Saturday, June 18, 2016

How Many Books in a Preexilic Israelite Personal Library?

So how many books did the typical preexilic Israelite own? By books, we mean literary works or works of knowledge, not things like tax receipts and property deeds.

If I had to guess, I think that it would be pretty safe to say that the mode was zero. That means that a majority of ancient Israelites could not read and did not personally own any books. But some percentage of ancient Israelites could read. Some percentage of them did own literary texts or works of knowledge. Again, the absolute percentage need not be large, but chances are that if you were privileged enough to read, you probably wanted to possess something to read.

Unfortunately, we cannot answer that question, but we can get some idea by looking at ownership of literary works in the Neo-Assyrian empire. SAA VII 49-51 are three lists of tablets owned by various individuals in the Neo-Assyrian empire. The texts are somewhat fragmentary, but they typically list the works and how many tablets in the work, and a summary of the number of tablets accompanied by the name of the individual. Taking the entries where the total number of tablets owned is more or less intact in all of the texts, we get the following list (in ascending order by tablet):
  • Aplaya owned 1 tablet

  • Mushezib-Nabu owned 1 tablet

  • Tabni owned 2 tablets

  • Nabu-balassu-iqbi owned [x]+2 tablets

  • Nabu-shum-[. . .] owned [1]5 tablets

  • Assur-mukin-pale'a owned [1]8 tablets

  • Shamash-eriba owned 28 tablets

  • Nabu-shakin-shulmi owned [x]+37 tablets

  • [...] owned 100+[x] tablets

  • Arraba owned 185 tablets

  • Nabu-nadin-apli owned 188 tablets

  • Nabu-[. . .] owned 435 tablets
What is interesting about this list is the spread. About a third of those who owned tablets owned only one or two. About a third of them more than dozen tablets. About a third owned more than a hundred tablets. Remember these are literary texts or works of knowledge (the ancient equivalent of scientific literature). The average of those whose numbers are completely intact is 120 tablets.

I would expect ancient Israelite personal libraries to show a similar spread. Some would only own a work or two. Some would have several. What is somewhat surprising is that multiple individuals had extensive libraries, the equivalent of dozens of scrolls. We should suppose that ancient Israel would be the same.

It would be nicer to have a larger sample size. It would be nice if we had equivalent lists from Israel. But based on the information we do have, highly literate individuals with large libraries are known from pre-exilic Israelite times.

Friday, June 17, 2016

More on the Gospel of Jesus's Wife Forgery

Apparently Karen King, who introduced the papyrus fragment of the Gospel of Jesus's Wife has admitted that the document is probably a forgery.

I noted evidence for it as a forgery four years ago. Interesting that the forger seems to have been an Egyptology student at one time.


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Some Perils of Mathematical Modeling

Mathematical models can be great. They do, however, have some limitations. Suppose, for example, that you are trying to predict some data that you suspect has some mathematical relationship and you want to know the future behavior. A mathematical model might be useful to predict the future results of the data. Your predictive abilities will only be as good as the model (or formula) that you are using. Presumably, if your model accounts for past data, it should work for future data as well. We'll keep this fairly simple.

Lets say that you start with an initial condition and it starts at zero. The next data point to come out is a one. So at x = 0, y = 0 and x=1, y=1. This gives us a nice formula: x = y. We are ready to predict the future. Our guess is that when x = 2, y =2. Our graph of the function looks like this:


This provides nice steady increase. If it is a graph of your investments, you will not be getting rich very quick, but you might not be getting poor either. If it is global temperatures, it might cause some concern. If it is crop yields per square meter, then it is steady and predictable.

But when x =2 comes out, it turns out that y = 0. Our prediction was off by 2. Our graph comparing our prediction with actual results looks like this:


This looks like a simple problem to fix. We simply change our equation to y = -x^2 + 2x. This equation also works for the first three values. Our graph comparing our prediction with actual results now looks like this:


Those curves are pretty close. We seem to be on the right track. Let's expand our prediction graph and predict what is going to happen in the future:


We predict that the next point on the graph will be -3. It looks as though the graph is going increasingly downward. If this is your return on investment, then it looks like you better get out of the market now. If this is global temperatures, then stock up on winter clothes.

In fact, the next point is -1. Again, we are off by 2. Out graph comparing our prediction with actual results looks like this:


This is a not so easy fix. We change our equation to y = (x^3)/3 - 2x^2 + 8x/3. This gives us the following graph:


This is not exact but it is close. If we look down the road, we can predict the following:


So if this is our investments, we should just ride it out because things look better down the road. If it is global temperatures, then hang on because things will get a lot hotter really quick.

When the next number comes in, it comes in as 0, exactly as our model predicted:


Surely, we are on the right track.

The next number, however, comes in as 1 rather then the 5 our model predicted.


Something is wrong again. If we look at our various model graphs, we can see that they end up going all over the place:


Clearly, while each of these graphs works for a bit, they all fail in the end. They all end up flying off on a tangent. This is even more clear when we look at the long term trajectories:


All of these graphs were based on the actual data, but they differ markedly in their projections (all of which turn out to be wrong in the long term). Remember that the extreme models accounted for almost the same range of data, but after a point made widely divergent predictions.

So, one take away is that the models, at some point, break down. We could make the models much more complicated and account for the first twenty points but they would then still go wildly wrong. The general point would remain. If you are looking at a fluctuating phenomenon and suddenly your model becomes monotonically increasing or decreasing (that is, it stops fluctuating) then that is the point where your model probably has broken down.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Herbert Donner (1930-2016)

This bit of sad news comes via Jack Sasson who got it from Wolfgang Zwickel, the authors are listed at the bottom:


Prof. Dr. Dr. Dr. h.c. Herbert Donner (1930-2016)

Am 28. April 2016 verstarb Prof. Dr. theol. Dr. phil. Dr. h.c. Herbert Donner im Alter von 86 Jahren in Kiel. Mit ihm verliert die Theologische Fakultät der Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel einen ihrer profiliertesten Vertreter und einen international renommierten Wissenschaftler. Von 1980 bis zu seiner Emeritierung war er hier ordentlicher Professor für Altes Testament und Biblische Archäologie und amtierte zwischen 1985 und 1987 auch als Dekan der Fakultät. Zuvor hatte er seit 1963 als Professor für Altes Testament und Palästinakunde in Göttingen und seit 1968 in Tübingen gelehrt und geforscht.

Donner hatte in Leipzig eine umfassende theologische und altorientalistische Ausbildung erhalten und war dort mit einer Arbeit über die Verfassungs- und Verwaltungsgeschichte der eisenzeitlichen Kleinstaaten Israel und Juda zuerst zum Dr. theol., dann mit einer Arbeit über die keilschriftlichen Wirtschafts- und Verwaltungsurkunden des nordsyrischen Stadtstaates Alalah (Tell Açana) zum Dr. phil. promoviert worden. 1958 verließ er die Deutsche Demokratische Republik und habilitierte sich in Göttingen mit einer Arbeit über die Stellung der klassischen Propheten des 8. Jahrhunderts v.Chr. zur Außenpolitik der Könige von Israel und Juda. 1965 organisierte er die Finanzierung der Restaurierung der byzantinischen Mosaik-Landkarte in Madeba / Jordanien und wurde dafür - zusammen mit den beiden Restauratoren - vom griechisch-orthodoxen Patriarchen von Jerusalem zum "Ritter des Ordens der orthodoxen Kreuzträger vom Heiligen Grabe" ernannt.

In Kiel leitete er seit 1983 auch über seine Emeritierung hinaus bis ins Jahr 2010 die von der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft finanzierte Gesenius-Forschungsstelle, deren Ziel es war, das "Hebräische und aramäische Handwörterbuch über das Alte Testament von Wilhelm Gesenius" vollständig neu zu bearbeiten. Das Wörterbuch erschien zwischen 1987 und 2012 in sieben Lieferungen. 2013 konnte der Herausgeber zu seiner Freude das Erscheinen der einbändigen Studienausgabe erleben. Mit dem Wörterbuch leistete er einen grundlegenden Beitrag zur hebräischen Lexikographie. Seine zweibändige "Geschichte des Volkes Israel und seiner Nachbarn in Grundzügen", inzwischen in der 4. Auflage erschienen, gehört für die meisten Studierenden zur Pflichtlektüre, und vielen ist auch die Übersetzung der griechischen und lateinischen Pilgerberichte aus dem 4.-7. Jahrhundert ins Deutsche eine willkommene Arbeitsgrundlage. In seiner Eigenschaft als Vorsitzender des 1877 gegründeten Deutschen Vereins zur Erforschung Palästinas förderte er zwischen 1974 und 1992 entsprechende Untersuchungen und Publikationen. Die allgemeine Wertschätzung seiner Person kam auch darin zum Ausdruck, dass er nicht nur ordentliches Mitglied der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften, korrespondierendes Mitglied der Wissenschaftlichen Gesellschaft der J.-W. Goethe-Universität Frankfurt und des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts war, sondern im Jahr 2000 mit dem Dr. theol. h.c. der Theologischen Fakultät der Universität Leipzig ausgezeichnet und zum Ehrenmitglied des Deutschen Vereins zur Erforschung Palästinas ernannt wurde. Seine Veröffentlichungen zeichnen sich durch umfassende Kenntnisse, nüchterne Urteile und einen unprätentiösen und klaren Stil aus. Seine ungewöhnlich vielfältige und ertragreiche wissenschaftliche Arbeit zur Geschichte und Kultur des antiken Palästinas ist mit ihm nun ans Ende gekommen.

Die Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel und ihre Theologische Fakultät werden sein Andenken in Ehren halten.

Ulrich Hübner,
Direktor des Instituts für Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft und Biblische Archäologie,
Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
Markus Saur,
Dekan der Theologischen Fakultät der Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel


The last conference paper I presented relied heavily on one of the standard reference compendiums that  Prof. Dr. Dr. Dr. h.c. Donner produced, Kanaanäische und aramäische Inschriften. I would like to thank him for his good work. I am sorry that I was never able to do so in person.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Robert Bennett

Senator Bennett passed away today. That is sad.

I chanced to meet Senator Bennett a few years ago, after he had left office. It was a brief meeting. He was very gracious. I thanked him for his years of service. I told him that I thought he had been rather poorly treated by his party the way he was forced to leave office. He told me that it was one of the best things that could have happened to him. It allowed him to spend more time with his grandchildren. True to his word, he then excused himself to attend to his grandchildren. I admire someone (especially a politician) who can make his deeds match his words.

Congratulations

Congratulations to Nathan Hawks. I know Nathan and am very pleased to see him garner this recognition.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Ancient Israelites More Literate Than We Thought

This news item in the New York Times argues that ancient Israelites were more literate than previously thought. We went through this all last year. I pointed out that:
This all serves to indicate that scribes and scribal activity in ancient Israel was greater than some biblical scholars would like it to be, and all this while not requiring literacy to be as widespread as the New York Times claims. Will some people believe it now that the New York Times says it?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

What This Year’s Early Easter Date Tell Us about Early Christianity

The bright moon this morning provoked a conversation in which my daughter asked a telling question that reveals a lot about early Christianity.

The date of Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox. This year, the Vernal Equinox was March 20 (it is often on March 21). The full moon was March 23. The Sunday following is March 27. So we have an early Easter this year.

There is a logic to the date of Easter. Jesus was crucified on Passover, which is the fourteenth of Nissan, which is the month of spring (hence the Vernal Equinox). Nissan, like other months of the Jewish calendar, is a lunar month starting on the new moon. The fourteenth is thus the date of the full moon. The Resurrection was the Sunday following the crucifixion. 

On the calendar that we use, the Roman calendar, the date of Eastern changes from year to year. My daughters question was: “Didn’t they record the date of the Resurrection?”

The answer is that that they did, but they recorded it in the Jewish calendar, not the Roman calendar. The earliest Christians were all Jews or converts from Judaism. It was only later that the Christians started accepting converts from Gentiles, such as Greeks and Romans. So the early Christians recorded the date of the Resurrection according to the date on the Jewish lunar calendar, not the Roman solar calendar.

Starting in the second century, there was a controversy in Christianity between those that wanted to celebrate Easter on the 14th of Nissan (following the gospel of John) and those who wanted to celebrate it on Sunday and so the Sunday following (following the gospel of Matthew). The Easter controversy was not ostensibly settled until the fourth century.

There are only two Christian Holy Days that follow a Jewish calendar, that thus go back to the earliest period of Christian history. Both commemorate the Resurrection. Those Holy Days are Easter, and the Lord’s Day (Sunday). All the other Christian Holy Days follow the Roman calendar (including Christmas) and are thus later.

So, what we learn about early Christianity is that the Resurrection was the only event commemorated; it was memorialized in two Holy Days, Easter and the Lord’s Day. The dates of these events were recorded in the Jewish calendar, which was the one that the earliest Christians used.