Friday, September 23, 2016

Ein Gedi Leviticus Scroll

The past couple of days have seen exciting developments in the release of results from the virtual unrolling of a charred Leviticus scroll from Ein Gedi. For popular news articles, see:

New York Times


Jerusalem Post

National Geographic

More importantly, two scholarly articles have now been published--one from a computer science perspective and the other from that of manuscript studies and textual criticism--both of which are freely available online:

From damage to discovery via virtual unwrapping: Reading the scroll from En-Gedi in Science Advances

An Early Leviticus Scroll from En-Gedi: Preliminary Publication in Textus 26

The first results were announced already last year, but now the full published papers have revealed the full significance of the results to the broader public. Essentially, this is the first time anyone has been able to scan, virtually unroll, and decipher a charred manuscript with ink on a soft writing support. The images are surprisingly clear and allow for detailed analysis of the scroll, and the methods have great promise for the study of other carbonized manuscripts, such as the Herculaneum papyri.

The scroll started with blank space and the beginning of the book of Leviticus rolled on the inside of the scroll, and the authors of the article have so far unrolled and deciphered two partial columns from Leviticus 1 and 2; there is more material yet to be unrolled and read. The text so far revealed agrees exactly with the Leningrad Codex.

The biggest controversy I anticipate in the study of this manuscript is the proposed dating. The scroll was found in 1970 inside the burned Torah ark of a synagogue at Ein Gedi that was burned towards the end of the 6th century CE, which is the latest possible dating of the manuscript. Elisabetta Boaretto carbon-dated a sample of the scroll at the Weizmann Institute DREAMS Radiocarbon Laboratory using AMS, yielding a result of nearly 90% confidence that the scroll should be dated to the 3rd-4th century, and only a small chance that it could come from the 2nd. Ada Yardeni's paleographical analysis, however, suggests that the closest comparanda are a Psalms scroll from Nahal Hever and scribe B of 11QTemple Scroll-a, and thus dates it to the second half of the 1st century CE, or possibly as late as the early 2nd century. Both of these proposed dates have their complicating factors, but I am somewhat skeptical of Yardeni's dating for three reasons:

  1. The archeological context leads me to anticipate a scroll that is as much as a couple hundred years old when the synagogue was burned, so a date around the 3rd-4th century seems expected. I find it highly unlikely that the scroll would have still been in use 500 years after it was written, as would be the case if Yardeni is correct. Even the oldest scrolls from Qumran were only a maximum of about 300 years old when the settlement was destroyed, and these are exceptional.
  2. The carbon dating seems to confirm what I would expect from the archeological evidence.
  3. There is a near total lack of appropriate comparanda from the 3rd-4th century, so I fail to see how Yardeni can confidently exclude the possibility of a later date paleographically. Indeed, several features of the Ein Gedi scroll seem typologically later than her 1st century comparanda (as she herself recognizes). Just because it has many similarities with 1st century scrolls does not necessarily mean that it would not also have many similarities with 3rd-4th century scrolls if we had any good examples to compare it with.
Thus, this example provides a challenging test case for our dating methods, and it will be exciting to see what develops as more people focus their attention on this important scroll.

Congratulations to Brent Seales, Seth Parker, Michael Segal, Emanuel Tov, Pnina Shor, Yosef Porath, and Ada Yardeni--as well as the Virtual Unwrapping Project and the IAA--for a successful project and a job well done... or at least well underway. :) I look forward to seeing the rest of the Leviticus scroll soon!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

New Book, Article, and Conference Report

It is worth pointing out a few books and articles that have come out recently that may be of relevance to readers of this blog.

Wolfgang Kraus, Michael N. Van Der Meer, and Martin Meiser (eds.), XV Congress of the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies: Munich, 2013 (SBL Press, 2016).

ISBN 9781628371383
Price: $99.95
Publication DateSeptember 2016

Essays from experts in the field of Septuagint studies
The study of Septuagint offers essential insights in ancient Judaism and its efforts to formulate Jewish identity within a non-Jewish surrounding culture. This book includes the papers given at the XV Congress of the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies (IOSCS), held in Munich, Germany, in 2013. The first part of this book deals with questions of textual criticism. The second part is dedicated to philology. The third part underlines the increasing importance of Torah in Jewish self-definition.
  • Essays dealing with questions of textual criticism, mostly concerning the historical books and wisdom literature and ancient editions and translations
  • Philological essays covering the historical background, studies on translation technique and lexical studies underline the necessity of both exploring general perspectives and working in detail
Wolfgang Kraus is Professor of New Testament at the University of Saarland, Protestant Theology. He is the author of Zwischen Jerusalem und Antiochia. Die ,Hellenisten', Paulus und die Aufnahme der Heiden in das endzeitliche Gottesvolk (Katholisches Bibelwerk) and Das Volk Gottes. Zur Grundlegung der Ekklesiologie bei Paulus (Mohr Siebeck).
Michaël N. van der Meer is an independent scholar Biblical Studies and teacher of Religious Education at Hermann Wesselink College, Amstelveen. He is the author of Formation and Reformulation: The Redaction of the Book of Joshua in the Light of the Oldest Textual Witnesses (Brill).
Martin Meiser is Assistant Professor of New Testament at the University of Saarland, Protestant Theology. He is the author of Galater (Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht) and Judas Iskariot. Einer von uns (Evangelische Verlagsanstalt).

Eran Viezel, "Medieval Bible Commentators on the Question of the Composition of the Bible: Research and Methodological Aspects," Tarbiz 84, nos. 1-2.

Roberta Mazza's "Fragments of an Unbelievable Past? Constructions of Provenance, Narratives of Forgery. A Report."

In light of recent discussion about the SBL policy on publishing unprovenanced artifacts, Roberta Mazza's report on the conference "Fragments of an Unbelievable Past? Constructions of Provnance, Narratives of Forgery" from 14-16 September 2016 at the University of Agder is highly pertinent. For those who do not know her work, Roberta is a prominent voice from the side that argues that we should not publish unprovenanced materials, and her vocal contribution to the debate would be hard to underestimate. The conference on forgeries and questions of provenance is particularly appropriate in today's climate, where numerous ancient biblical and Bible-related manuscripts have come up with questionable provenance and/or authenticity, and it sounds like a very interesting and successful conference. One caveat... I don't personally know Nina Burleigh, and I did not hear her paper at the conference, but the article linked to in the report The Messiah Cometh was decidedly one-sided and unnuanced, a big disappointment in comparison to Ariel Sabar's outstanding work "The Unvelievable Tale of Jesus's Wife."

HT Agade, John Meade

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Length of the Egyptian Sojourn: An Ongoing Discussion

Just in case you thought the obscure chronological details that so concerned ancient scribes were no longer of interest, a new article in the Jewish Bible Quarterly is trying to reinvigorate the debate over how long the Egyptian sojourn was. In How Long Was the Sojourn in Egypt: 210 or 430 Years? David Gadeloff revives discussion on a challenging interpretive problem based on apparent inconsistencies between the genealogies (which suggest a period of time shorter than 430 years) and the number of years the Israelites were said to have been in Egypt. Exodus 12:40 in the Masoretic text and 4Q14(?) say that Israel was in Egypt for 430 years. Gadeloff opposes the traditional rabbinic view that these 430 actually included time when Israel was still in Canaan, suggesting instead that it should be taken literally. Unfortunately, Gadeloff does not deal with textual evidence from the Samaritan Pentateuch and Septuagint, which explicitly state that the 430 years include time in Canaan. This popular interpretation--found in, for example, Demetrius, Frag. 2 §16-19; Josephus, Ant. 2.318; Galatians 3:17--actually found its way into significant parts of the manuscript tradition as a scribal harmonization. Truly an interesting textual variant! :)

HT Agade

New article on the Pesharim

The recent Journal of Biblical Literature volume has one article that might be of particular importance for the understanding of the pesharim and the reception of the scriptures in Second Temple Judaism:

The Compositional Development of Qumran Pesharim in Light of Mesopotamian Commentaries
Bronson Brown-deVost
Journal of Biblical Literature
Vol. 135, No. 3 (Fall 2016), pp. 525-541


The manuscript remains of Mesopotamian commentaries from the first millennium BCE provide ample evidence to construct a model for the creation of singular commentary texts out of widespread interpretive traditions. This model demonstrates how traditional interpretations of texts may be shared over a wide geographical area during a lengthy time span. What is more, the commentaries comprising these interpretations were neither static nor uniform; rather, they could represent interpretive traditions to varying extents, as well as grow and develop. A comparative application of the Mesopotamian model of commentary writing to the Qumran pesharim, which ostensibly lack manuscript evidence for their compositional history, provides solutions to a number of literary incongruities found in the pesharim as well as several scribal markings. This model also has important implications for the pesher genre and helps to highlight the similarity of several so-called thematic pesharim to the continuous ones, while at the same time further accounting for the variation attested in the continuous pesher category itself.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

SBL Policy on Scholarly Presentation and Publication of Ancient Artifacts

The Society of Biblical Literature sent out an email yesterday to its members announcing a new SBL Policy on Scholarly Presentation and Publication of Ancient Artifacts. Essentially, the SBL Council has voted to endorse and enforce the The American Schools of Oriental Research Policy on Professional Conduct. SBL will no longer allow the initial publication or announcement--in any of its venues--of textual artifacts of unknown or illicit provenance, unless they can be documented to have been discovered and removed from the countries of their origin prior to 24 April 1972, when the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property came into effect. To some, this may be a welcome change; to others, an annoyance, to say the least. For me, it is bittersweet. I appreciate the need for greater involvement in this important ethical conversation and agree with much in the statement, but I remain skeptical of some aspects and continue to worry about oversimplifying complex issues and prematurely absolutizing short-sighted policies.

While it has been clear that a number of professional associations have been moving this direction for a while now, the decision to adopt the relatively strict ASOR policy represents a fairly hardline position in the provenance debate. For instance, the 2007 American Society of Papyrologists’ (ASP) Resolution Concerning the Illicit Trade in Papyri suggests that its members not participate directly or indirectly in the illicit trade of antiquities by doing anything “that adds significantly to the commercial value of the [illicit] papyri,” such as authenticating illicit material “for the benefit of antiquities dealers or other sellers.” The definition of “significant” commercial value and the “determination of appropriate behavior” are left to the prudent judgment and consciences of individual members. Recommendation 12 of the Association Internationale de Papyrologues’ (AIP) 2010 Recommendations of the Working Party on the Commerce in Papyri states only that scholars who confirm that a given papyrus was stolen from an Egyptian museum should inform the owner, request him or her to return it to Egyptian authorities, and “not assist in the marketing of such [stolen] material in any way.”

The ASOR/SBL policy III.B.10 similarly states that members should "refrain from activities that contribute directly or indirectly to the illicit markets for antiquities and to the value of artifacts in such markets through their publication, authentication, or exhibition." Probably few scholars today would feel comfortable consciously authenticating and valuing illicit materials for the financial benefit of black market antiquities dealers. This is, to put it bluntly, to be an accomplice in illegal activity. The complete prohibition of the publication of any illicit artifacts, however, is a much more uncompromising stance. Is it really wrong even to document the existence of such artifacts?

But the really controversial parts are in III.E.4:

"the publications and presentation venues of ASOR [and SBL] shall not serve as the initial place of publication or announcement of any object acquired by an individual or institution after April 24, 1972, which is the date of entry into force of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, with the following exceptions:

"a. the object was documented as already being in a collection before April 24, 1972; and further, if that object is no longer in its country of origin, it must have been legally exported;
"b. the object was acquired after April 24, 1972 but it is considered to be a forgery and is published as a forgery;
"c. the object’s publication or announcement serves primarily to emphasize the degradation of archaeological heritage."

Undoubtedly, scholars wishing to publish unprovenanced artifacts will simply publish them elsewhere. The statement says nothing about citing such publications of unprovenanced artifacts, so nothing will really change, besides ensuring an even longer delay before artifacts make their impact in the field of Biblical Studies. But still, the principle is important, since the SBL Council wants to make this policy the standard of professional conduct for its members. Therefore, even though I agree with much of it, I would like to express several reservations about the statement:

1) It oversimplifies the legal status of artifacts. The ASOR/SBL statement assumes that any unprovenanced artifact without documentation before 1972 was illicitly excavated and exported. In fact, documentation is frequently sparse or non-existent, even in some legitimate collections. It may very well be that the large majority of newly appearing artifacts are of recent (illegal) provenance, but can we really assume this across the board? Should artifacts be considered guilty until proven innocent? I'm not so sure.

2) It fails to distinguish different situations with regard to ownership and complicity. For instance, the ASOR/SBL statement disallows the publication of unprovenanced and undocumented artifacts, even if they are kept in public, non-profit institutions. Refusing to consult for the black market I understand, but refusing to publish publicly accessible primary source material that is already off the market? That is much harder for me to agree with. The two are simply not the same thing, and I would like to see much more nuance from this perspective in future discussions.

3) It makes seemingly arbitrary exceptions. There is a glaring inconsistency in the ASOR/SBL statement in the so-called "cuneiform exception." The ASOR statement makes an exception for cuneiform tablets on the basis that they have been looted on a massive scale, are relatively easily authenticated, and offer information independent of known provenance. None of these justifications are unique to cuneiform tablets, however, and many sub-disciplines could easily make the same case. This suggests to me more a political compromise to placate internal discontent than a nuanced principle, and it betrays significant weaknesses in the general statement. It may very well be that some artifacts are simply too important for historical study to be ignored, and we need carefully formulated principles to account for these exceptions. At very least, we need to find a way to factor the importance of individual artifacts relative to the potential costs into our ethical principles in a more coherent and pragmatic way.

4) It disempowers SBL members. The ASP statement "acknowledges that indirect participation is a complicated matter with varying degrees of complicity; it therefore leaves the determination of appropriate behavior to the prudential judgment of its individual members." The ASOR/SBL statement seems a significant step back towards an absolutizing tendency that fails to admit the complexity of the issues and to value the independent judgment of competent professionals. If there were near-universal agreement within the field, one could make a case for codifying professional conduct standards. But many conversations with scholars over the years suggest to me that the question of publishing unprovenanced artifacts is far from settled within the scholarly community. I sense a general discontent, both from those want to see stricter stances and those who (usually more quietly) see it as their job to document even unprovenanced material. I, for one, do not have all the answers figured out, but I do worry that the powers that be may be providing pat answers to difficult questions that might better be addressed by conscientious scholars on a case by case basis. Drawing an absolute line in the sand may (or may not?) encourage systemic change, but what do we lose in the process? It may be more than just information...

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Albright Institute Fellowships

The W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research has released its call for applications for the next round of fellowships. I was an ECA fellow in the Spring of 2015, and I very much enjoyed my time there. It was a great opportunity to learn about archaeology, but they also have a strong tradition of supporting textual research (especially the Dead Sea Scrolls). I highly recommend eligible candidates to apply for a chance to spend some time in Jerusalem.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Enoch Seminar review of Satlow's "How the Bible Became Holy"

Isaac Oliver de Oliveira has pointed out a review of Michael Satlow's How the Bible Became Holy, for the Enoch Seminar. Gregory Paulson's review of Satlow is fairly critical of his treatment of the Christian literature, which follows on Ron Hendel's critical review focusing on the treatment of the Septuagint and Qumran materials. I have not read the book myself, but many of the quotes and conclusions cited in the reviews do seem somewhat overstated. Have any others read the book?