to become the canonical fourfold Gospel. Bockmuehl begins by helping readers understand the early history behind these noncanonical Gospels before going on to examine dozens of specific apocryphal texts. He explores the complex oral and intertextual relationships between the noncanonical and canonical Gospels, maintaining that it is legitimate and instructive to read the apocryphal writings as an engagement with the person of Jesus that both presupposes and supplements the canonical narrative outline. Appropriate for pastors and nonspecialists, this work offers a fuller understanding of these writings and their significance for biblical interpretation in the church.
Cross-file under New Book and New Testament Apocrypha.

Strategic move for Metatron

ARCHANGEL METATRON WATCH: Metatron, Inc. Announces Strategic Move into the Areas of Mobile Encryption, and Virtual Reality for its Mobile Development Business.
The Company will embark on re-branding Metatron mobile development business in the specific areas of mobile encryption and security, and applications for the growing market in virtual reality. Under this new goal, the Company will keep its focus on a couple of dynamic concepts within the mobile market, and will look to reduce or shelve other projects to the back burner so as to keep our core focus on these market segments to better execute our projects to market.

The archangelic company has been busy since its founding in 2009. It has slain a giant, engaged in due diligence, gotten pumped and crashed horribly, and still managed to recover and make a foray into the cannabis sector.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Pocket Change Blog

NUMISMATICS: Pocket Change: The Blog of the American Numismatic Society. I just discovered this blog. Its most recent post deals with, inter alia, a theme of ancient Jewish coinage from the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt: THE SECRET CHORD: HARPS AND LYRES ON ANCIENT AND MODERN COINS.

Gematria galore

APOCALYPSE WATCH: Biblical Numerology Reveals Stunning Connection Between Paris Conference, Gog and Magog (Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz, Breaking Israel News).
The Paris conference on Sunday, in which representatives from 70 nations met to sign an anti-Israel agreement, brought together many factors, all pointing at a final showdown that pits the 70 sons of Jacob against the 70 nations under Gog in a pre-Messianic war.

As the 70 nations gathered in Paris, many people were aware that the concept of 70 nations has its source in the 70 grandsons of Noah listed in the Bible.

Many of the usual suspects for the Apocalypse are here: Gog and Magog, Rosh, the Messiah, etc. And all of them are justified with gematria, the process of adding up the numerical value of names spelled in Hebrew and then associating them with other Hebrew words and names that have the same numerical value. For more on the ancient Jewish tradition of the seventy nations, see here.

Breaking Israel News seems to represent a Jewish movement that occupies a parallel theological space to Hal Lindsey's Late Great Planet Earth Christian movement in the [edit: 1970s and] 1980s. Both expect the imminent apocalyptic end of this age and the coming of the Messiah and both justify these expectations by exegesis of scripture in light of current events. And both have similarities to the Qumran sectarian movement which gave us the Teacher of Righteousness and pesher exegesis as preserved in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

I hope I don't have to repeat that my interest here is sociological and historical, not theological, and my citation of this and related stories is not an endorsement of their content.

Did an eclipse save Joshua's army?

MORE ASTRONOMICAL PHENOMENA: Eclipse ‘stopped the sun’ for biblical Joshua, Israeli scientists say. Researchers claim to pinpoint the exact date — October 30, 1207 BCE — and explanation for an astounding event in the Battle in Gibeon (Times of Israel).
According to the biblical story, Joshua got help from the sun to earn the Israelites one of their most epic victories. Now, a team of Israeli scientists say they’ve figured out how: The battle coincided with a solar eclipse.

Using NASA data, three scientists from Beersheba’s Ben Gurion University, in a newly published paper, dated the eclipse and the battle to October 30, 1207 BCE.

Nope, not buying it. It doesn't make a great deal of sense. The point of the poetic quotation is that whatever happened with the sun and moon led to the Israelites winning the battle at Gibeon. I don't see how a lunar eclipse that made everything dark would have been much use to anyone at any battle.

The prose text following the poetic quote in Joshua 10:12-13 says that the sun stayed in the sky for a full day until the Israelites won, which at least makes some sense. Nevertheless it too is probably wrong, a guess at the meaning of a piece of poetry that was already archaic when the book of Joshua was written. The actual meaning of the poetic passage probably involved a propitious arrangement of the sun and moon in the sky that gave the Israelites an omen of success for the battle. More on that interpretation here and here.

Balaam's star in 2022?

APOCALYPSE WATCH: New Star to Appear in Night Sky, Heralding Balaam’s Prophecy of Messiah (Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz, Breaking Israel News).
Five years from now, the light from the ancient collision of two stars will reveal a brand-new star in the night sky. According to Jewish esoteric sources, this is precisely the celestial phenomenon which will accompany the arrival of the Messiah.

The new star, expected to appear in 2022 in a blaze of light called a nova, will be the brightest heavenly body visible in the nighttime sky for six months. It will be the first time in recorded history that a celestial event of this kind will be witnessed by the naked eye.

Beyond its scientific uniqueness, the appearance of the new star could have much bigger implications for the earth-bound, one prominent rabbi told Breaking Israel News, pointing to a Biblical prophecy of Balaam which hails the appearance of a new star as the precursor to Messiah.

The passage in question is, of course, Numbers 24:17. Maimonides and the Zohar are also invoked. As always, my interest here is sociological and historical, not theological, and my citation of this and related stories is not an endorsement of their content.

The astronomical prediction, however, is real. If it turns out to be correct, any alien civilizations that were in the vicinity of this star-pair 1800 years ago really did have an apocalypse: the gamma-ray blast from the stellar collision would have been an extinction level event. I hope they had enough warning to get away. For similar scenarios in science fiction, see Arthur C. Clark's classic story "The Star" and Stephen Baxter's more recent "Traces."

For more on the messianic connotations of Numbers 24:17, see here.

Epic Aramaic

MODERN ARAMAIC WATCH: In England, An Effort To Preserve Ancient, Epic Assyrian Poetry (Alice Fordham, WXPR).
[Nineb] Lamassu became an academic researcher and now travels among the Assyrian diaspora recording the epics as told by men he calls bards — including the storyteller he loved listening to in the refugee camp, whose name is Khananya Zayya. Years later, Lamassu tracked him down living in New Zealand.

"It almost felt I was back in the refugee camp, right in that tent on that cold winter night with him. He had not changed" — aside from a little artificial help keeping his mustache black, he says.

Lamassu tells me there's a bard living close by in Southall, London, so of course I travel to meet him.
With an audio report. And here's a summary of the article and audio file from a reprint by the Unrepresented Peoples and Nations Organization: Assyria: A Cambridge Researcher’s Efforts to Preserve Assyrian Poetry.
Cambridge University researcher Nineb Lamassu was recently interviewed by a British journalist about his efforts to preserve epic Assyrian poems. Because of the current situation in the Middle East and particularly in Iraq, Assyrian traditions and culture are slowly disappearing and being destroyed by ISIS. Lamassu met with several members of the Assyrian diaspora to record their voices and will make these recordings available on a Cambridge University online database.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Eyes like dark wine

PROF. AARON DEMSKY: The Color of Judah’s Eyes (
חכלילי עינים מיין (Gen 49:12) is an obscure phrase. In contrast to the standard interpretation, Nachmanides’ offered an original interpretation, which finds support in modern linguistic analysis and an archaeological find.
Cross-file under Philology and Epigraphy.

Dever Fellowship report 2016: Shikhin

ASOR BLOG: My Time at a Roman-Era Jewish Settlement.
By: Jill Marshall, 2016 William G. Dever Fellowship Recipient

Thanks to ASOR’s William G. Dever Fellowship for Biblical Scholars, in Summer 2016, I traveled to Israel to participate in the Shikhin Excavation Project and to conduct research at the Albright Institute in Jerusalem. Since my research is in New Testament and early Christianity, I chose Shikhin because it is a Roman-era Jewish settlement that gives scholars insight into the socio-economic landscape of the Galilee. Directed by James R. Strange of Samford University and Mordechai Aviam of Kinnaret Academic College, the excavation reveals interesting details about ceramic production and the interactions between cities (Sepphoris) and villages (Shikhin) in the Roman period.


CFP: Horizons in Textual Criticism

ETC BLOG: Call for Papers: Horizons in Textual Criticism (Peter Gurry).
On 10-11 May, 2017, the University of Oxford will host a colloquium devoted to methodologically new and unique work in textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible and related texts.

Interview with Maggie Anton

Maggie Anton, a Talmud scholar and historical fiction writer discusses her new book Fifty Shades of Talmud: What the First Rabbis Had to Say about You-Know-What.
Audio interview. Background on Maggie Anton, her recent book on sex in the Talmud, and her earlier novels, is here and links.

Congratulations to Professor Elton Daniel

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Center for Iranian Studies and the Encyclopædia Iranica.
Many congratulations to Professor Elton Daniel, who has been appointed the Interim Director of the Center for Iranian Studies and Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopædia Iranica. See below for the full text of the announcement:

I'm surprised that its been nearly a decade since I've mentioned the Encylopaedia Iranica. I know I have consulted it more often than that. It now goes up to Z.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Putthoff, Ontological Aspects of Early Jewish Anthropology

Ontological Aspects of Early Jewish Anthropology
The Malleable Self and the Presence of God

Tyson L. Putthoff, Trinity College Dublin
In Ontological Aspects of Early Jewish Anthropology, Tyson L. Putthoff explores early Jewish beliefs about how the human self reacts ontologically in God’s presence. Combining contemporary theory with sound exegesis, Putthoff demonstrates that early Jews widely considered the self to be intrinsically malleable, such that it mimics the ontological state of the space it inhabits. In divine space, they believed, the self therefore shares in the ontological state of God himself. The book is critical for students and scholars alike. In putting forth a new framework for conceptualising early Jewish anthropology, it challenges scholars to rethink not only what early Jews believed about the self but how we approach the subject in the first place.

Dreams in the ANE and the Joseph story

PROF. JACK M. SASSON: Joseph and the Dreams of Many Colors. Understanding the practice of dream interpretation in the Joseph story by using the ANE interpretive traditions as background (
Dreams across Centuries

Millennia before Sigmund Freud penned his classic work Die Traumdeutung (The Interpretation of Dreams, 1899) and long before the 2nd century CE professional diviner, Artemidorus of Daldis, distilled centuries of traditions on dream interpretation into his Oneirocritica,[1] people in the Ancient Near East had cultivated a strong interest in dreams and their interpretations. From the Freudian perspective, dreams are an expression of a person’s subconscious, and they teach us about a person’s inner life.

In antiquity, however, a dream was understood as a message from a deity, often reflecting an issue of importance to an entire community. In fact, in the conception of the ancients, a dream could affect many people beyond its recipient. Thus, in the ANE, a process of evaluating dreams developed, which included the following investigations: their viability, their veracity, their import, and their fulfillment.

Some background on dreams and dream interpretation in antiquity is in yesterday's post here (and links) and also here, here, here, here, and here. And then there's the story of my own revelatory dream here.

Batten on honor and shame in the NT

BIBLE ODYSSEY: Honor and Shame in the New Testament (Alicia J. Batten).
Q. We are told that ancient societies like those of Israel were "honor-shame cultures," and see various examples of that in biblical stories. My question is more about NT theology. How do the honor-shame cultural values of New Testament authors inform and shape their theology, especially Christology?

Reminder: BIOSCS is now JSCS

AWOL: Open Access Journal: The Journal of Septuagint and Cognate Studies (JSCS) formerly, The Bulletin of the International Organization of Septuagint and Cognate Studies (BIOSCS). The change in title was noted earlier here in 2015, but it's always good to post reminders when AWOL takes something up.

BI Blog 2016 statistics

BIBLIOGRAPHIA IRANICA: Statistics for 2016. It provides lots of good content and is doing well for such a specialized blog. PaleoJudaica links to it frequently for information on ancient Persia and Zoroastrianism.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Ge'ez classes begin at University of Toronto

ETHIOPIC WATCH: University of Toronto Starts Ge’ez Classes (
January 13, 2017 - The University of Toronto (U of T) has begun Ge’ez classes to enable a new generation of students understand the ancient language and access long-lost trove of knowledge.

This week, Professor Robert Holmstedt of the department of Near and Middle Eastern civilizations welcomed 25 students and members of Ethiopian community in Toronto to the first day of an introductory course on Ge’ez.

With this course, U of T becomes one of the only places in the world where students can learn the fundamentals of Ge’ez, according to a statement on the university’s site.

The program came about through several significant donations, including from The Weeknd, the Ethiopian community and the Faculty of Arts & Science.

Department Chair Professor Tim Harrison has said that he hoped, with continued support, U of T would eventually add more courses and be positioned to launch the first Ethiopian studies program in North America.

Since the subject is so rarely taught, Holmstedt had to invent course materials and revise one of the only Ge’ez textbooks in English, the 40-year-old Introduction to Classical Ethiopic: Ge’ez by Thomas O. Lambdin. Ge’ez is a window into an ancient culture and offers insights into other languages, he said.

“I like giving students access to things that 99.5 percent of the world doesn’t have access to,” he said, adding: “It’s part of advancing our knowledge and the pursuit of truth. This is the very nature of the university. We can’t leave this behind.”

Excellent! Ge'ez (ancient Ethiopic) is of interest for ancient Jewish studies in particular because the text of 1 Enoch is preserved complete only in a Ge'ez translation.

Background here and links.

"All dreams follow the interpretation" - you are warned!

Dr. HAIM WEISS: “All Dreams Follow the Interpretation” – Even for the Rabbis! A New Approach to the Story of Abaye, Rava and the Dream Interpreter Bar Hedya (b. Berakhot 55b-56a) (

Dreams – an involuntary human experience of unclear purpose, and of symbolic and enigmatic elements – presented the rabbis with an interpretive, cultural, and theological crux. Their struggle with this challenge, extending from the Mishnah (c. 200 C.E.) all the way to the late midrashim (eighth-ninth centuries), is reflected in dozens of statements, stories, and theological discussions.

In addition to these asides about dreams, three lengthy passages devoted to dreams have come down to us: y. Ma‘aser Sheni 4; 55b-c; Eichah Rabbah, and part of the ninth chapter of b. Berakhot, known by scholars as “Tractate Dreams,” 1 which will be the focus of this article.
Some past posts on dreams and dream interpretation in the Talmud are here, here, here, here, and here.

Interview with Benyamin Tsedaka

SAMARITAN WATCH: Fox column: Benny is a good Samaritan (Pastor Mark Fox, The Times-News).
“Many people learn history. Very few people learn from it.”

That was one of the statements Benyamim Tsedaka made in our 90-minute meeting for lunch a few weeks ago. Benyamim, who prefers to be called Benny to make it easier for Americans, is a 125th-generation Samaritan who knows his history and is on a mission to help others know it as well, so lessons may be learned and tragedies avoided.

The Samaritans are a tribe of Israelites that once boasted more than a million people in the 5th century, and dropped as low as 141 in 1919. Now there are 800 Samaritans, but that number is growing again. From the ancient tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh and Levi, the Samaritans live in or near Mount Gerizim in Israel, and follow only the first five books of the Old Testament, or, the Pentateuch.

Benny says the Samaritans and Jews are two brothers of the same nation, and he travels throughout the world for two months every year, meeting with world leaders and representing the Samaritan people. When he and I met with JL Williams and Margaret Wooten (the Wootens are Benny’s "adopted family" in Alamance County), he had just come from a meeting with one of the members of President-elect Trump's transition team.

Benny has quite the resumé. He served in the Israeli Air Force in the 1960s. Since 1969, he has served as chief editor of The Samaritan News, and has published 122 books. He is a choir director, the honorary chairman of the Samaritan Basketball Team, and since 2007, he has chaired the Samaritan Medal Committee for Peace and Humanitarian Achievements.

Yes, Mr. Tzedaka is very active I have been in touch with him occasionally over the years and you will find him from time to time in PaleoJudaica's archives - most recently in connection with his (co-authored with Sharon Sullivan) English translation of the Samaritan Pentateuch.

Malachi Martin

PALEOGRAPHY: The strange case of Father Malachi Martin, the Kerry priest who stars in Netflix's new documentary. A new documentary focuses on a Kerry priest who claimed to have carried out exorcisms. Was he the real deal or a fantasist (Darragh McManus, Not an endorsement of this new film, which I have not seen and in which I have no interest, but I note this story because it tells me something interesting that I didn't know. Malachi Martin was a trained specialist in Semitic philology and paleography before he left the priesthood:
Born in Ballylongford in 1921, he became a Jesuit priest, did a doctorate in archaeology and Semitic languages in Belgium's Louvain University, worked on the famous Dead Sea scrolls, participated in archaeological digs in Egypt and served as private secretary to a Vatican cardinal, among many other achievements.
His 1999 obituary in the Independent (UK) gives additional details:
Martin grew up in a large, traditional Catholic family in County Kerry and in 1939 as a young man entered the Jesuit Order. He read for a BA in humanities at University College, Dublin, then spent three years studying philosophy followed by three years teaching in a Jesuit college in Ireland, and four years of theology studies at Milltown Park, Dublin (the college where Jesuits did their theological training). There he was ordained into the priesthood in 1954, taking his final vows as a Jesuit on 2 February 1957.

His talents were soon apparent and he was sent for further studies outside Ireland. He received doctorates from the universities of Louvain and Oxford and from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where he concentrated on knowledge of Jesus as transmitted in Islamic and Jewish sources. As a biblical scholar, Martin's main contribution was the book The Scribal Character of the Dead Sea Scrolls, published in Louvain in 1958.

Marked out as a high-flyer, he became Professor of Palaeontology and Semitic Languages at the prestigious Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and was a theological adviser to Cardinal Augustin Bea, the head of the Vatican's Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. This brought him into close contact with Pope John XXIII.

Martin's years in Rome coincided with the start of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), which was to transform the Catholic Church in a way that the initially-liberal Martin began to find distressing. Disillusioned by the reforms taking place among the Jesuits, the Church's largest religious order, Martin requested a release from his vows in 1964 and left Rome suddenly that June.
And then, of course, his life took a rather different direction. He is best known as the exorcising priest in the episode on which the 1973 movie The Exorcist is based.

Amusingly, in the quote from the obituary his academic title is given as "Professor of Palaeontology." That should be Professor of Palaeography.

Restorations on the Church of the Nativity

REPAIR WORK UNDERWAY: Bethlehem shrine’s treasures being restored (Josephine McKenna, Religion News Service/Crux reprint).
The Church of the Nativity, built by Roman Emperor Constantine in the fourth century, sits in Bethlehem above what’s believed to be the birthplace of Jesus. Since 2013, Italian experts have been working with the Palestinian government to overcome cultural and religious differences and forge ahead with an ambitious restoration.
As frequently with such things, this is the traditional birthplace of Jesus. In historical terms there is no certainty where or even in what year Jesus was born. But the site has a long tradition of association with his birth:
The church was completed on Constantine’s orders in 339 A.D. but later destroyed during conflict in the sixth century. A new basilica was built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in 565 A.D. and lined with colorful wall mosaics much later, during the 12th century.

“The design of the transept is an example of exceptional craftsmanship, and so too are the mosaics, the columns, the capitals and the architraves,” Piacenti said.

Over the years the structure has suffered from degradation and water infiltration. It was declared a U.N. World Heritage site in 2012 in a bid to save it from further decay and it’s also on the World Heritage endangered list.
But Piacenti said few realize it also withstood invasions, war and natural disasters.

“This church is a fortress that has survived attacks and 15 terrible earthquakes and it is still standing today,” he said.
The restorations have been underway since 2013 and are reportedly about two-thirds complete.

Background on its listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site is here and links.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Secunda on Hanukkah and Zoroastrian Fire Veneration

DR. SHAI SECUNDA: The Development of the Chanukah Oil Miracle in Context of Zoroastrian Fire Veneration. The Ancient Fire that Fueled the Chanukah Story (
In recent years, most scholars have observed that the story concerning the miracle of oil is a late addition to the Chanukah traditions.1 This article suggests a possible Greek precursor to the story, and examines the role that the Iranian religion, Zoroastrianism, played in both these traditions about miraculous fire.
Cross-file under, Belatedly, 'Tis The Season (Hanukkah Edition).

Kemosh and YHWH

THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST TODAY (ASOR): Kemosh, YHWH’s Counterpart and “Abomination” (Collin Cornell).
Sitting in a seminary classroom and translating the famous Mesha Inscription from Moab can create a unique sense of unease and confusion. Here is a god so similar to, well, God; to Yhwh that is, the god of the Hebrew Bible! So who was Kemosh, really?

Cross-file under Chemosh, Epigraphy, and History of Religion. More on the Mesha Inscription (Mesha Stele, Moabite Stone) is here and links.

Goodacre and Still now editors of NIGTC

READING ACTS: Goodacre and Still, New Editors of the New International Greek Text Commentary series.
Here is an exciting announcement from Eerdmans: Mark Goodacre and Todd D. Still are taking over editorship of the New International Greek Text Commentary series. The NIGTC is one on the premier New Testament commentaries published today. ...
Congratulations to both.

Magness lecturing at Baylor on Huqoq mosaics

BAYLOR UNIVERSITY: Biblical Mosaics Discovered in Ancient Israeli Synagogue Will Be Topic of Lecture by Excavation Director Jan. 19.
WACO, Texas (Jan. 12, 2017) — New discoveries of mosaics uncovered in an ancient synagogue in Israel’s Galilee region will be the topic of an upcoming slide-illustrated lecture by Jodi Magness, Ph.D., director of the excavations.

Magness’ presentation, which is free and open to the public, will be given at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 19, in Baylor University’s McClinton Auditorium, Room 240, of the Paul L. Foster Campus for Business and Innovation, 1621 S. Third St.

Past posts on the new mosaic from Huqoq are collected here. And follow the links there for past posts on the other mosaics from Huqoq.

Herman Charles Hoskier Project

HISTORY OF NEW TESTAMENT TEXTUAL CRITICISM: Project Announcement: Herman Charles Hoskier and the Future of the Bible (Dr. Garrick Allen). This is a project being undertaken in Ireland by Dr. Allen, one of our recent St. Andrews PhDs. He has been mentioned at PaleoJudaica a number of times, including here, here, here, and here.