Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Free Hebrew Linguistic Resources

In the recent Genizah newsletter, Nick Posegay highlights two important open-access works just published by Geoffrey Khan, which are worth downloading and checking out:

The Tiberian Pronunciation Tradition of Biblical Hebrew, Volume 1

The Tiberian Pronunciation Tradition of Biblical Hebrew, Volume 2


The form of Biblical Hebrew that is presented in printed editions, with vocalization and accent signs, has its origin in medieval manuscripts of the Bible. The vocalization and accent signs are notation systems that were created in Tiberias in the early Islamic period by scholars known as the Tiberian Masoretes, but the oral tradition they represent has roots in antiquity. The grammatical textbooks and reference grammars of Biblical Hebrew in use today are heirs to centuries of tradition of grammatical works on Biblical Hebrew in Europe. The paradox is that this European tradition of Biblical Hebrew grammar did not have direct access to the way the Tiberian Masoretes were pronouncing Biblical Hebrew. 

In the last few decades, research of manuscript sources from the medieval Middle East has made it possible to reconstruct with considerable accuracy the pronunciation of the Tiberian Masoretes, which has come to be known as the ‘Tiberian pronunciation tradition’. This book presents the current state of knowledge of the Tiberian pronunciation tradition of Biblical Hebrew and a full edition of one of the key medieval sources, Hidāyat al-Qāriʾ ‘The Guide for the Reader’, by ʾAbū al-Faraj Hārūn. It is hoped that the book will help to break the mould of current grammatical descriptions of Biblical Hebrew and form a bridge between modern traditions of grammar and the school of the Masoretes of Tiberias. 

Links and QR codes in the book allow readers to listen to an oral performance of samples of the reconstructed Tiberian pronunciation by Alex Foreman. This is the first time Biblical Hebrew has been recited with the Tiberian pronunciation for a millennium.

See also the forthcoming:

Studies in Rabbinic Hebrew


This volume presents a collection of articles centring on the language of the Mishnah and the Talmud – the most important Jewish texts (after the Bible), which were compiled in Palestine and Babylonia in the latter centuries of Late Antiquity. Despite the fact that Rabbinic Hebrew has been the subject of growing academic interest across the past century, very little scholarship has been written on it in English. 

Studies in Rabbinic Hebrew addresses this lacuna, with eight lucid but technically rigorous articles written in English by a range of experienced scholars, focusing on various aspects of Rabbinic Hebrew: its phonology, morphology, syntax, pragmatics and lexicon. This volume is essential reading for students and scholars of Rabbinic studies alike, and constitutes the first in a new series, Studies in Semitic Languages and Cultures, in collaboration with the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Cambridge.

Text & Canon Institute Videos

Phoenix Seminary's Text & Canon Institute has uploaded video recordings of two lectures on the history of the OT text. These are aimed at a popular audience, but it is nice to see the speakers' take on the issues.

Peter Gentry, Chaos Theory and the Text of the Old Testament

Anthony Ferguson, Listening to the Dead Sea Scrolls

Saturday, March 28, 2020

De Kreij on Law and the Art of Bookroll Maintenance

Mark de Kreij has an amusing discussion of a case of the inheritance of a damaged archive that sheds interesting light on the difficulties of maintaining a collection of scrolls in antiquity. See his Law and the Art of Bookroll Maintenance.

MOTB Repatriations

Steve Green has released a Statement on Past Acquisitions on the Museum of the Bible webpage. In it he acknowledges past failures to verify the provenance of many artifacts and the appropriateness of criticisms leveled against the Museum on account of his mistakes, citing bad advice from previous consultants. The big news is that Green officially announced that approximately 5000 papyrus fragments will be voluntarily repatriated to Egypt, and 6500 clay objects to Iraq. These artifacts do not have reliably documented provenance, and likely originated in the respective countries. In other words, it is quite likely that many of them were looted and illicitly exported from their countries of origin.

This is a big and important step in the right direction. Mike Holmes told me already in 2018 that they were in conversation with the relevant authorities, and all publications of this material were on hold until proper ownership and publication rights have been sorted out. It is nice to see this announced publicly and that they are making progress on this front. This will go a long way towards establishing the credibility and legitimacy of both the Green collection and the Museum of the Bible, and they are to be commended for this decision.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Loll et al. 2019 - Museum of the Bible Dead Sea Scroll Collection Scientific Research and Analysis: Final Report

The Museum of the Bible has posted the well-illustrated final report of Colette Loll et al., which concluded unanimously that all of the MOTB DSS-like fragments were modern forgeries. This confirms the suspicions of many researchers, offering considerable new material evidence to the discussion.
Most prominently, all of the inscribed fragments have irregularities with the ink, such as:

  1. Ink on top of delaminated skin, where the top layer of the skin has flaked off.
  2. Ink flowing down the edges of fragments and into cracks.
  3. Ink on top of accrued mineral deposits.
  4. Ink "feathering" or bleeding outside the boundaries of the letters.

The report also confirms the observations of others that the letters often follow the contours of the broken edges and cracks of the fragments. Another noteworthy oddity is that some of the fragments seem to have been ruled with a greasy white substance before inscription. 

The writing surfaces also seem inconsistent with genuine DSS. All but one (MOTB.SCR.004742 [Leviticus]) are written on leather, characterized by: interwoven collagen fibers; a thick, spongy texture (now brittle); flexibility and resilience (again, now brittle); bumpy surface from the grain and fibrous surface on the skin side; and the absorption of tannins through the entire skin as part of the preparation process. In contrast, genuine scrolls are (almost?) always written on parchment, characterized by: parallel aligned collagen fibers; thin, relatively stiff texture; smooth surfaces due to scraping; and sometimes a surface treatment with tannins.

The leather was apparently soaked in a lime solution to help remove the hair, a technology which is supposed to have been introduced in the 4th cent. CE. This is interesting, since one questionable Azusa Pacific University fragment is said to have been radiocarbon dated to the 1st cent. CE, and it would be easy to explain how the forger got access to similar material from this time. The report suggests that several holes in certain fragments may have been human-created and resemble leather used for Roman shoes, so the leather may have originally been created for a similar usage. Heavy mineral deposits on the surfaces (including under the ink) suggests that the leather was recovered from an ancient archeological context, though it cannot be dated precisely.

The report gives a detailed analysis of the material of the leather and sediments. On each of the fragments there was an amber-colored protein coating (probably animal skin glue), but it is not clear whether this was part of the preparation of the parchment or natural gelatinization. The report notes suspicious striations on one fragment resulting from brush strokes, which apparently applied a transparent substance to the surface. The ink is carbon-based and uses gum Arabic as a binder; the team apparently did not detect any egg-white, unlike the ink in the Schøyen ink well. The report also suggests that someone deposited a layer of sediment consistent with the Dead Sea region on the surface of the fragments, possibly while the ink was still wet.

Though I am no expert on the material side, and there are some material problems with the leather, it seems clear that the irregularities of the ink are the primary indicators for the team's decision. To quote a helpful and succinct summary:

"Aside from unambiguous conservation materials, no anachronistic or anomalous materials were identified in the studied fragments. The state of degradation and minerology of the parchment samples suggests they may old or ancient, however, physical clues, such as the application of ink over delaminated support material and sediment, as well as cracks in several fragments, suggests that much or all of the ink may have been applied more recently (111)."

Indeed, the fact that the ink and script are so problematic for each of the fragments is a strong indication that all of these fragments are modern forgeries on ancient skins.


See also the discussions by Christopher Rollston, Sidnie Crawford, and Michael Langlois. Contrast the following statement by Emanuel Tov cited in a National Geographic article:

"I will not say that there are no unauthentic fragments among the MOB fragments, but in my view, their inauthenticity as a whole has still not been proven beyond doubt. This doubt is due to the fact that similar testing has not been done on undisputed Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts in order to provide a base line for comparison, including the fragments from the Judean Desert sites that are later than Qumran. The report expects us to conclude that abnormalities abound without demonstrating what is normal."

While I agree that it would be helpful to do similar tests with authentic DSS for comparison, the combined evidence with regard to the MOTB DSS-like fragments collected to date does seem to me to be quite compelling. These fragments are almost certainly modern forgeries.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Sunday, March 8, 2020

DVL Introductions to Greek and Latin Paleography

The DigiVatLib (DVL) website has published two very clear and well-illustrated introductions to Greek and Latin paleography, which I highly recommend for interested beginners.