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James Barr Dead At 82

18th October 2006

jamesbarr.jpgDr. James Barr, an amazing biblical scholar, theologian, and linguist, died October 14 in Claremont, California. Students of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament will be familiar with his works (if not, they should be!). Here is an excerpt from the Vanderbilt press release:

James Barr, an influential Bible scholar and linguist who challenged the latitude taken by many translators of Scripture, died Oct. 14 in Claremont, Calif. He was 82.

Barr, a native of Scotland, taught at Vanderbilt Divinity School from 1989 until his retirement in 1998 from his post as Distinguished Professor of Hebrew Bible. Upon his retirement, he was awarded the status of professor emeritus.

“Professor James Barr ranks as one of the most influential biblical scholars and Semitists of the second half of the 20th century,� said Doug Knight, professor of Hebrew Bible and director of Vanderbilt’s Center for the Study of Religion and Culture.

There is also an obituary in Wednesday’s The Times Online, which notes that Dr. Barr “was one of the most significant Hebrew and Old Testament scholars in Britain in the past century” (HT James Aitken).

Dr. Barr has published numerous scholarly works throughout his career, including the following:

His works on semantics and text criticism have been quite influential on my own thinking (The Semantics of Biblical Language is still a must read for any biblical scholar), as well as his biblical theological works (The Concept of Biblical Theology and The Garden of Eden and the Hope of Immortality). I have also enjoyed reading his works on fundamentalism and Scripture, though I differ with some of his conclusions.

Dr. Barr’s contributions to the field will be a lasting testimony to his scholarship. Rest in peace.

Jim West also has an announcement, as does Chris Heard.

Posted in James Barr, Lingusitics, News, Old Testament, Scholars | Comments Off

BAR Article on Hanan Eshel

28th July 2006

Dead Sea Scrolls scholar Hanan Eshel is back in the news — well kind of. There is an online article about Hanan Eshel on the Biblical Archaeology Society Webstie that deals with some of the controversy surrounding his purchase of some fragments of a Leviticus Scroll.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

At the behest of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), a leading Dead Sea Scroll scholar was arrested last year for purchasing four Dead Sea Scroll fragments from Bedouin who claimed to have found them in the Judean Desert. Hanan Eshel of Bar-Ilan University in Israel promptly published the fragments (of the Biblical book of Leviticus) and donated them to the state (the purchase funds had been provided by his university).In an ad in the leading Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, 59 prominent scholars from around the world protested his arrest, calling the IAA’s action a “vengeful” act. The ad had no effect, however. The case is still under investigation by the police.

Bar-Ilan president Moshe Kaveh called the IAA action a “scandal.” The university stands “fully behind” Eshel.

So why was Hanan Eshel arrested?

Many believe that Eshel is, in the IAA’s view, on the wrong side of an issue that has divided the profession: Should unprovenanced materials, which are often looted, be studied and published by scholars?

One clear consequence of Hanan Eshel’s arrest: No new Dead Sea Scroll fragments will turn up in Israel again, thanks to the IAA. The looters, the smugglers, the underground dealers know that they cannot now find a buyer among or through Israeli scholars. Like Eshel, anyone who makes a purchase will be arrested. Much easier and safer simply to spirit any scrolls out of the country.

Although not widely known, numerous Dead Sea Scroll fragments are in private collections all over the world. The Eshels detect a “trend among collectors and antiquity dealers (perhaps due to economic factors) to share privately held fragments with the scholarly world.” In the opinion of the Eshels, “Qumran scholars should be encouraged to make an effort to publish these fragments, which provide a more complete picture of the Qumran corpus.”

Encouraging the publication of unprovenanced finds—that may well be Hanan Eshel’s real crime.

While I am against looting (what scholar would not be against it?), I tend to side with Eshel and the author of this article on this issue. I think it is far better to publish these finds even if we can’t be sure of their provenance. In addition, (as the full article notes) sometimes by studying these artefacts their provenance can be determined with some certainty.

I have posted quite a bit on the Leviticus Scroll fragments and their discovery, including a step-by-step reconstruction of the scroll and an interview with Hanan Eshel. All of my posts on this subject may be found here. In addition, I have brought together my posts and pictures of the fragments — including some new hi-resolution pictures –at my Resources Relating to the Dead Sea Scrolls pages.

(HT to Jim West)

Posted in Archaeology, Dead Sea Scrolls, Hanan Eshel, Leviticus, Leviticus Scroll, Manuscript, News | Comments Off

The Editing of the Book of Psalms: A Tribute to Gerald H. Wilson

1st March 2006

GWilson.jpgI was shocked and saddened to read of Dr. Gerald H. Wilson‘s passing in today’s up-date to the SBL Forum (I was also surprised that it took so long to hear the news since he died in November; but perhaps it was a consequence of not attending the SBL Annual Meeting). While I did not know Gerald really well, we did have lunch together on a number of occasions at SBL meetings to talk shop and interacted via email on a number of topics surrounding the study of the book of Psalms. He was an able scholar, a man of integrity, and a great guy — and he will be sorely missed.

Here is an excerpt from the obituary posted in the SBL forum:

Dr. Gerald Wilson, Professor of Biblical Studies at Azusa Pacific University since fall 1999, died on 11 November 2005, immediately after suffering a heart attack. He was deeply respected by his students and colleagues. In 2002 he was awarded the Faculty Outstanding Scholarship Achievement Award.

Professor Wilson was a graduate of Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Afterwards he took an M.Div. and an M.A. from Fuller Theological Seminary. There he was inspired in the study of biblical Hebrew by Prof. William S. LaSor. He continued his studies at Yale University, under the direction of Professors Robert R. Wilson and Brevard S. Childs. There he earned an M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. On the basis of his work at Yale, he established himself as a pioneering scholar in the study of the Psalms as he undertook examination of the canonical shape of the Psalter.

Wilson’s Pioneering Work on the Psalms

Professor Wilson was truly a “pioneering scholar” in the study of the Psalter. Some of the most exciting — and theologically fruitful — work being done on the Psalter in the last quarter-century has been by those employing “canonical” or “synchronic” methods — and Wilson’s ground-breaking study of the editing of the book of Psalms led the way. In fact, his 1981 Yale thesis, The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter (SBLDS 76; Scholars Press, 1985; Buy from or was one of the first comprehensive English-language works on the shape of the book of Psalms. This volume, as well as Wilson’s numerous articles and essays (see bibliography below), have served as the foundation for much of the research done in this area.

ShapePsalterChart.jpgUsing a number of ancient collections of hymnic material as a comparative “control group,” Wilson sought to demonstrate that the Hebrew Psalter has an overall shape or structure that was brought about by purposeful editorial activity. From his study of the comparative material and the book of Psalms itself, Wilson isolated a number of indicators that helped identify the editorial pattern behind the canonical form of the book of Psalms. Indicators such as author and genre categories from the psalm headings; thematic grouping of psalms; the placement of previous collections; the function of the first psalm as an introduction to the Psalter as a whole; and the Psalter’s fivefold division were understood by Wilson to have editorial significance (Click on the image to the right to see a handout I developed that graphically displays Wilson’s understanding of the editorial structure of the Psalter).

Because of the different methods used in putting together psalms in Books I-III and IV-V, Wilson suggested that the Psalter underwent two (likely distinct) editings, one for Psalms 1-89 and another for Psalms 90-150. The first segment (Psalms 1-89) is organized principally by author and genre distinctions, with royal psalms used as buffers between the collections (e.g., Psalms 2, 72, 89). According to Wilson, these royal psalms give the collection a Davidic framework that traces the events of the Davidic monarchy from its inception (Psalm 2) to its failure and exile (Psalm 89). The second grouping (Psalms 90-150) is dominated by smaller collections organized by common themes or catchwords. In particular, book four (Psalms 90-106) functions as the editorial centre of the book of Psalms and answers the lament over the demise of the monarchy expressed in Psalm 89. Wilson argues that these psalms point back to the Mosaic era (cf. the heading to Psalm 90) when Yahweh alone served as Israel’s king and refuge, and promise that Yahweh will continue to be such in the future. Book five (Psalms 107-150), like book four, answers the lament of the first three books by encouraging Israel to trust in Yahweh alone through obedience to the Torah (cf. the overwhelming effect of the placement of Psalm 119). Finally, Wilson argues the placement of Psalm 1 at the beginning of the Psalter indicates that “the Psalter is a book to be read rather than be performed; to be meditated over rather than to be recited from.” For Wilson, the message that the shape of the book of Psalms declares implicitly is that kingship and the Davidic monarchy are false hopes. Yahweh is the only true king and refuge for Israel, and in him alone should they trust.

Wilson_Psalms1.jpgIn the years following the publication of his thesis, Wilson produced a whole series of articles that refined his views (see below). His most significant publication since his thesis, however, is clearly his Psalms Volume 1 (The NIV Application Commentary; Zondervan, 2002; Buy from or Buy from This commentary on Psalms 1-72 is written for a more popular audience in mind, yet is based on a careful analysis of the Hebrew text. What is more, Wilson does not just deal with the psalms individually, but explores the connections between the psalms in a way that is both academically sound and theologically relevant. I highly recommend it for all students of the Bible.

When all is said and done, Gerald Wilson’s research on editing of the book of Psalms has been an inspiration — whether directly or indirectly — to countless scholars. And with his passing, biblical scholarship has lost an able scholar. I extend my condolences to his family, friends, and students.

A Bibliography of Gerald Wilson’s Work on the Psalter

  • Wilson, Gerald H. “The Qumran Psalms Manuscripts and Consecutive Arrangement of Psalms in the Hebrew Psalter.” CBQ 45 (1983): 377-88.
  • Wilson, Gerald H. “Editiorial Divisions in the Hebrew Psalter.” VT 34 (1984): 337-52.
  • Wilson, Gerald H. The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter, SBLDS 76. Chico, California: Scholars Press, 1985.
  • Wilson, Gerald H. “The Qumran Psalms Scroll Reconsidered: Analysis of the Debate.” CBQ 47 (1985): 624-42.
  • Wilson, Gerald H. “The Use of ‘Untitled’ Psalms in the Hebrew Psalter.” ZAW 97 (1985): 404-13.
  • Wilson, Gerald H. “The Use of Royal Psalms at the ‘Seams’ of the Hebrew Psalter.” JSOT 35 (1986): 85-94.
  • Wilson, Gerald H. “A First Century C.E. Date for the Closing of the Hebrew Psalter?” In Haim M. I. Gevarjahu Memorial Volume. English-French-German Section, edited by J. J. Adler, 136-43. Jerusalem: World Jewish Bible Center, 1990.
  • Wilson, Gerald H. “The Shape of the Book of Psalms.” Interpretation 46 (1992): 129-42.
  • Wilson, Gerald H. “Shaping the Psalter: A Consideration of Editorial Linkage in the Book of Psalms.” In The Shape and Shaping of the Psalter, edited by J. Clinton McCann, 72-82. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993.
  • Wilson, Gerald H. “Understanding the Purposeful Arrangement of Psalms in the Psalter: Pitfalls and Promise.” In The Shape and Shaping of the Psalter, edited by J. Clinton McCann, 42-51. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993.
  • Wilson, Gerald H. “The Qumran Psalms Scroll (11QPsa) and the Canonical Psalter: Comparison of Editorial Shaping.” CBQ 59 (1997): 448-64.
  • Wilson, Gerald H. “A First Century C.E. Date for the Closing of the Hebrew Psalter?” Jewish Biblical Quarterly 28 (2000): 102-10.
    Wilson, Gerald H. Psalms Volume 1, NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.
  • Wilson, Gerald H. “King, Messiah, and the Reign of God: Revisiting the Royal Psalms and the Shape of the Psalter.” In The Book of Psalms: Composition and Reception, edited by Peter W. Flint and Patrick D. Miller, 391-406. Leiden: Brill, 2005.

Posted in News, Psalms, Scholars | 9 Comments »

English Abstract of Eshel’s Article on Leviticus Fragments

15th December 2005

In a previous post I mentioned the publication of an article by Hanan Eshel on the recently recovered Leviticus scroll fragments in volume three of Meghillot: Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Here is the published English abstract of Eshel’s article:

Fragments of a Biblical Scroll from the Judean Desert

Hanan Eshel, Yosi Barschi, and Roi Porat
In August 2004 Bedouin discovered a number of small biblical fragments — at least four — in a cave in the Judean desert. These fragments, which measured 3.5 cm2, contained verses from Leviticus 23-24. The uncleaned fragments were photographed, first by Roi Porat and Hanan Eshel, and later by Roi Parat and Yosi Baruchi. Recently, these fragments were purchased by the Jeselsohn Epigraphic Center for Jewish History, Bar-Ilan University, and presented to the Israel Antiquities Authority. They were discovered in a small cave an the southern slope, east of the big waterfall (N.T. 1826/09708).

These fragments should be identified as additional fragments of a biblical scroll from the time of the Bar Kokhba revolt. The text of the verses found in the fragments is identical to the MT, with one exception: the word בסכות appears in fragments b and c (Col 1, line 4) with a waw, whereas in the MT (Lev. 23:42) it is written defectively. The ability to complete the lines according to the MT is further evidence of these fragments’ affinity to the MT. Based as they are on partial data and on photographs made under very poor field conditions and before the fragments had been cleaned, our conclusions remain preliminary.

The table of contents and English abstracts of all three volumes are available online at, while the table of contents of all issues (in Modern Hebrew) may be found at Thanks to Devorah Dimant (the journal’s general editor) for the heads up via the Megillot email list.

Posted in Dead Sea Scrolls, Hanan Eshel, Leviticus, Leviticus Scroll, News | Comments Off

Publication of Hanan Eshel’s Reconstruction of Leviticus Fragments

12th December 2005

A quick note to mention that Hanan Eshel’s article on the Leviticus Fragments has been published in the third volume of Meghillot: Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Here is the full bibliographic information:

Hanan Eshel, “שרידי מגילת מקר×? חדשה ממדבר יהודה.” Pages 259-260 in מגילות- מחקרי×? במגילות מדבר יהודה ×’ [Meghillot: Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls 3]; Moshe Bar-Asher and Devorah Dimant, eds. Jerusalem: Haifa University and Bialik Institute, 2005.

I haven’t had a chance to look at the article yet; so stay tuned for a summary at a later date. Thanks to Shai Heijmans for the heads up.

Posted in Dead Sea Scrolls, Hanan Eshel, Leviticus, Leviticus Scroll, News | 1 Comment »

Eshel Arrest Looming?

8th December 2005

According to a news report from Haaretz (via Biblical Theology), the Israeli police have provided evidence to the Israeli State Prosecutor’s Office to indict archaeologist Professor Hanan Eshel on three criminal counts: bringing an antiquity into Israel illegally, trafficking in stolen property, and not reporting the discovery of an antiquity as required by law.

Hanan’s problems started when he recovered of some fragments of a Leviticus scroll (dated to the Bar Kokhba period) from some Bedouin earlier last summer (see here for more on the scroll; and see here, here and here for coverage into the subsequent investigation into his involvement the purchase).

This recent news is just the tip of the iceberg for the deteriorating relationship between the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) and prominant archaeologists in Israel, as can be seen from this excerpt:

Controversy regarding the investigation of how a fragment of scroll from the Bar Kokhba period came into Eshel’s possession — which he eventually turned over to the Israel Antiquities Authority — has led to an unprecedented flap between Bar Ilan and the IAA over the past few days.The heads of all university archaeology departments have been summoned to an urgent meeting today with IAA director Shuka Dorfman, following Bar Ilan’s decision to postpone indefinitely its upcoming annual archaeological conference in protest against the IAA’s police complaint against Eshel. Dorfman wants to ask another university to host the prestigious conference, at which several IAA archaeologists were scheduled to speak.

There are “problematic aspects in the behavior of both sides,” Professor Itzhak Gilad, head of the archaeology department at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev who was on the roster of speakers, told Haaretz yesterday.

“Dorfman cannot be allowed to treat a senior scholar who did everything he could to save a rare antiquity as if he were a common criminal,” sources at Bar Ilan told Haaretz. “There is no reason to cooperate with the IAA in holding scientific conferences when at the same time the IAA is attacking our scholar, who has done nothing wrong,” the sources added.


Eshel claims that Porat informed the IAA of the discovery, but the latter did not seek to obtain it. Eshel says that when he returned from the U.S, he met again with the dealer, and noticed the fragment had deteriorated severely. He purchased it for a few thousand shekels, financed by the research institute at Bar Ilan where he is employed, and that he then transferred the document to a laboratory in an effort to preserve it.

In February 2005, Eshel transferred the fragment to the IAA without remuneration. The IAA claims that Eshel should have reported the find to them within 15 days and immediately turn it over to them. Bar Ilan has declared its unqualified support for Eshel in the matter.

Posted in Dead Sea Scrolls, Hanan Eshel, Leviticus, Leviticus Scroll, News | Comments Off

The Protest against Dr. Hanan Eshel’s Treatment Continues

7th December 2005

Haaretz has reported that Bar-Ilan University — the university where Dr. Hanan Eshel teaches — has indefinitely postponed its annual archaeology conference as a protest against a police complaint lodged by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) against Eshel. This continues the saga of the Leviticus Scrolls that Eshel recovered from bedouin early last summer (for more on the scrolls and their discovery see here).

Here are some excerpts from the Haaretz article:

The IAA submitted the complaint after Eshel allegedly failed to turn over a rare artifact in his possession. According to the IAA, an indictment is to be issued shortly against the archaeologist.

The Archaeological Council, Israel’s senior professional body of archaeologists, which advises the IAA, objected to the authority’s move. It said disciplinary procedures might have been opened against Eshel before a police complaint was lodged. Dozens of archaeologists signed a petition recently condemning the IAA action.

The rector of Bar-Ilan University, Prof. Yosef Yeshurun, announced the postponement of the conference, which focuses on new research in the study of Jerusalem and is considered the most prominent scientific conference in the field. The IAA, many of whose staff were to have lectured at the conference, said it was shocked at Bar-Ilan’s decision. “The IAA views gravely any attempt to interfere in its considerations and to influence procedures that are being implemented in accordance with the law,” an IAA spokeswoman said.

Bar-Ilan called its move “delicate and minimal” in light of “the harm the IAA has done to academe in Israel by treating a senior scholar like a common criminal.”

Posted in Dead Sea Scrolls, Hanan Eshel, Leviticus, Leviticus Scroll, News | Comments Off

Minor Clarification regarding Hanan Eshel

2nd December 2005

I have covered much of the news surrounding Hanan Eshel’s recovery of some scroll fragments of the book of Leviticus (see here) as well as the subsequent investigation into his involvement the purchase (see here and here).

I wanted to clarify that no charges were ever laid against Hanan Eshel, although some news reports suggested otherwise. The reason why Hanan was not able to make it to SBL had nothing to do with the controversy. Hanan had his passport back and a visa was arranged for SBL, though there were some irregularities with his passport and he was advised against traveling.

Posted in Dead Sea Scrolls, Hanan Eshel, Leviticus, Leviticus Scroll, News | Comments Off

Investigation Surrounding the Purchase of Leviticus Scroll

1st November 2005

The scroll fragments of the book of Leviticus that came to light in July 2005 (see my coverage and analysis of the scroll fragments here), are in the news again, as noted by Jim West at Biblical Theology blog here and here.

On the biblical studies email list Yitzhak Sapir directed our attention to three news articles about a police investigation on the illegal sale of an ancient scroll. The news story in the Jerusalem Post is short and sweet:

Jerusalem police were investigating suspicions that an academic man and his aide were involved in the illegal sale of an ancient scroll worth around $1 million.

According to the allegations, the two purchased the scroll from Bedouins for $3,000.

They were accused of illegal dealing in antiquities, failure to report the find to the proper authorities, and illegal excavations.

Joseph I. Lauer followed up on Sapir’s post with a link to a fuller story in Ha’aretz in Hebrew that identifies Hanan Eshel as the academic involved in the investigation concerning the Leviticus scroll fragment.

UPDATE: Yitzhak Sapir on the ANE list has provided a brief English summary of another fuller article in Hebrew on ynet:

  • The three bedouins, were also interrogated and are under arrest by the IDF/Police. One admitted to selling the scroll to Eshel.
  • Eshel claimed in the interrogation that: he feared the IAA “will steal his credit,” and that the assessment and study of the scroll will take time. He claimed he was not aware of the law requiring him to notify the IAA of the artifact’s existence within two weeks. It’s this claim Noqed was replying to, although the claim itself is not reported in the Haaretz/Walla article.
  • Some other prominent people at Bar Ilan University were interrogated.
  • The man whom Eshel claimed provided the money was also interrogated.
  • Bar Ilan stands behind Eshel in a released statement that states that Eshel goals are prevention of antiquities theft and even destruction.

UPDATE 2: A longer English version of the article has been published on
Hebrew language versions of the shorter article are available on ynet and here.

Dead Sea Scrolls, Emergent, Hanan Eshel, Leviticus, Leviticus Scroll, News | Comments Off

Leviticus Scroll Story Picked Up by

2nd September 2005

In a previous post, I mentioned that my story on the Leviticus Scroll fragments may be picked up by Well it has; the story is here.

Dead Sea Scrolls, Hanan Eshel, Leviticus, Leviticus Scroll, News | Comments Off