n is for numismatist

today in class, i completely walked into one. we were discussing the bar-kokhba rebellion’s numismatic record when it happened. watch.

devry university, itt tech, and university of phoenix announce acquisition of dead sea scrolls

Dead Sea Scroll Fragment

A fragment (4Q51) of a Dead Sea Scroll

in a stunning development just one day after southwestern baptist theological seminary announced (blog) it had acquired three fragments of dead sea scrolls, the assassinated press is reporting that three more prominent american universities have acquired fragments of the dead sea scrolls and other well-known jewish cultural heritage objects from unnamed antiquities dealers.

in what has become a race of archaeological one-upsmanship, several universities have begun purchasing fragments of the famed dead sea scrolls and other jewish antiquities that have previously been in private collections. prior to last year, princeton theological seminary and the university of chicago were the only american universities to have portions of the dead sea scrolls in their private museum holdings. then late last year, southern california academic powerhouse azusa pacific university surprised the world by announcing (blog) they had purchased fragments of the dead sea scrolls from a southern california antiquities dealer. then just yesterday, southwestern baptist theological seminary announced it had also acquired fragments of the scrolls from an undisclosed antiquities dealer for an undisclosed amount of money.

the desire for christian universities and seminaries to boost their academic reputations by purchasing fragments of the enigmatic scrolls has apparently started a trend among other institutions of higher learning also seeking to gain overnight credibility by purchasing classical jewish inscriptions. this morning, online education powerhouse devry university announced that it has acquired a fragment of the great isaiah scroll discovered in cave 1 near qumran. the fragment is a .5 cm x .3 cm wide and contains a single letter: aleph. despite the fragmentary nature of the fragment, professor roger smoak, who holds a joint appointment in accounting and northwest semitic palaeography, assured devry’s board of regents that the fragment was authentic and worth every bit of the 2.3 million dollars it paid for the single letter.

This fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls, although small, shows DeVry’s commitment to being a leader in the online university/alternative education market. Big things come in small packages, and this single aleph is the ‘A’ for effort that will make DeVry a major player in the world of higher education. Look out Harvard! DeVry knows a little about the Bible too. In fact, we now own a part of it.

immediately after devry’s announcement, online technical school itt tech announced that it had acquired an inscribed piece of pottery, or ostracon, from an antiquities dealer in jerusalem for an undisclosed sum. the dealer claims the ostracon is from the famed ‘samaria ostraca‘ collection, which comprises a number of ancient tax receipts for items brought to an israelite palace in samaria. the sherd acquired by itt tech contains three hebrew letters: bet, yod, and taw. while most scholars agree that this fragmentary ostracon simply contains the hebrew word bayit, or ‘house,’ itt tech associate professor of information systems security and hebrew bible, jeremy suriano, said:

While most scholars believe this ostracon says ‘house’ or ‘house of,’ I believe it is the earliest known reference to the computer term ‘bit,’ the foundational building block of bytes, kilobytes, megabytes, and gigabytes. In this sense, this simple ‘byt’ inscription must be considered a prophecy of the technology boom we are now experiencing today. And now we own this piece of prophecy!

A purported silver sliver of the backside of the Ketef Hinnom inscription shown next to a penny for scale.

not to be outdone, the university of phoenix has announced that it has acquired a fragment of the ketef hinnom inscription from a pawn shop in the silwan valley. matthew nam, professor of international trade and systematic theology, believes the silver sliver of text could be the centerpiece of the online university’s new masters program in international business and theology.

Obviously, the acquisition of a piece of history this significant is no small thing. Despite the fact that it contains no actual writing, the 1.1 million dollars we spent on this sliver of the Ketef Hinnom amulet’s backside shows our dedication to establishing our new program in international business and theology and establishing ourselves as the world’s premier online business degree for those who also love the Bible. Because we have made this purchase of a mere fragment of an archaeological object, we must immediately be recognized as a legitimate and major player in online theological education.

still other institutions are rumored to be in the hunt for valuable jewish antiquities in an effort to improve their academic reputations overnight. in an effort to solidify its place atop the field of agribusiness education,  fresno city college is said to be near the completion of a deal to purchase a 2 cm x 2 cm portion of a bar kokhba letter that mentions a piece of fruit. thousand oaks high school has partnered with local temple etz chaim preschool to acquire a coin minted by herod the great. and, liberty university is in talks with the jordan archaeological museum to acquire one segment of the copper scroll, which liberty university will then trade to the istanbul archaeology museum in turkey in exchange for the siloam tunnel inscription, a purported piece of noah’s ark, an artifact to be named later, and cash considerations.


these recent acquisitions of archeological objects by universities all go to show that a lack of status in theological education within the academy can quickly be overcome with a few dollars and the purchase of sensational archaeological objects. while most top schools waste their time educating their students with literary critical techniques and objective assessments of history, bible-based colleges can circumvent the scientific method while maintaining their sectarian doctrinal stances by simply purchasing objects that the public revere but do not understand. in this rough economy, why hire more faculty to educate students when a school can use that same money to purchase antiquities and sell tickets to its museum? thus, it makes great business sense for bible colleges to buy publicity by purchasing artifacts rather than producing scholars who truly understand them.

(n.b. check the ‘filed under’ category below)

thoughts on the new hoard of bar-kokhba coins discovered in a judean hills cave

A hoard of Bar-Kokhba coins recently discovered in a Judean desert cave.

A hoard of Bar-Kokhba coins recently discovered in a Judean hills cave.

the discovery of a large hoard of roman and jewish coins dating to the period of the bar-kokhba revolt was announced wednesday, sept 9, 2009 at a press conference at hebrew university in jerusalem.

congratulations to boaz langford, amos frumkin, boaz zissu, hanan eshel, and earlier cave explorer gideon mann on their work over the years and this recent find.

the discovery:

stephen smuts over at biblical paths has an excellent blog about the hoard of bar-kokhba coins discovered in a cave in the judean desert. i shall not attempt to replicate it here. avi joseph at gnews and brian blondy at the jerusalem post have also reported on the find. according to the jerusalem post:

The massive discovery marks the first time Israeli researchers have ever found a large hoard of ancient coins from this era. The gold, silver and bronze coins, 120 in all, were discovered in an undisclosed location within the ‘Green Line’ of Israel. The unlocking of the almost inaccessible cave also yielded iron weapons, storage jars, oil lamps, a juglet, a silver earring and a glass bottle.

many personal treasures left by jewish refugees were discovered. however, there was one particularly glaring object that was absent from this cave: there were no scrolls. (at least the archaeologists have not reported the discovery of any scrolls or written documents tucked away with this obvious cache of domestic valuables.) i found the absence of scrolls striking, especially since the article repeats the interpretation of the cache of objects as the remains of fleeing jewish refugees:

The artifacts are believed to be solid evidence proving the theory that Jews found refuge in the Judean Hills during the time-period.

and:

Prof. Frumkin added “this discovery verifies the assumption that the refugees of the revolt fled to caves in the center of a populated area in addition to the caves found in more isolated areas of the Judean desert.” The researchers believe that the Judean Hills cave served as a hiding place, with its proximity to the ancient city of Betar, for a dozen or more Jewish fighters.

interesting. again, there were no written manuscripts discovered hidden and among all of the other personal ‘valuables.’ this begs the question: did jewish refugees carry with them scrolls while fleeing jerusalem? were scrolls as common as ‘weapons, storage jars, oil lamps, a juglet, a silver earring and a glass bottle’ among jewish residents fleeing jerusalem? were scrolls not considered valuable? or were they so valuable that they were not carried and buried with the rest of a fleeing jewish refugee’s personal possessions?

most poignantly: what does the absence of scrolls say about the minority theory that claims the dead sea scrolls are not the product of a qumran community, but rather the belongings of jewish residents fleeing jerusalem?

Coins dating to the period of the Bar-Kokhba Revolt.

Coins dating to the period of the Bar-Kokhba Revolt.

now of course, absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence. but, there is no doubt that jews fled the roman suppression of both the great revolt of 70 ce and the bar-kokhba revolt. archaeologists have discovered dispatch letters from bar-kokhba himself, marriage contracts and land deeds, weapons, storage jars, oil lamps, juglets, jewelry, glass bottles, textiles, and many, many coins. but the fact that there is evidence of jews fleeing jerusalem and hiding objects in the desert does not necessarily mean that the dead sea scrolls discovered near qumran are among the objects hidden by jerusalem residents. when one couples this new discovery, in which just about everything but scrolls was discovered among the hidden personal treasures of jewish refugees, and one adds in the years of research demonstrating the congruity of ideology within the dead sea scrolls (especially the sectarian manuscripts), and one couples with this the evidence of obvious reoccupation and expansion at qumran, it all bolsters the tested, albeit aged and still not disproved majority theory that the dead sea scrolls are indeed a product of the jewish residents of qumran.

but i digress.

political undertones:

as always, one cannot help but sense that political undertones of the statement in the jerusalem post article that reads:

With this find, Prof. Zissu said that the distribution of the coins in the region helps to further “indicate the geographical extent of the Jewish presence outside of Jerusalem” during the Roman occupation of the land of Israel. Prof. Zissu further explained that “since there is not a definitive historian (from the era), we have to rely on the information we find from the coins and discoveries.”

it seems that every archaeological discovery made ‘within the green line of israel’ offers some evidence on jewish presence in the holy land. jewish presence in israel and palestine in ancient times from the iron age through the bar-kokhba revolt is undisputed. however, it is always interesting to observe that this presence is regularly, yet not so subtly highlighted as rationale for a continued presence in the west bank today.

some thoughts and predictions:

fun fact: bar-kokhba (and his coins) was my initial choice for a dissertation topic before the qumran visualization project came along. that decision determined my (and unfortunately, another’s) fate for the last four years.

let me guess: jimmy barfield will revise his ‘scientific’ arson investigation-inspired methodology and claim that this is one of the lost treasures of the copper scroll.

i can’t wait: norman golb (this time, without the assistance of his son) will self-publish some pdf and slap it up on his university of chicago website attempting to link this find somehow, someway to his slowly dying theory that the dead sea scrolls aren’t really from qumran. just wait for it…  it’s fascinating to see golb’s support disappear with his son’s 80+ aliases. but again, i digress…

congratulations again to archaeologists langford, frumkin, zissu, eshel, and the rest of the team and the university!

new bar-kokhba scroll discovered?

breaking news out of israel/west bank: a scroll reportedly from the time of the bar-kokhba rebellion has been obtained from people attempting to sell it on the antiquities market. this ought to be fun to watch….

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