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Archive for August, 2008

Dead Sea Scrolls to be Available Online

26th August 2008

The New York Times and other news providers are carrying a story today about the decision to make a comprehensive set of new digital images of the Dead Sea Scrolls available online.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

Equipped with high-powered cameras with resolution and clarity many times greater than those of conventional models, and with lights that emit neither heat nor ultraviolet rays, the scientists and technicians are uncovering previously illegible sections and letters of the scrolls, discoveries that could have significant scholarly impact.

….The scrolls’ contemporary history has been something of a tortured one because they are among the most important sources of information on Jewish and early Christian life. After their initial discovery they were tightly held by a small circle of scholars. In the last 20 years access has improved significantly, and in 2001 they were published in their entirety. But debate over them seems only to grow.

Scholars continually ask the Israel Antiquities Authority, the custodian of the scrolls, for access to them, and museums around the world seek to display them. Next month, the Jewish Museum of New York will begin an exhibition of six of the scrolls.

The keepers of the scrolls, people like Pnina Shor, head of the conservation department of the antiquities authority, are delighted by the intense interest but say that each time a scroll is exposed to light, humidity and heat, it deteriorates. She says even without such exposure there is deterioration because of the ink used on some of the scrolls as well as the residue from the Scotch tape used by the 1950s scholars in piecing together fragments.

The entire collection was photographed only once before — in the 1950s using infrared — and those photographs are stored in a climate-controlled room because they show things already lost from some of the scrolls. The old infrared pictures will also be scanned in the new digital effort.

“The project began as a conservation necessity,” MS. Shor explained. “We wanted to monitor the deterioration of the scrolls and realized we needed to take precise photographs to watch the process. That’s when we decided to do a comprehensive set of photos, both in color and infrared, to monitor selectively what is happening. We realized then that we could make the entire set of pictures available online to everyone, meaning that anyone will be able to see the scrolls in the kind of detail that no one has until now.”

The process will probably take one to two years — more before it is available online — and is being led by Greg Bearman, who retired from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Data collection is directed by Simon Tanner of Kings College London.

Jonathan Ben-Dov, a professor of biblical studies at the University of Haifa, is taking part in the digitalization project. Watching the technicians gingerly move a fragment into place for a photograph, he said that it had long been very difficult for senior scholars to get access.

Once this project is completed, he said with wonder, “every undergraduate will be able to have a detailed look at them from numerous angles.”

This is great news. I am glad they are also digitizing the existing photographs.  Having the scrolls available online is great news, though I would hope they would also make them available in a new edition of Brill’s Dead Sea Scrolls Electronic Reference Library or the like. This would allow for higher resolution images to be available; images which would be more useful for study and examination using the features of software like Photoshop.


Posted in Dead Sea Scrolls, News | 1 Comment »

Is Yahweh a Hermaphrodite?

16th August 2008

Of course Yahweh isn’t! But that was the title of an article in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune, however. The article, “Is God a Hermaphrodite?“, makes reference to an article published in the CCAR Journal that argues the four-letter name for God in the Hebrew Bible (יהוה or YHWH, most often vocalized by scholars as Yahweh) is best understood mystically to refer to the Hebrew pronouns for “he” and “she.”

Here is an excerpt from the Tribune article:

Rabbi Mark Sameth, the New York rabbi who wrote the article, said yes indeed. Based on 13 years of study, he has concluded that God is a hermaphrodite.

“If we read the text as a mystic might, paying extremely close attention, assuming that the text conceals more than it reveals, we may find hints regarding God’s androgynous nature, so to speak, peeking out through the surface level of the Torah,” he wrote in the CCAR Journal.

“If Moses’ name spelled backward becomes the name HaShem [God's name,] might not God’s name spelled backward similarly reflect something essential about humankind? Indeed it does.”

Sameth argues that when the four letters are arranged in their proper order, they spell out the sounds of the Hebrew words for “he” and “she” or “hu” and “he.” Therefore, the ancient Israelites’ notion of God was not masculine, but dual-gendered, or hermaphroditic.

Sameth doesn’t advocate suddenly saying the name—backward or forward. But he does encourage Jews to open their minds and think more inclusively about God.

Yeah, OK. I guess if you want to read words backwards or change the order of the letters themselves almost anything is possible! That being said, I do see some validity to gematria in the Hebrew Bible, but this isn’t one of those cases.

What do you think? Has anyone read the actual article?


Posted in Bible, Hebrew, News, Old Testament | 7 Comments »

Biblical Studies Carnival XXXII Online at AHP

1st August 2008

John Hobbins has posted Biblical Studies Carnival XXXII in three parts over at Ancient Hebrew Poetry: Part 1 deals with primary texts and discoveries, among other things; Part 2: with controversies; and Part 3 with posts on individual texts. As expected, John’s Carnival is superb.

One issue that comes up regularly is the work required to put together a monthly carnival. John himself admits:

The number of really excellent posts by biblical bloggers on specific texts continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Here is a representative sample from last month. My apologies to everyone who posted on other texts, but whose posts are not listed: there is only so much one person can read and get around to writing up

Perhaps we should move to more frequent carnivals? Twice a month? What do you think?

I am heading out of town today for a bit of a holiday (last one before the fall), so I’ll follow up on this suggestion next Wednesday.


Posted in Biblical Studies Carnival | Comments Off