The Jewish Revolt against Rome

15 November 2014

jrSoon after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, it became evident that the publication was far too big a project for the local institutions. It was logical that other scholars were invited to join the researchers. From the beginning, Qumranology was an international and multidisciplinary affair.

Still, the publication of the scrolls proceeded slowly. There is nothing strange about this. A parallel is the non-publication of the tens of thousands of unpublished cuneiform tablets in the British Museum, some of which have been waiting for more than a century. The finds in the Dead Sea caves were not different: thousands of fragments belonging to some 970 scrolls.

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Israel Divided | Summary

9 November 2014

israc3abl_verdeeldOver the past years, I have been writing a (Dutch) book about the Jewish world at the beginning of the common era. Of course, this is hardly an original theme, but the existing books usually discuss Temple Judaism as a kind of preliminary to either Rabbinical Judaism (leaving out Christianity) or Christianity (leaving out the halachic debates). I wanted a book that dealt with ancient Judaism in itself.

It was published recently. After some preliminary chapters about the historical context (the revolt of the Maccabees, the Hasmonaean dynasty, king Herod, the establishment of Roman rule), the three core chapters deal with the halachic debates, Josephus‘ rendering of these debates, and the eschatological ideas.

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Hadrian in Jerusalem

21 October 2014
The inscription (for larger photo, see original article)

The inscription (for larger photo, see original article)

A new episode in our series “the suicide of the humanities”: a dedication to the emperor Hadrian from Jerusalem. Read more about it here. Nice photos.

However, as a comment, “this is an extraordinary find” would have been enough. It’s a nice find indeed, but it adds little to what we already know. Adding that it is “of enormous historical importance” is precisely the kind of boast that we do not need, because people recognize that it is exaggerated.

In the western world, about one third of the population has a higher education. If only scholars and scientists would explain themselves on that level. Explain method. Don’t exaggerate.


Converting Livius.org

4 October 2014
The website today

The website today

In the final weeks of 2013, I started with a project I had wanted to start a long time ago. Written in classical  HTML, the Livius.org-website had become old-fashioned. However, I did not have enough time to convert the site to the content management systems that became popular and offered new possibilities. Still, I did start to clean up pages to separate the illustrations from the text: a massive job. In the end, the site was ready for conversion. But how? To which system?

My colleague and friend Josho Brouwers was able to perform the trick. He built a new system, and I am now gradually converting the site. This needs to be done manually and it is hard to say how much work is finished and how much is still waiting. Today, I added a new page (on the Roman legionary base at Novae), and by now there are 900 HTML pages in the new style. Because there were initially more than 3600 pages, you can say that I have now finished almost a quarter of the job.

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Casey on the Mythicist Jesus

28 July 2014

caseyDon’t I have a heart, to write a piece about an unsuccessful book by a writer who has died only recently? Mustn’t a reviewer stick to the principle that of the dead, we say nothing unless it is something good?

Yes, of course. Except when the author has raised a topic of particular interest. Maurice Casey’s Jesus. Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? is such a book and if I am quite critical about it, it is because I think the author has recognized the urgency of a very serious problem that deserves much more attention.

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Pregnant stone delivers

3 July 2014
The baby stone

The baby stone

Today, I received a message from a friend in Beirut, who recently visited Baalbek. When you arrive to that city, you will pass the ancient quarry, where you will see the largest stone that was ever cut by men. It is called Hajar al-Hibla, the “pregnant stone”. The owner of the nearby souvenir shop greeted my friend with the words that “the pregnant has delivered!”

What had happened? Archaeologists had been inspecting the site, when they discovered a small, straight stone edge. They investigated it, and soon discovered a “baby stone” that is probably even bigger than its mother. Hajar al-Hibla has a length of twenty meters and a height and width of 4½ meters, this one is 5 meters wide; its width is still unknown. No doubt, both stones were cut out for the nearby temple of Jupiter.

The photo above was sent to me by my friends at travel agency Libanva.

PS

Judith Weingarten reminds me of the unfinished obelisk attributed to Hatshepsut. It is 42 m long and 2.5-4.4 m wide. It is even bigger than the stones at Baalbek.


Collapsing Civilizations

4 May 2014

clineCenturies after the destruction of Troy, its mighty walls still stood, eight meters high. Its sanctuaries and well house were recognizable. It is easy to imagine how the shepherds on the plain were impressed and told stories about the ancient city. Once, there had been a terrible war, they will have said, and the warriors had been people of superhuman strength. Not even those heroes, however, could have built the walls: they were not made by men but by gods.

Gods, heroes, and century-old ruins: that was all that a poet like Homer knew about Bronze Age Troy, the background of his Iliad. Other bards sung about Knossos, Mycenae, and Thebes, and in their poems we can also recognize echoes from the fourteenth and thirteenth century BCE. Echoes, only echoes: the poems were largely fictitious. The Aegean Bronze Age civilization was almost completely forgotten.

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