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Archive for November, 2006

A Step-by-Step Reconstruction of the New Leviticus Fragments (Best of Codex)

18th November 2006

[Originally Posted 18th July 2005]

Tim Bulkeley over at SansBlog asked me to expand my analysis of the newly-discovered fragments of Leviticus by describing a bit of the processes involved in identifying and reconstructing the fragments. I thought that I would entertain his request, though I should note up front that I am by no means an expert in this! My interest in the reconstruction of Dead Sea Scroll fragments is a tangent of my work on the so-called Qumran Psalms scrolls for my dissertation that combines my interest in computer technology and really old stuff!

At any rate, I thought I would outline some of the steps in identifying, reconstructing, and analyzing scroll fragments using the Leviticus fragments by way of illustration. (Since I am not an expert at this, I would love to get feedback from those who are!)

STEP 1: Identification

The first (obvious) step in reconstructing a fragment is figuring out what it is a fragment from! This is done by identifying some of the extant letters and words on the fragment and then performing some searches with various computer software to see if you can locate the text.

Image Adjustment
Before you can identify some of the letters it may be necessary to make some adjustments to the image to bring the letters into sharper relief or even to make the fragment readable in the first place! Note that I am dealing with working with images and not the actual original fragments. This is preferable in most cases as the originals may not be readable and (more significantly) they are likely not accessible! High resolution images may be obtained from various sources, including the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center at Claremont.

I prefer to do my work on the images with Adobe Photoshop. Within Photoshop you can adjust the input and output levels (using the histogram feature), brightness/contrast, among other things to make the text more readable. While the low resolution images of the Leviticus fragments I tracked down on the web are pretty clear, they can be made even clearer by adjusting them slightly:

The adjusted image is a bit easier to read. At times the difference may be dramatic. Compare the two images of PAM 42.141 where the text becomes readable only by adjusting the original image:

Identifying the Text
Once you can read the fragment — or at least some of the fragment — then you can start the process of identification. This is a bit easier for biblical fragments since there are a number of excellent databases of the Hebrew Bible to begin the identification process. I prefer to use Accordance Bible Software for my searches, though Logos Bible Software and BibleWorks, among others, are more than adequate (see my Software for Biblical Studies Pages for descriptions of these and other biblical studies software programs).

With the small Leviticus fragment I did a search for כל נדרי×? “all your votive offerings” which is easily readable in the first line of the fragment. This search discovers that Lev 23:38 is the only occurrence of this phrase in the Hebrew Bible (I also searched a Qumran database with no matches). At that point the rest of the readable words can be checked in the context to see if you have found a match. In the case of the small Leviticus fragment, the other readable words from it easily fit the context of Lev 23:38-39. The same was the case for the larger Leviticus fragment (it is actually two fragments that have been joined), since there were quite a few readable words to make a certain identification with Lev 23:40-44; 24:16-18. You often don’t have as much to work with, however! In my work on 1Q12 (1QPsc) I identified a fragment 8 based on two readable letters and portions of another letter (see my Proposed Reconstruction).

STEP 2: Reconstruction

Once you have the text identified, the next step is to reconstruct it so that you may confirm your identification and ascertain other things about the fragment such as its original size. In order to do this I use Microsoft Word and/or Photoshop (I have also used Quark XPress for this step) to see how the text lines up with the fragment. So, for example, with the smaller Leviticus fragment I imported Hebrew text of Lev 23:38-39 (without pointing) into Word and then adjusted the right-hand margin until the text lined up in accordance with the fragment. In the case of the smaller fragment, the text lined up quite nicely, producing lines of ca. 22-28 letterspaces:

My reconstruction shows the extant Leviticus 23:38 and 39 in bold black type with an outline of the fragment placement. The space at the top of the fragment preserves part of the top margin of the scroll (the dark spot near the top of the fragment is likely an ink dot or a blemish on the leather).

Here is a translation with the extant words in bold:

38 …and apart from all your votive offerings, and apart from all your freewill offerings, which you give to the Lord. 39 Now, the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall keep the festival of the Lord, lasting seven days; a complete rest on the first day, and a complete rest on the eighth day.

For the larger fragment, it was a bit more complicated since I was dealing with two columns. But once again, the text lined up very nicely producing lines of ca. 22-28 letterspaces for the right column and 20-25 for the left column, and a column height of ca. 33 lines.

Here is an image of the large fragment:

Here is my reconstruction of the columns:

My reconstruction shows the extant Leviticus 23:40-44 (middle of the right column) and 24:16-18 (left column) in bold black type with an outline of the fragment placement. Note that the smaller fragment also nicely fits at the top of the right column.

The one variant from the MT (as represented by BHS) is the plene spelling of בסכת at the end of verse 42 (the vav is in red). (click for larger image)

Here is a translation with the extant words in bold:

38 …and apart from all your votive offerings, and apart from all your freewill offerings, which you give to the Lord. 39 Now, the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall keep the festival of the Lord, lasting seven days; a complete rest on the first day, and a complete rest on the eighth day.

41You shall keep it as a festival to the Lord seven days in the year; you shall keep it in the seventh month as a statute forever throughout your generations. 42 You shall live in booths for seven days; all that are citizens in Israel shall live in booths, 43 so that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. 44 Thus Moses declared to the people of Israel the appointed festivals of the Lord.

16One who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death; the whole congregation shall stone the blasphemer. Aliens as well as citizens, when they blaspheme the Name, shall be put to death. 17 Anyone who kills a human being shall be put to death. 18

Anyone who kills an animal shall make restitution for it, life for life.

N.B. For a detailed reconstruction, you would have to do much more than just count letters. You would need to consider the widths of different letters in the scroll’s script. For example, even on these fragments it is clear that the ×™ yods and ו vavs take much less space than the ש sins and ב bets. For more detail on calculating letter widths and scroll reconstruction in general, see Edward D. Herbert, Reconstructing Biblical Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Method Applied to the Reconstruction of 4QSama (Brill, 1997; Buy from Amazon.caBuy from You would also need to check to see if these verses are extant in any other scrolls from Qumran; in this case you would want to double check your text with 4QLevb (as it turns out these particular words are not found in 1QLevb).

STEP 3: Description

The third step is to describe your findings and if you were working with the original fragments, you would also provide a physical description. In this case, if the reconstruction is correct, the larger fragment would have been part of a scroll that was quite large. Based on this height and the number of lines per column, the scroll itself would have been on the large size for scrolls found at Qumran and likely contained the complete book of Leviticus, if not the entire Torah/Pentateuch (see Emanuel Tov, “Scribal Practices and the Physical Aspects of the Dead Sea Scrolls” in The Bible as Book: The Manuscript Tradition [John L. Sharpe and Kimberly Van Kampen, eds.; 1998] 9-33; Buy from Amazon.caBuy from

The nature and type of the leather would also have to be ascertained. While one news report identified the material as “deer hide,” most other authentic scrolls were made from the skins of sheep and goats. While the fragments were not tested, Eshel himself was pretty sure that they were either goat or sheep skin.

An examination of the paleography (the style of writing) is consistent with post-Herodian scripts (end of the first century C.E.), including other scrolls from the Bar Kokhba era, such as the Psalms scroll from the Cave of Letters.

The fragments do not give us much in terms of variant readings. The fragments follow the Masoretic text with one exception: at the end of v. 42 the larger fragment has בסכות instead of בסכת, both “booths” (indicated in red type on the larger reconstruction). This is a minor spelling difference, much like the difference between the Canadian spelling of “honour” and the American “honor.” (The fact that the Samaritan Pentateuch also reads בסכות is inconsenquential as it consistently uses the plene spelling throughout).


Reconstructing scrolls with biblical studies software and imaging programs takes a considerable amount of work. I personally find the work interesting (even fascinating), which explains why I bothered to write up this analysis! What I find amazing is how the first generation of scroll scholars did so much ground-breaking work without this technology!

In regards to the two Leviticus fragments, my hunch is that they are authentic. If not, then my hat goes off to the person or persons who produced such fine forgeries!

Posted in Best of Codex, Dead Sea Scrolls, Hanan Eshel, Leviticus Scroll | 2 Comments »

Off to Washington…

17th November 2006

I am flying to Washington shortly. While I may post a bit about the conference from Washington, don’t count on it! :-)

While I am away, I am going to run a little “Best of Codex” series. These are posts that I consider somehow representative of what I do on this blog. Some of the “Best of” posts are ones that are popular, some are ones that I enjoyed writing, while others illustrate some of my academic interests.

Please note that this is not scientific or anything! These are just some of the 500+ posts that I have written in the year and a half since I started this blog. If I thought about it longer, I imagine there would be many posts I would deem better — I will save those for the next time I run a “Best of Codex.”

Have a great weekend!

Posted in Academic Associations, Best of Codex, Personal, SBL | Comments Off

More on Potties: Qumran, World Toilet Expo, and Princess Diana

16th November 2006

I bet you’re wondering what could Qumran, Expos, and Princess Diana possibly have in common?! Well, a Google search on the “Dead Sea Scrolls” brings up the following:

  • More information available on the latrines found at Khirbet Qumran is provided by James Tabor at his Jesus Dynasty blog — including a number of pictures that show the latrine’s location.
  • Reuters has a new piece on the The World Toilet Expo and Forum just got underway in Bangkok. — gee, and I have to go to Washington for the SBL. Bummer! (haha! so punny)
  • The has a — you guessed it — spoof on the whole Qumran latrine business the connects it with Princess Diana: “Diana Fountain ‘modelled on Dead Sea Scrolls latrine’” — is nothing sacred?! (I mean poking fun at Qumran, not Diana).

Posted in Ancient Potties, Dead Sea Scrolls, Humour, Qumran | 1 Comment »

Jesus Doll Rejected and Spurned by Marines

16th November 2006

Associated Press is carrying an article about how the Marine Reserves’ Toys for Tots program rejected and spurned a donation of 4,000 Talking Jesus Dolls.
Here is an excerpt:

A suburban Los Angeles company offered to donate 4,000 of the foot-tall dolls, which quote Bible verses, for distribution to needy children this holiday season. The battery-powered Jesus is one of several dolls manufactured by one2believe, a division of the Valencia-based Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Co., based on Biblical figures.

But the charity balked because of the dolls’ religious nature.

Toys are donated to kids based on financial need and “we don’t know anything about their background, their religious affiliations,” said Bill Grein, vice president of Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, in Quantico, Va.

As a government entity, Marines “don’t profess one religion over another,” Grein said Tuesday. “We can’t take a chance on sending a talking Jesus doll to a Jewish family or a Muslim family.”

Michael La Roe, director of business development for both companies, said the charity’s decision left him “surprised and disappointed.”

“The idea was for them to be three-dimensional teaching tools for kids,” La Roe said. “I believe as a churchgoing person, anyone can benefit from hearing the words of the Bible.”

This doll was featured in my previous post “Jesus Junk and Christian Kitsch 7 – Jesus Kitsch” and has fully articulated limbs, including hands and fingers that can gasp and hold. This “Messenger of Faith” comes with hand-sewn cloth outfits and sandals and quotes over a minute of Bible verses (John 3:16; Mark 12:30-31; John 3:3, 15:5, 20:29 — listen for yourself).

talking_jesus1.jpg talking_jesus2.jpg

To top it all off, this Jesus looks kind of buff! While Talmida thinks the doll looks like George Michael, I think he looks more like country star Billy Ray Cyrus.

(HT The Lesser of Two Weevils)

Posted in Humour, Jesus Junk & Christian Kitsch, News, Popular Culture | 3 Comments »

Musings on A Generous Orthodoxy

16th November 2006

mclaren_go.jpgI recognize that this “theological” post is a bit off-topic for my blog (it has nothing to do with potties or Hebrew tattoos! :-) ), but I figured I could branch out every once and a while!

My small group has just started working through Brian D. McLaren‘s A Generous Orthodoxy (Zondervan, 2004; Buy from | Buy from and we are all quite enjoying it. I have read most of it before, but will be working through it in a bit more detail with the group. I find McLaren an engaging and thoughtful read. He certainly is provocative and pushes the envelop in much of what he writes — something which I quite frankly find refreshing.

I recognize that McLaren has received quite a bit of flack for his views and that many consider the “emergent” movement suspect (for a kind response to critics of McLaren, see Scot McKnight’s post here). I am sympathetic to many of the themes and impluses expressed by McLaren and other authors associated with the emergent movement (if you can really call it a “movement”). I imagine much of my sympathy was fostered in the many theology courses I took with Stan Grenz at Regent College/Carey Theological Seminary. It was from Stan’s book Renewing the Center (Baker Academic, 2000; Buy from | Buy from that McLaren was first introduced to the term “generous orthodoxy” (Stan in turn got the language from Hans Frei). That being said, there are some aspects of McLaren’s work that as a biblical scholar/theologian I have some issues with (as McLaren himself anticipates!).

At any rate, if I feel so inclined I may post some musings on A Generous Orthodoxy in the upcoming months as we work through the book. So stay tuned (or if this isn’t your cup of tea, then I imagine there will be plenty of other posts for you to read!).

Posted in Emergent, Generous Orthodoxy, Personal, Theology | 1 Comment »

2006 Society of Biblical Literature Meetings

15th November 2006

Well, like many others, I am heading off Friday to the Society of Biblical Literature and American Academy of Religion meetings in Washington, D.C. Unlike many others, I am not presenting a paper this time (yipee!). I typically always present something, but this year I didn’t get my act together and also made a decision not to present something since I am already busy enough with various projects (Oh, yeah, I also teach more than full time). So this year I am going to SBL to meet with some editors/publishers, see old friends, buy some books, go to the Smithsonian, and, of course, listen to a few papers.

I found this year a bit frustrating as there are multiple sections I am interested in scheduled at the same time. So I will be catching the ones that I can, including the following:

  • International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies (IOSCS), especially the Saturday morning session on the Greek Psalter in later Jewish and Christian Writings. (I would also like to hear Gary Knoppers on the synoptic problems in the OT at the IBR session Saturday morning, but I don’t think it will work out).
  • Early Saturday afternoon I will probably divide my time between the SBL fonts session (I’m not sure if I will attend this, though I am quite interested to see if they are going to be releasing the SBL Greek and transliteration unicode fonts) and the session on Codex Sinaiticus.
  • Later Saturday afternoon I want to catch part of the Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah section and then perhaps go to some of the Hebrew tagged texts seminar by Logos.
  • Sunday morning is nuts. There are four concurrent sections I am interested in: the History, Historical Sources, and Historiography session in honour of Nadav Na’aman looks interesting, as does the IOSCS section, the Literature and History of the Persian Period group, and the Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible section.
  • Sunday afternoon the Chronicles, Ezra-Nehemiah panel discussion on post-exilic Judah looks interesting and I also have to drop in to the Zondervan suite later in the afternoon for a meeting.
  • Early Monday morning I will probably drag myself to the Regent College (Vancouver, BC) breakfast and then clone myself twice so that I can attend the IOSCS, Persian Period, and Accordance seminar (I will probably just have to settle for the Persian Period session).
  • Monday afternoon I may drop into the IOSCS and Text Criticism sessions, though since I can’t be at both I will probably attend the Text Criticism section since it is on 4QSamuel-a.
  • Tuesday nothing really caught my eye, though I have a couple meetings that will keep me busy for most of the morning.

And, of course, there is the informal biblioblogger meeting Sunday afternoon after the CARG session in room 103A-CC, as announced by Tim and Rick, among others.

All in all it should be a good meeting — especially since I don’t have to worry about reading a paper!

Posted in IOSCS, SBL | Comments Off

From Potties to Potty-Mouths: Classical Swearing

14th November 2006

There is an interesting article on profanity in classical authors by Barry Baldwin over at Shatter Colors Literary Review. The article, “Classical Swearing: A Vade-Mecum,” surveys the history of swearing in classical times.

Here is an excerpt:

You might expect the Greeks who supposedly had a word for everything (actually they didn’t: no noun for “orgasmâ€?, though one supposes they did have them) and the Romans (likewise lacking a term for “suicideâ€?, despite all that falling on swords in Shakespeare) with their reputation for plain speaking would not line up with the American Indians, Japanese, Malayans, and Polynesians who do not curse but rather with those many cultures in which – as Geoffrey Hughes puts it in his book of that name – “Swearing is fascinating in its protean diversity and poetic creativity, while being simultaneously shocking in its ugliness and cruelty. It draws upon such powerful and incongruous resonators as religion, sex, madness, excretion, and nationality, upon an extraordinary variety of attitudes including the violent, the shocking, the absurd, and the impossible.â€?

The article is mildly fascinating, though be warned: it does contain swear words!

(HT Abzu)

Posted in Classics, Reviews & Notices | 1 Comment »

Going Potty at Qumran: Evidence of Latrines Discovered (GPAT 4)

13th November 2006

A recent news release on Eureka Alert summarizes a forthcoming article in Revue de Qumran on a remote latrine site discovered at Khirbet Qumran.

This is the fifth in a series of posts (some more serious than others) on “Going Potty in the Ancient World.� My other posts include:

All posts in this series may be viewed here.

The international team of scholars, including James Tabor, Joe Zias, and Stephainie Harter-Lailheugue, did a number of soil samples outside of the Qumran settlement and discovered a latrine site.

Here is an excerpt:

Visiting Qumran, Tabor noted an area approximately 500 meters to the northwest of the settlement which seemed likely because it was sheltered from view by a bluff. Tabor also noted that the soil in the area appeared to have a significantly different coloration from other soils in the Qumran environs, a fact which was subsequently confirmed by Zias using high-resolution aerial photographs.

“I started thinking that in the scrolls they have these very explicit descriptions of where the latrines have to be,” Tabor explained. “It has to do with religious ritual purity — the latrines have to be located in a place that the ancient texts designate as ‘outside the camp’. That’s a phrase used in the Torah, where Moses tells the ancient Israelites ‘build your latrines outside the camp.’ When you go to the toilet, take a paddle or a shovel with you and use the toilet and then cover it up,” he said, explaining that the ancient practice appears to have been revived at Qumran.

“This group is very strict and they observe this practice rigorously — in one text it says go 1000 cubits, and in another text, 2000 cubits — and they specifically state ‘northwest’ in the scrolls. Josephus, in talking about the Essenes, mentions it as a point of admiration or piety – he says that these people are so holy, that on the Sabbath day they won’t even use the toilet, because on the Sabbath one can’t go outside the settlement,” he said.

“It turns out, if you go northwest from Qumran you get to this bluff – a large natural plateau separated from further cliffs – and if you go around it, it hides you from the camp. One of the things Josephus says is that they also believe that their latrines should shield them from view of the camp, so I thought ‘this is getting really good, if I can just find some evidence for toilet practices.’”

Tabor suggested investigating the area to Zias, who took four random soil samples at the site as well as six other samples for control — 4 from surrounding desert areas, one from an area that was known to be Qumran’s stable (to test for animal parasites), and one from an area on the opposite side of the city, essentially covering other outside-the-settlement areas that could have been used as latrines.

On the basis of earlier research that has shown that intestinal parasites can be preserved in arid, sub-surface conditions, Zias sent the samples to Harter-Lailheugue at CNRS for analysis. Three of the four samples from the suspected latrine area yielded four species of preserved worm eggs and embryophores that were all identified as human intestinal parasites – Ascaris SP. (human roundworm), Taenia SP. (a human tapeworm), Trichuris SP. (a human whipworm) and a human pinworm, Enterobius vermicularis, that had not previously been reported in the ancient Near East. The soil sample from the stable contained the eggs of Dricrocoelium SP., a common parasites of ungulates. The control samples from the surrounding desert areas contained no parasites, human or animal.

“Frankly, I was surprised,” said Zias. “A parasitologist I talked to told me that my chances of finding something were just about nil. Finding evidence of parasites would be easy in a latrine, but in the middle of the desert… But small things like parasite eggs in feces can hang around for thousands of years. At the Dead Sea, we have hair and hair combs with desiccated lice in them because of the dryness.”

“The evidence shows conclusively that the area was a toilet,” Zias noted. “The samples contained eggs from intestinal worms that are specific to humans. These things had to come from human feces. The presence of eggs in three out of four 100-gram samples indicates heavy and continual use of the specific site suggested by Tabor.”

Since the other sites did not yield human parasites, the team concluded that the latrine site was most likely the area specified in the Scroll passages. Because of the remoteness of the Qumran environs, they concluded that the latrine could only be associated with Qumran, the only settlement in the area.

The scroll texts that provide the directives for going potty at Qumran which the article alludes to are found in the War Scroll and the Temple Scroll. The latter scroll contains the directives to build the latrines “outside the city” חוץ מן העיר (see 11QT 46.13), while the former gives further directions about the latrines and that they should be in discrete and private locations (1QM 7.7; see also 4Q491 frg 1, 3.7) (see also Deut 23:12-13).

This discovery accords well with the reported bathroom habits of the ancient Essenes and may be another piece of evidence supporting the Essene hypothesis, which has come under attack in recent years (see, for instance, my post Khirbet Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls). The discovery of a latrine site also makes sense of the fact that only one toilet was found in the actual Qumran site (see my initial post on the Qumran toilet in GPAT 1).

The rest of the press release goes on to highlight some of the implications about the unsanitary conditions at Qumran on the health of the inhabitants and their apparent short lifespan as illustrated by the remains at the cemetery.

I am looking forward to the full article in Revue de Qumran. In the meantime, take a gander at the news report.

This discovery has also hit the major internet news sources, including the NY Times, MSNBC, the Jerusalem Post,, among others.
(HT Archaeologica News)

Posted in Ancient Potties, Archaeology, Dead Sea Scrolls, Discoveries, Qumran | Comments Off

Jesus Junk and Christian Kitsch 7.1 – Chocolate Deities

11th November 2006

This won’t be a full edition of Jesus Junk and Christian Kitsch, but when I saw this sweet pantheon of Chocolate Deities, I just had to post it (for other editions of Jesus Junk and Christian Kitsch see here).

I thought about a number of different smart remarks when I first saw these: “I wonder if this is what George Harrison meant by ‘my sweet lord’?” or “Taking up your cross has never been so tasty.”

Here is the website’s descriptions of these divine delicacies:

Hand Made Gourmet Chocolates that celebrate the gods and goddesses of love and luxury, joy and happiness, compassion, peace and serenity, healing, and fertility of the body and imagination. We honor those deities who long for sweet offerings and embrace the notion that chocolate has powers to transport and inspire beyond mere consumables. All chocolates are made to order on the day you order them to ensure their freshness.

I especially liked these product endorsements: “These Chocolates are a godsend! They are artistic, meaningful AND delicious!” or “Many people worship the Buddha. Many people worship chocolate. Now you can do both at the same time.”

Here are a few of the delectable deities, starting with the Judeo-Christian tradition:

Not sure if these are Kosher, but my Jewish readers may enjoy muching on a Chocolate Star of David:


For Christians, there are crosses and sacred hearts, but sadly, no crucifixes:



Moving to the eastern religions, you find a whole panoply of pleasing gods, including Buddha, Krishna, and symbols like the Yin/Yang:




There are many more Chocolate Deities available, including gods from native religion and other ancient gods and goddesses — take a look for yourself.

(HT Mary Ann Beavis)

Posted in Humour, Jesus Junk & Christian Kitsch | 1 Comment »

SBL Forum: Ancient Texts, Google Books, and Wikis

10th November 2006

The November edition of the SBL Forum is online. It includes articles on the biblical manuscript exhibition at the Smithsonian (as well as a review of the exhibition), an article exploring the benefits of Google Book, as well as number of articles on the value of Wikis for biblical studies (Noteworthy in this regard is Kevin Wilson’s notice on the Blue Cord Bible Dictionary). And instead of “Snakes on a Plane,” it offers “Bible Scholars on a Plane” (Gee, I wonder what is more terrifying!?). And there is even more, so make sure to check it out!

On a side note, does anyone know if previous forums are listed anywhere on the SBL site? It appears that once the new forum is posted, no index of the previous forums are available.

Posted in Academic Associations, SBL Forum | Comments Off