Category Archives: Uncategorized

The New Journal of Ancient History

De Gruyter has introduced their new Journal of Ancient History with a free online version. The free online version will not last long. I found several of the articles abnormally interesting – none more interesting than Marc Van de Mieroop’s, “Recent Trends in the Study of Ancient Near Eastern History: Some Reflections,” Journal of Ancient History, 1:1, (May 2013 Online), 83–98. Here’s a sample.

There is thus an intimate connection between philology and history, which affects the practices and presentation of ancient Near Eastern history. On the one hand historical analyses regularly appear in what are primarily text editions. For example, the re-edition of the royal correspondence of Babylonian kings of the twenty-first century includes a radical reinterpretation of the role of Syrian nomads in the overthrow of their dynasty around 2000 BCE (Michalowski, Correspondence 2011). On the other hand, studies that present themselves as historical analyses habitually include philological editions of primary sources (e.g., Kleber 2008). This practice can impede communication between specialists on the ancient Near East and scholars of other periods of history. Because of the relatively small community of ancient Near East historians there are fewer syntheses of their scholarship than for other areas of ancient history and they have been less successful at passing on their new insights to a broader readership. The unfortunate effect is that when generalizing studies of topics in ancient history or world history appear, the information presented on the ancient Near East is often outdated.

Aren Maeir says of Van de Mieroop’s article, “Well worth reading – check it out!” Aren is right! And checkout the other articles as well.

A Real Benghazi Scandal

Four foreigners have been arrested in Libya on suspicion of being missionaries and distributing Christian literature, a charge that could carry the death penalty.
The four – a Swedish-American, Egyptian, South African and South Korean – were arrested in Benghazi by Preventative Security, an intelligence unit of the defence ministry, accused of printing and distributing bible pamphlets in the city.
Libya retains a law from the Muammar Gaddafi era that makes proselytising a criminal offence potentially punishable by death. The arrests underlined the sometimes difficult relationship between churches and the new authorities. [The Guardian]

The Guardian has more on the story.
This is why we need to support freedom of speech, of religion and assembly no matter how repugnance we may think some specific speech, religion or gathering might be. No opinion, wherever it may be expressed or how it may be expressed, should be criminally punishable, certainly not punishable by death.
Yes, there are a few exceptions where certain expressions of opinion in certain very limited contexts may be punishable but too few to mention in the context of this post.

Writing On ‘Sticks’

As some readers may remember, I suggested that the short cuneiform inscription on the ivory rod found at Tiryns was a personal or perhaps a geographical name. Dietrich and Loretz from one direction and Tropper and Vita from a couple of others directions differed from my suggestion.
In many ways Dietrich and Loretz’ suggestion is the most coherent in that it addresses the object and the inscription in a way that each informs the other. As I said in a previous post,

They take mš’al[t] to be comparable with Akkadian, máš’alu. Here they follow AHw, 623b, which renders the Akkadian “an oracle.” CAD, M 355, says the meaning is uncertain but refers us to Hebrew miš’ōl, “an area with a vineyard.” Other lexemes that Dietrich and Loretz propose for comparison are Old South Arabic ms1‘l, “oracle,” and Ethiopic mes’al “please.” They further direct us to Akkadian maš’āltu, “survey,” Hebrew miš’ālāh, “please,” and the Old / Royal Aramaic mš’lt,’ “interrogation.” Dietrich and Loretz note that the root of all these is likely Š’L “ask, explore.” On this basis and on the physical nature of the thing on which it is inscribed, they reasonably take the ivory cylinder to be a fragment of a[n] oracle stick.

They note Hosea 4:12a, עַמִּי בְּעֵצוֹ יִשְׁאָל וּמַקְלוֹ יַגִּיד לוֹ, “My people: It consults its sticks. Its rods direct it! (JPS)” as an interesting parallel.
Now for the new stuff. Chris Heard has launched an abnormally interesting series “The inspiration of scripture.” So far there are two posts in the series but more are threatened promised. In his second post Chris calls our attention to Ezekiel 37:16,

וְאַתָּה בֶן-אָדָם קַח-לְךָ עֵץ אֶחָד וּכְתֹב עָלָיו לִיהוּדָה וְלִבְנֵי יִשְֹרָאֵל חֲבֵרָו וּלְקַח עֵץ אֶחָד וּכְתוֹב עָלָיו לְיוֹסֵף עֵץ אֶפְרַיִם וְכָל-בֵּית יִשְֹרָאֵל חֲבֵרָו חֲבֵרָיו

Which Chris the Common English Bible [see comment below] translates, “You, human one, take a stick, and write on it, ‘Belonging to Judah and to the Israelites associated with him.’ Take another stick and write on it, ‘Stick of Ephraim belonging to Joseph and everyone of the house of Israel associated with him’.”
Notice the use of עֵץ, ‘stick,’ here and in the Hosea passage. In Ezekiel the preposition ל plus various names are to be writing on the stick, “to Judah,” to the Israelites, “to Joseph and his house.” On the one hand, this seems to be vaguely supportive of my suggestion that the few letters on the Tiryns inscription might be a name of some kind. The fact that such a name is not preceded by the preposition l is a problem but not an insurmountable problem. On the other hand, the inscription on the second ‘stick’ in Ezekiel is to read “Stick of Ephraim belonging to Joseph and everyone of the house of Israel associated with him.” The Tiryns inscription is broken after only three and two thirds letters and Dietrich and Loretz may be correct in seeing the object as an oracle stick. In which case, we might understand mš’al[t] to mean “oracle [ivory]” with l plus some kind of name following it. Does all this also imply that עֵץ in Ezekiel 37:16ff means oracle stick?
I’m in the process of rewriting my paper on the Tiryns inscription in the light of Dietrich and Loretz and Tropper and Vita’s work. I found the Exekiel passage abnormally interesting. I’m not sure what if anything to make of it in the context of my paper, but that doesn’t keep it from being abnormally interesting.

Dietrich, Manfried and Ozwald Loretz, „Rhabdomantie im mykenischen Palast von Tiryns. Das Fragment eines kurz-keilalphabetisch beschrifteten Elfenbeinstabs (Ti 02 LXIII 34/91 VI d12.80 = KTU3 6.104),“ UF 42 (2010, published 2011), 142-159
Tropper, Josef and Juan-Pablo Vita, “Die keilaplhabetische Inschrift aus Tiryns,” UF 42 (2010, published 2011), 693-695

Rand andTolkien: Quotation of 2009

Rand andTolkien: Quotation of 2009

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs. – John Rogers, “Ephemera 2009 (7)” Kung Fu Monkey blog

Via Leiter Reports where Brian Leiter posts this illustration:

Rand and Tolkien

Read The Book Of Job

and write a summary of it plus “eight years in jail followed by five years of probation and substance abuse counseling,” that is the sentence a South Carolina judge gave Cassandra Belle Tolley for seriously injuring two people while driving drunk.
On the abnormal part, the read the book of Job part, of this sentence, Claude Mariottini writes among other things,

The book of Job is a great book in the Bible, a book that has provided much comfort to people who are suffering. Will the book of Job also help cure alcoholism?

Claude makes two separate points before he raises his question. Point 1: “The book of Job is a great book in the Bible.” Point 2: Job “has provided much comfort to people who are suffering.”
As to Claude’s first point, I agree without reservation. Even in its final form, Job is among the greatest pieces of literature ever. Perhaps the only Biblical text that is greater than Job in its final form is a subset of Job, the dialogues of Job 3-26. Loren Fisher calls this portion of Job “Job II” or “The Rebel Job.” If Loren is correct, so great was this work that religious orthodoxy couldn’t tolerate it and buried it beneath text more acceptable to their orthodox beliefs.
As to Claude’s second point, I suspect that this is also true. But I’ve never understood why. The final form of the book depicts a capricious god playing a game with the accuser, but ultimately with Job. Sure Job is restored but to quite a different life than the one that was taken from him. I have always found Job very discomforting. And while I find Loren’s Rebel somewhat more confronting, it is the lack of religious orthodoxy that comforts.
As to Claude’s question, I very much doubt that Job or any part of it can cure alcoholism. In any case, the required substance abuse counseling will certainly do a lot more good for Ms Tolley.
Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars and Adam Peck at Think Progress have helpful posts on the issue of the constitutionality of the part of the sentence that calls for reading Job and writing a summery. It almost certainly isn’t.

Cuneiform Inscription Found In Malta

Steven Cook of Biblische Ausbildung directs us to an agate fragment with cuneiform script discovered in Malta.

Agate with cuneiform inscription from Malta
Cultura Itatia has some details.

Italian archaeologists working in Malta have made a sensational discovery: an agate carved with cuneiform script dating back to the 2nd millennium BC, but whose votive nature can be traced to the city of Nippur, in Mesopotamia. The finding took place during an excavation campaign conducted by an archaeological mission from the University of Rome “La Sapienza”, led by palaeontology professor Alberto Cazzella, in collaboration with the University of Foggia, represented by Giulia Recchia, and in agreement with the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage in Malta, directed by Anthony Pace.
The agate is shaped like a crescent moon. It can be deduced from the inscription that a group of worshippers dedicated the precious stone to the moon god Sin, who was worshipped in the city of Nippur (Ninurta) in Mesopotamia. The stone was found during archaeological digs carried out in Tas-Silg, . . .
The script on the agave opens the way for new scenarios. Interpreted by Father Werner Mayer of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, who ascribes it to the 13th century BC and the city of Nippur, in Mesopotamia, it is immediately evident that its presence in Malta is exceptional. How did it get to the sanctuary of Tas-Silg? Ninurta was for a lengthy period of time the main divinity in Nippur, until it was replaced by Enlil. According to tradition, Ninurta was the son of the Moon god, and for this reason Nippur was considered a holy city, with many temples, and a pilgrimage site that hosted a renowned school for scribes that produced numerous literary texts.
Its arrival in Malta remains shrouded in mystery; it is likely that the stone was looted from the temple of Nippur by armies at war with the Babylonians. Having fallen into the hands of Cypriot or Mycenaean merchants, who had trading relations with Sicily and the central Mediterranean at the time, it was likely brought by them from the Near East to Malta.

However this artifact make it to ancient Malta, it is further evidence of contact between the Near East and the west in antiquity. I may post what can be read of the text of the inscription after I’ve had a little more time to play with it.

The End Of An Era And A Rant About It

This is a rather abnormal day here at the Smith household. We cancelled our subscription to the Los Angeles Times. We’ve taken the LA Times for nearly 50 years. We will miss the physicality of the morning paper. But despite our efforts to call attention to recurrent delivery problems, the service has deteriorated to the point where the pleasure of holding the morning paper has been surpassed by frustration with inconsistent delivery. And the Times customer service operation systemically doesn’t give a hoot when or if we get a paper. When we call to report a problem, the people are uniformly polite and seemingly helpful but the system does not allow them to keep their promises. Having to call them two or three times a week with at best random follow through isn’t much fun.
Print papers are in trouble. They are under ever increasing competitive pressures from online news among other things that are not in their control. But they can control their customer service. There is no reason for a less than 60% on time delivery rate over a several month period. Sorry, getting a morning paper at noon isn’t an on time delivery. Getting the wrong paper even in a timely fashion isn’t an on time delivery. Getting a soaked paper, not just occasionally, but every time it rains isn’t an on time delivery. Having someone tell you ever so apologetically that an already late paper will arrive within an hour and then not getting it at all isn’t customer service.

The Way I Remember It

Ed Brayton begins a recent post,

Jonah Lehrer writes about a new study of human memory and storytelling, particularly about how unreliable our memories often are, especially after years of recounting the story. Over time, we tend to embellish and borrow details from other stories, resulting in part fact and part fiction — and often even using the memories of others as our own, all while entirely believing it ourselves.

My own most vivid example of this failing concerns a three related events of which I was party to the first and last in the series but not the second. A few years ago, Shirley and I ran over a rather large bolt that penetrated the tread of one of our tires and then passed through its side wall. I changed the tire and drove to a tire store near our home. It was a Sunday and the store was closed. The spare tire was itself low, so we left the car in their lot and walked home. The next day I took “Shirley’s car” to work and she walked back to the store to explain why the car was in their lot and get them working on the problem. The technician was very surprised when he saw the nature of the problem. That evening after work, we drove to the store to pick up the car with a new tire.
Well, that’s the way it almost certainly happened and that’s the way Shirley remembers it. But I have a very strong and persistent memory of being there and seeing the look on the technician’s face when he saw the bolt coming out of the side wall of our tire. Even now, it’s hard to retell the story without thinking I was there. But on other grounds I’m sure I wasn’t.
At least that’s how I remember it.
There are all kinds of lessons for the student of ancient literature in sush false memories.