Jordan: Land of the Ammonites

Posted by shoshiepfann on May 07, 2012

Ancient Rabbath-Ammon, which towers over the modern city of Amman at its foot. The Ammonites looked down...down...down on anyone bold enough to besiege their city, like David's army under Joab.

The onsite museum holds such treasures as the Copper Scroll and the Balaam Inscription.

Tomorrow: hilly Upper Gilead.

Jordan: Deep River

Posted by admin on May 06, 2012

In the next few days, we'll be publishing highlights from a past Historical Geography tour of Jordan.

Jordan: Day One

The Jordan River, symbol of crossing over into God's covenant. For Joshua, the Essenes, John the Baptist, and Jesus.

This the traditional site of Bethany-beyond-the Jordan, where Jesus was baptised. Also thought to be the place from which Elijah was taken into heaven. Coming up: the land of Ammon.

Historical Geography of Jordan 2012

Posted by shoshiepfann on April 29, 2012

The Israelites called them "the mountains across" (Abarim). They appear in the Gospels as "the land beyond the Jordan." There's a whole world waiting for you discover, on the other side of the Jordan, the eastern side of the Dead Sea. It's rich in natural beauty. Rich in adventure. Rich in ancient history -- Biblical and beyond.

Historical Geography of Jordan, July 2-16, 2012

It's not too late to sign up.

Imagining Imaging

Posted by admin on August 30, 2008

A New Pilot Project to Digitally Image the Scrolls.

On the 26th of August approximatey 25 scholars and heads of institutions who promote research on the Dead Sea Scrolls were invited to a private viewing at the offices of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. This project, initiated by the IAA intends to create a database of digital images of the entire corpus of scrolls (estimated at least 900 in number) which have been derived from caves and other sites in the Judean Wilderness. (This viewing was followed up by a press conference on the next day).

The room that will be devoted to the project sits across a hallway from the hermetically sealed vaults which house most of the scrolls which are housed by the IAA and next to the institution's conservation lab. This 4 x 5 meter room was outfitted with a table on each wall. Three tables had camera copy stands, each with a camera which is set to fulfill a specific purpose.

Two stands carried standard Hasselblad cameras. One was altered for infrared imaging (by the removal of the camera's infrared blocking filter) which will be carried out on all fragments of scrolls (estimated 15,000 in number). The camera back will take 48 (or 40?) megapixel images of each of the plates of fragments (c 10 x 12" each) with some variation in special cases. The light source is has a 940 nm filter for best contrast between the carbon ink and the darkening parchment surface.

The other camera was set for taking color images of the manuscripts. Normal color balancing will be applied to each image. Two high quality full range light sources will be applied to the scrolls at 45° angles to the subject. Unfortunately not all scrolls can be viewed in color and will need the infrared camera to view them due to the darkening of the skin surfaces over the centuries of deterioration.

The third camera was a CRI Multispectral Imaging System with a range between 650 and 1050 nanometers on the light spectrum (visible ultraviolet and infrared). The use of this camera, which hopefull will continue to be available, will be more useful for the fragments which will need special imaging beyond the 940 nm infrared range of the Haselblad.

The proprosed project is not yet in place and is being preceded by this presently announced "Pilot Project" under Dr. Gregory Bearman (formerly of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena) and Pnina Shor (Director of the Department Conservaton and Imaging at the IAA) which intends to be open to all suggestions and questions from those who interested.

This post will be followed by certain hopes of myself and other scholars who might have a certain "wish list" for what the larger project might accomplish for our own work,which may also be of interest to the world of lay persons and scientists who may still have their own questions.

S. Pfann

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New Testament among the Dead Sea Scrolls?

Posted by admin on August 24, 2008

The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) published an interview that they made with me last winter. The fact that only snippets were actually aired and published has led to some misunderstandings. There was one snippet, in particular, which could lead the audience to believe that I was stating that New Testament manuscripts were found at Qumran. The quote goes like this:

"We asked why the Dead Sea Scrolls were so important to us today. Pfann said, 'because they confirm the Bible that we have. There's variants, but basically it's [that] you can barely tell the difference between the two texts, [the one] that we have in Qumran and in our Bibles.' "

This quote is correct but lacks the full context for that statement. And I do see how it can be easily misunderstood. I was asked by Chris Mitchell of CBN if the New Testament was found at Qumran. I replied "No". The posited Gospel of Mark fragment from cave 7 remains unconvincing. There are manuscripts that have similar language to the New Testament (such as the so-called "Son of God text") which confirm that parallels to certain unusual titles and statements did in fact exist. However, there are no quotes from the New Testament among the scrolls.

At least three Old Testament text traditions were discovered among the caves at Qumran. One of these is called "Proto-Masoretic", and is understood to be the tradition that lies behind our present Hebrew Bibles, and is amazingly close from a textual standpoint.

The (Hebrew) Bible at it was widely quoted in the New Testament (aside from the Septuagint) has generally proven to be quite similar to the Proto-Masoretic line of manuscripts. In this way the New Testament itself, in most cases, was relying upon the same textual traditon that led to the text we use in our Bibles today.

This is all that was intended in the interview. Sorry, no New Testament books from the first century have been discovered so far among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Just the same we should never give up hope that some other books of the Bible might be discovered some time in the future. For example, another book of the Hebrew Bible has recently been identified, presumably from Qumran. At the time of this interview last winter, I stated that Esther, Nehemiah and 1 Chronicles were the only books of the Old Testament that were not found at Qumran, which was true at the time. Since then Prof. Charlesworth, while attending the July Conference at the Shrine of the Book, revealed a photograph of a fragment of the book of Nehemiah, that was from a private collection.

There is little doubt that there is still more out there somewhere.

S. Pfann 

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The Vision of Gabriel

Posted by admin on July 31, 2008

A number of people have been sending in queries concerning the relatively new inscription called the Gabriel Revelation, or closer to the Hebrew of the original editor: The Vision of Gabriel.

I hope to contribute a few of my own thoughts on this text which has taken scholarship and the world by surprise.


Exploring the Elusive Phase 1a of Qumran

Posted by admin on July 08, 2008

A conference to commemorate 60th anniversary of the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls begins today at the Shrine of the Book called The Dead Sea Scrolls and Contemporary Culture, Celebrating 60 Years of Discovery.

The following is an abstract from the conference web page :

This conference follows up on the 1997 congress held in memory of Joy Gottesman Ungerleider, which commemorated the 50th anniversary of the scrolls' discovery, but with a different emphasis. This time, our aim is to reflect on the progress made in the last ten years and to articulate our hopes for the future of Qumran studies.

The conference program will update us on the most recent developments in scholarly opinion, as we seek to reconceptualize and recontextualize the scrolls in today's world. We will then be ready to address such questions as: how does the public learn about the scrolls; how can we dispel myths and inaccuracies; and how might knowledge of the scrolls be incorporated in related academic research and in educational settings? How should Dead Sea Scroll scholars present their subject, which embraces the study of ancient civilizations, the phenomenology of religion, and the history of both Judaism and Christianity, and is of contemporary relevance and interest to schoolchildren, university students, and the public at large?

The conference offers a live webcast at the following web address:

Sabbatical Year, Year One of the Second Revolt

Posted by shoshiepfann on April 27, 2008

Second Revolt (132–135 CE) Sabbatical Year: 132/133

Exclusively during year one of the second revolt is leGeulat Yis(rael) “For the redemption of Is(rael)” inscribed upon both silver and bronze coins. During year two, the coins proceed to make exclusive use of the phrase SH B leHerut Yisrael “year 2 of the liberation of Israel” on silver issues and on all but one rare bronze issue (which maintained the phrase from the first year). During years three and four of the revolt issues are undated and change to read leHerut Yerushalem “for the freedom of Jerusalem”.


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First Revolt (66–70 CE) Sabbatical Year: 69/70

During the revolts, when messianic expectation was a key rallying point, the coins used the more unusual term (Geulah instead of Shmitta) for the sabbatical year of Leviticus 25 which specifically deals with the agricultural rules, as opposed to the passage in Deuteronomy 15 which deals solely with the rules of lending, debt and slavery. This term Geulah may also have been used to bolster the messianic expectation of the period. The Messiah as the GOEL/Redeemer would arrive during a Sabbatical year or in a Jubilee year to redeem his people from debt, slavery and oppression and to atone for their sins before God. During other, non-sabbatical, years the term “freedom of Zion/Jerusalem” was used instead. During the first year of the Second Revolt, a sabbatical year, the term Geulah was not limited to the bronze denominations but was added to silver coins as well.

The rabbinical text which deals with issues of chronology, Seder Olam Rabba, states that the year preceding the fall of the Temple (69/70 CE) was a Sabbatical Year. Bronze coins during years two and three of the First Revolt were inscribed Herut tsiyon “the freedom of Zion” which changed with minting of several new bronze issues during year four to Shnat arba lege'ulat tsiyon “Year four of the redemption of Zion”. The term “Redemption” carries more messianic connotations than HERUT/Freedom since the Messiah is to appear as GOEL/Redeemer.


The bronzes mentioning geulat tsiyon from year four of the First Revolt

More to come on these special issues of coins. . .

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The Sabbatical Year of Herod Agrippa I

Posted by admin on April 19, 2008

Herod Agrippa I (37–44 CE) Sabbatical Year: 41/42 CE

Herod Agrippa I minted coins during several years during the years of his reign at the Paneas mint (year 2), the Tiberias mint (year 5) and at Caesarea (year 7 and year eight) all of which were minted with non-Jewish symbols (including human images of himself and the emperor; pagan images of gods and temples) and not during the sabbatical year. However during the 6th year of his reign, a sabbatical year, he minted myriads of bronze prutot with the parasol and ears of grain, non-offensive symbols to Jews, at the Jerusalem mint.


Herod Agrippa's non-Jewish ancestry and his Shining Religious Moment during the Sabbatical Year, 41/42 CE

Mishna Sota 7:8 A. The pericope of the king [M. 7:2a5]-how so?

At the end of the first festival day of the Festival [of Sukkot], on the Eighth Year, [that is] at the end of the Seventh Year, they make him a platform of wood, set in the courtyard.

And he sits on it, as it is said, At the end of every seven years in the set time (Dt. 31:10).

The minister of the assembly takes a scroll of the Torah and hands it to the head of the assembly, and the head of the assembly hands it to the prefect, and the prefect hands it to the high priest, and the high priest hands it to the king, and the king stands and receives it.

But he reads sitting down.

Agrippa the King stood up and received it and read it standing up, and sages praised him on that account. And when he came to the verse, You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother (Dt. 17:15), his tears ran down from his eyes. They said to him, “Do not be afraid, Agrippa, you are our brother, you are our brother, you are our brother!”

He reads from the beginning of "These are the words" (Dt. 1:1) to "Hear O Israel" (Dt. 6:4), "Hear O Israel" (Dt. 6:4), "And it will come to pass, if You hearken" (Dt. 11:13), and "You shall surely tithe" (Dt. 14:22), and "When you have made an end of tithing" (Dt. 26:12-15), and the pericope of the king [Dt. 17:14-20], and the blessings and the curses [Dt. 27:15-26], and he completes the whole pericope. With the same blessings with which the high priest blesses them [M. 7:7f], the king blesses them. But he says the blessing for the festivals instead of the blessing for the forgiveness of sin.

(Mishnah, Neusner English translation)

The Sabbatical Year Coinage of Herod the Great

Posted by admin on April 17, 2008

Herod the Great (40–4 BCE). Sabbatical Years: 37/36, 30/29, 23/22, 16/15, 9/8

L G, Year three = Sab Year 37/36.

Herod the Great was appointed King over Judea by Augustus in 40 BCE. However, it was not until 37/6 BCE that he managed to take Jerusalem by siege and to oust Antigonus from his throne. According to Josephus the siege was during a Sabbatical year, utilizing the cities foodstuffs for his troops, which added to the plight of the people of that city. His bronze coinage no doubt signified his victory but also would have been intended to alleviate the financial crisis that prevailed in the city. The Year 3 Sabbatical Year coin set which covered nearly every denomination, 8 prutot, 4 prutot, 2 prutot, 1 prutah. No dated version of the smallest denomination, the lepton, was produced (perhaps due to the paucity of surface area on this coin for a date). However, one candidate for a non-dated version could be the eagle lepton (Hendin 501) which reflects a similar boldness in the use of non-Jewish iconography as the dated denominations, and a single cornucopia linked to the coins of his predecessors the Hasmoneans (cf. Antigonus).


8 prutot, 4 prutot, 2 prutot, prutah, lepton


X, Year ten? = Sab Year 30/29.

Herod the Great may have minted coins throughout his reign. However the major occasions to mint coins included commemoration of major events, including the completion of the harbor of Caesarea (Hendin p. 168 no. 502). However the apparent abundance of coins whose dates coincide with sabbatical years would imply that sabbatical years were key occasions to produce coins, for reasons already mentioned.

As in the case of the Year 3 Sabbatical Year coin set which covered nearly every denomintation, 8 prutot, 4 prutot, 2 prutot, 1 prutah, it appears that another set, the tripod series, may have been produced for Year ten, each with and "X" or "+" prominently displayed in the center of the verso within a royal diadem (suggested by Donald Ariel). This series included only the smaller denominations, 2 prutot, 1 prutah, 1 lepton. The motifs that unifies this set is the diadem and the tripod. (A lesser number of the leptons of this tripod series were minted, without the diadem, but with a palm branch.)

The Sabbatical Year 30/29 followed on the heels of a number of disastrous set-backs during the preceding years, each, in itself could lead to a difficult Sabbatical year. These were: 1) Anthony and Cleopatra were defeated at the Battle of Actium; 2) Herod was defeated by the Nabateans; and most importantly, 3) a devastating earthquake destroyed much of Judea and took the lives of thousands of its inhabitants.


2 prutot, prutah, lepton (two types)

The most abundant coinage of Herod’s reign, likely numbering in the hundreds of thousands, was the light prutah bearing an anchor and double cornucopia with caduceus carries forward the motifs common on the Hasmonean coins and, though undated are likely candidates for Shmitta year coinage during the last 20 years of his reign. Since other sabbatical years produced prutot with different motifs, this prutah likely is associated with the three latest Sabbatical Years, including the years 23/22, 16/15 or 9/8 BCE. This is especially since on these later issues the anchor was prevalent during which time Herod was either planning or building his prize harbor at Caesarea (21-10 BCE).


Two prutot and three lepta from the last two decades of Herod's reign

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