Saturday, June 21, 2003
Marines volunteer to restore Babylon treasure (Henderson Hall News)
by Sgt. Mike Sweet
367th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
AL HILLAH, Iraq - Pitching in with brooms and good old Yankee know-how Marines and sailors are working to rehabilitate the Nebuchadnezzer Museum on the grounds of the ruins of Babylon.
Volunteers spent the afternoon June 7 cleaning the museum. Technical experts now plan to help make the museum better than it was before the war.
Looters tried to ravage the grounds of the ancient ruins before the Marines arrived in Babylon and secured the international treasure.
Whether they were taking out vengeance on Saddam Hussein or were just opportunists wanting to steal whatever they could get there hands on, looters demolished the museum located inside the ancient walled city, said Mohammed Taher, the museum's director.
"Fortunately we did not have any original artifacts on display," Taher said. "I do not understand how they could have done this to their own heritage."
The Mesopotamian empire of Babylon dates back thousands of years and is recognized by experts as one of the most important cities of ancient times. It is the second most noted city in the Bible after Jerusalem, according to Army Capt. Avroham Horovitz, a Jewish chaplain supporting troops serving with the First Marine Expeditionary Force.
The Museum rehabilitation project is important to the Marines. They are investing more than $35,000 to protect the artifacts said Rivas.
"I am please with the people who we are working with," said [Marine Capt. Gavino] Rivas. "They are professional and have a lot of pride in protecting the artifacts. His goal is to have the rehabilitation project completed in time for the annual Babylonian festival that is scheduled for September 22.
"This is a cooperative effort," said Rivas who before becoming a civil affairs officer flew CH-46 helicopters. "Marines, Seabees, soldiers, Iraqis; everyone is working together to make this work."
Israeli professor to spend one-year studying Caesarea (Kansas City Jewish Chronicle)
By Scott Factor, Staff Writer June 20, 2003
An Israeli professor at the University of Kansas has been awarded a Fulbright-Hays research grant for her project "Conflicts and Concord: A History of Palestine in Late Antiquity."
With the grant, Hagith Sivan, associate professor of history, will spend one year in Israel studying the late antiquity period (early 4th to early 7th century) in Caesarea Maritima, the ancient Roman capital of Palestine, to study how the current situation in the region has its roots in history, especially this period.
Sivan is planning to write a book, which will be completed following her year in Israel and bear the same name as her project.
"In the beginning of the period, the territory was largely Pagan, with some Jewish presence. Than Christianity comes in a big way, with the Emperor Constantine and major Christian building projects," Sivan said. "The Muslim conquest of the early 7th century brought about the Islamicization of the region. In this time period of 300 years, you had a complete change in the area."
Discovering how people of all faiths lived together then is crucial, not only for her project, but for bridging some of the gaps that exist in the region today.
"I would like, when I look at what happened there, to bring to life an understanding of how it worked then ... what made people live in harmony, but also what distracted them," Sivan said. "It is useful to pinpoint certain periods where you are able to see ... trends and types of personalities that shaped the agendas. Late antiquity is a very important time for this."
Sivan said her book will have an entire chapter that will be devoted to Jerusalem, which has its "own history."
"All you have to do is look at the skyline of Jerusalem. When Constantine becomes interested in Christianizing the Holy Land, churches were put everywhere you looked," Sivan said. "The Dome of the Rock now highlights it because it really is an expression of the victory of Islam. The expression is that we are now higher than the highest church. A small indication of the city now is that in the Jewish corridor in the Old City, some of the yeshivas are either at the same height as the dome or a bit higher. It is as if they are saying "We are here now."
Congratulations Professor Sivan!
Friday, June 20, 2003
Late Breaking News
June 19, 2003 - Scholars defend authenticity of ossuary (Church Executive Magazine)
By United Methodist News Service
A United Methodist pastor and prominent biblical scholar defends the authenticity of an inscribed, first-century ossuary believed to provide the oldest archaeological evidence of Jesus Christ, after claims by Israel's Antiquities Authority that the box is a fake.
"What you have here is a case of dueling scholars," said the Rev. Ben Witherington III, New Testament professor at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., and a United Methodist pastor in the Kentucky Annual Conference.
Witherington and Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, took part in announcing the discovery of the box last year. They have written a book, The Brother of Jesus: The Dramatic Story & Meaning of the First Archaeological Link to Jesus & His Family, about the discovery of the ossuary.
"Some of the world's greatest paleographers, and two teams of rigorous scientists that have tested the inscription, have found nothing to question as to its authenticity," Shanks said. "All indicate a first-century date. There is too much evidence in favor of the inscription's authenticity that the IAA announcement has not yet addressed. It's premature to make such an announcement without an accompanying scientific report. When that comes out, paleographers and scientists can then assess it. In the end, if the inscription is indeed proven to be a fake perpetrated by a modern forger, then I hope that the forger will be caught and put in jail."
"The IAA findings are, at the very least, incomplete if not incorrect," Witherington said. "Their yet-to-be-released report could not have taken into account the new tests performed on the inscription in Toronto by scholars at the Royal Ontario Museum."
Witherington says the report did not address several crucial points:
� In conducting its tests, Israel's Antiquities Authority did not take into consideration earlier findings by the Israeli Geological Survey and the Royal Ontario Museum, which contradict the IAA results.
� The Israeli Geological Survey found conclusively that the ossuary stone and the dirt found in the ossuary both came from the Silwan area of Jerusalem. How did dirt from Silwan get encrusted in a box that Israel's Antiquities Authority claims is from Cyprus or northern Syria?
� No paleographer or Aramaic specialist in the world has suggested that a modern forger tried to imitate an older Aramaic style prior to the report by Israel's Antiquities Authority.
� The evidence from the mass-spectrometry test (the ultraviolet test) performed at the Royal Ontario Museum and featured on the Discovery Channel special "James, Brother of Jesus" is "the most rigorous scientific test there is." There was no evidence of modern tampering with the box or the inscription.
Shamma Friedman, The Talmudic Proverb in Its Cultural Setting (Hebrew)
David Henshke, �From Usha to Yavneh��The Transformations of a Tradition (Hebrew)
Adiel Schremer, The Text-Tradition of the Tosefta: A Preliminary Study in the Footsteps of Saul Lieberman (Hebrew)
Jeffrey L. Rubenstein, The Rise of the Babylonian Rabbinic Academy: A Reexamination of the Talmudic Evidence
The Hebrew articles require Hebrew fonts but the site also includes English summaries of all articles.
Thursday, June 19, 2003
"What 'Jesus hoax' could mean for Mideast antiques" (Christian Science Monitor)
"How many more items are in museums that are not authentic, items from the antiquities market and not from archaeological sites?" asks Gideon Avni, director of the Excavations and Surveys Department at the IAA.
"It's the most serious question that this incident should raise," adds Dr. Avni, "that of forgeries getting into museums upon which research is based and conclusions are drawn."
Iain Provan, "(Perhaps the) Last Comments on the Davies-Dever Exchange" (Bible and Interpretation)
Aw come on, Iain, do you really think so?
Wednesday, June 18, 2003
Iraqi museum to repair broken 5,000-year-old vase
By Mark Memmott, USA TODAY
BAGHDAD � A priceless vase returned to the Iraqi National Museum is damaged but can be repaired, the museum's director said Tuesday.
The 3-foot-tall, Warka Vase is in pieces after being stolen during looting.
Evidently there really is an Iranian blogger who is a former prostitute but I'm afraid I don't have her URL. Sorry.
Ezekiel and the Ethics of Exile
Miller, Douglas B.
Symbol and Rhetoric in Ecclesiastes: The Place of Hebel in Qohelet's Work
Polaski, Donald C.
Authorizing an End: The Isaiah Apocalypse and Intertextuality
THE "JAMES OSSUARY" A FAKE TOO?
First the "Joash Inscription" and now this:
Israeli Antiquities Authority says 'James Ossuary' deemed a fake (CNews)
JERUSALEM (AP-CP) - An ancient burial box purported to have held the bones of Jesus' brother, James, is a fake, Israel's Antiquities Authority said Wednesday.
The ossuary, which bore the inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus," had been touted by some scholars as the oldest archeological link to New Testament figures. But Israeli officials described that inscription, as well as another purported archeological marvel, the "Yoash inscription," as "forgeries." "The inscriptions, possibly inscribed in two separate stages, are not authentic," the Antiquities Authority said in a statement. The officials reached their conclusions after intensive exams by several committees of experts.
Oded Golan, the Israeli owner of the "James ossuary," dismissed the officials' findings.
Bummer. Nothing yet on the Israel Antiquities Authority website (whose news page hasn't been updated since the fall of 2001). I'm reserving judgment until I see a full publication.
UPDATE: More in the Jerusalem Post (requires free registration; via Rochelle Altman in Ioudaios-L).
UPDATE: Reader Justin Winger notes this article in the online edition of Archaeology Magazine:
"GOLD DUST AND JAMES BOND: Israel Antiquities Authority declares James Ossuary and Jehoash Inscription Fake"
It gives much more information than the press releases and promises a full article in the September/October issue. Bottom line: the committee agrees that the object is a genuine ancient ossuary but the inscription was incised much later. The epigraphers were divided on whether the inscription was genuine but the geologists agree that the patina on the letters is fake. Also, the "Joash Inscription" was rejected as fake both by epigraphers and geologists on the grounds of language and letter-shape errors and another fake patina on the letters.
Why Europe still doesn't get the Internet (again, via Andrew Sullivan)
The all-but-final proposal draft says that Internet news organizations, individual Web sites, moderated mailing lists and even Web logs (or "blogs"), must offer a "right of reply" to those who have been criticized by a person or organization.
With clinical precision, the council's bureaucracy had decided exactly what would be required. Some excerpts from its proposal:
� "The reply should be made publicly available in a prominent place for a period of time (that) is at least equal to the period of time during which the contested information was publicly available, but, in any case, no less than for 24 hours."
� Hyperlinking to a reply is acceptable. "It may be considered sufficient to publish (the reply) or make available a link to it" from the spot of the original mention.
� "So long as the contested information is available online, the reply should be attached to it, for example through a clearly visible link."
� Long replies are fine. "There should be flexibility regarding the length of the reply, since there are (fewer) capacity limits for content than (there are) in off-line media."
I didn't want to believe it was true, but here is the actual document from the Council of Europe website. Regular readers will be aware that I am very careful to link to sites that comment on what I say here when I become aware of them and either to make corrections or to explain why I disagree with the comment. But that's what I do because I want to maintain my own credibility. If someone wants to exercise their freedom of speech and not acknowledge criticism or corrections on their own private site, they should be able to do that - and to live with what it does to their credibility. And there are cases where I might not link. If, say, the Iranian mullahs said something bad about me, I would probably only link to it if I happened to feel like making fun of them. And I would not link to a Neo-Nazi site under any circumstances. And I generally won't bother to link if I think a comment is frivolous.
The opportunities for abuse are staggering. If an individual blogger expressed an unpopular view or one that disagreed with the government, opponents - government or otherwise - could bury that person in demands for reply until they shut down the blog.
So I strongly encourage the British Government to ignore this recommendation to pass such laws.
And I strongly encourage the Council of Europe to go to hell.
Sorry for all the politics this morning. I'll try to get back to ancient Judaism later today.
Tuesday, June 17, 2003
Staff revolt at Baghdad museum (The Guardian via IraqCrisis and Francis Deblauwe)
Rory McCarthy in Baghdad
Tuesday June 17, 2003
Empty shelves in Baghdad museum
Iraq's national museum, home to many priceless artefacts which were thought to have been looted after the fall of Baghdad, has been plunged into a new crisis because of a revolt by staff.
More than 130 of the 185 staff of Iraq's state board of antiquities office in Baghdad, which runs the museum, have signed a petition demanding the resignation of its directors.
Staff said they believed that some of the thefts from the museum were an inside job. They also accused Dony George, the board's head of research, of arming them and ordering them to fight US forces.
Mr George admitted to the Guardian that he armed staff but denied instructing them to shoot US troops. He said none of the directors had a hand in the looting.
The row came after weeks of confusion about the artefacts apparently stolen from the museum under the gaze of US troops. At first Mr George and other directors accused the US military of failing to protect the building. But in the past two weeks many of the most precious pieces, including the golden treasures of Nimrud and the Sumerian vase of Warka have been returned.
One employee said: "We want elections for new directors and we want an investigation into what happened at the museum."
Staff also described how Mr George gathered employees in the museum for a meeting in the early days of the war at which he ordered them to fight US troops or face the sack. One employee who was present at the meeting said: "He [Mr George] said: 'If the Americans come you have to fight.' They never mentioned thieves once."
Mr George, who has worked for the board for 26 years and is known internationally, admitted he had been at the meeting and that guns were distributed but said he told staff only to guard the museum against looters.
He said he had been a member of the Ba'ath party, but not a senior one. Refusal to join, he said, would have meant "troubles in my position here [at the museum] and at home".
A spokesperson for the US-led coalition provisional authority (CPA), which is running Iraq, said Mr George's Ba'ath party membership had been investigated and he had been cleared. "All other allegations are just hearsay," the spokesperson said. Elections have been organised by the CPA in the ministry of culture, which oversees the museum, to choose new directors. But staff from the antiquities board are unlikely to take part. "It is not the way it works," the spokesperson said.
Also, regular readers might want to recheck the end of Saturday's post, "When Scholars Cry Wolf," which has been updated to interact with those who have commented on it.
Memo to future self: always compose entries on Word, then transfer to Blogger, in case the Blogger posting function eats them!
FEATURE-Old religion survives on banks of Tigris
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
BAGHDAD, June 17 (Reuters) - Iraqi devotees of an obscure religion perform virginity tests on their brides and take a dip in the murky Tigris river every Sunday to purify the soul.
"It is okay if the bride has lost her virginity. Only the ceremony would be different," Sheikh Asaad Fayyad of the Sabea Mandean Nation, a relic of the ancient Gnostic religions, said at a wedding for five couples at the sect's compound in Baghdad.
John the Baptist, New Testament forerunner to Jesus Christ, is the central figure for the world's 20,000 or so Mandeans, most of whom live in southern Iraq and southwestern Iran.
The Mandeans, forbidden to marry outside the sect, are dwindling in number. Their scholars trace the religion's roots to Adam, whom they say lived 980 million years ago -- pushing mankind's origins far earlier than those proposed by science.
Apart from a now tiny Jewish community, the Mandeans form the smallest group on Iraq's religious spectrum, which ranges from majority Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims to minority Christians and Yazidis, an offshoot of Shi'ism.
Mandeans are secretive, wary of revealing their rites for fear of antagonising their compatriots, especially after the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein in April.
The former Iraqi ruler did not interfere with them and allowed an Arabic edition of their holy book, Kanz Irba (Great Treasure), to be published two years ago.
Prayer and ceremonies are conducted in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. The Mandean ethic is similar to the Judeo- Christian tradition. They regard Jesus with suspicion, saying he added nothing to the message of John the Baptist and prophets before him.
The Mandeans encourage procreation and prefer mass weddings.
With more on their wedding customs. Plus a duck-decapitating ceremony and barbeque. Read it all.
Of course it would have to involve sex and violence.
Curb Appeal: Seduction From the Ground Up
By GUY TREBAY
She ravished his eye with her sandals. Honestly, that's what the Bible says. In Bethulia, an ancient Jewish city besieged by the army of Nebuchadnezzar, a widow of bravery and beauty took it upon herself to enter the enemy camp. According to legend, the widow, Judith, entered the tent of Holofernes, the general who led the invasion, and then, aided by maidservant and some lovely footwear, she managed to lop off his head.
For centuries, this deliriously gory narrative has provided subject matter for artists from Artemisia Gentileschi to Cindy Sherman, as well as meat for scholars, who dissect and analyze Judith's tale for its protofeminist import. The fact is, however, that hardly anyone beyond the poets who wrote the Apocrypha ever mentions the pivotal role played by Judith's footwear. How can that be? What is it about the bared foot that, even today, has the power to turn otherwise sensible people into prudes? Why is it a virtual secret that nearly a quarter of the footwear sold in the United States last year was sandals? What, one wonders, are the mystifying properties of the naked foot.
Christopher Smith for The New York Times
NAKED CAME THE TOOTSIES "Something happened to shoes and there's no going back," said Robert Burke of Bergdorf Goodman.
'Beyond Belief': Another Gospel Truth (New York Times)
The novelty of ''Beyond Belief'' lies, I think, in the polite confrontation Pagels arranges between John and Thomas. She maintains that the fourth Gospel itself plays what might be called (though she does not put it like this) a political game. The disciple Thomas speaks only in John's Gospel, and he is rather coolly presented, said not to have been present with the other disciples when Jesus appeared to them after the Resurrection, and condemned for all time to be the one who doubted. On the other hand we are allowed to assume that John was ''the disciple whom Jesus loved'' -- a privileged and authoritative confidant. (Pagels points out that John puts Peter down in a similar way: the ''beloved disciple'' beat him in the race to be first to the empty tomb.)
Some scholars continue to think Thomas of secondary importance. Pagels, of course, does not. In her gently autobiographical manner she recounts a period of exceptional anxiety and bereavement in her own life, when she found comfort in the Sunday morning community of a Manhattan church. She had long given up the Christianity of John, and as her knowledge of these dissident ancient communities grew she developed a desire for diversity of practice and doctrine and for the undogmatic benefits of religious community. She seems to rejoice that in the earliest years of Christianity there existed these strange, dissident doctrines of illumination. Some worshiped God as both Father and Mother, others went in for sacred dancing, others proposed heterodox interpretations of baptism, and so on.
If one already possessed an incontestable version of the truth, all these deviations could be seen as deplorable -- comparable, perhaps, to ''wild analysis'' in the Freudian tradition. But Pagels looks about the Christian world today and rejoices at the proliferation of the ''new forms'' Christianity is taking in Africa, North and South America, Korea and China. She cannot be reconciled to churches that claim sole access to the truth of doctrine and discipline. Nag Hammadi seemed to show her that one must shed all such prejudices. The reward, she believes, may be a truer knowledge not only of Christianity, in whatever institutional form, but also of the other great religions.
This packed, lucid little book belongs to that admirable kind of scholarship in which the labor of acquiring Greek and Coptic, Hebrew and Aramaic, the exhausting study of ancient fragments of text against the background of an intimate knowledge of religious history, can be represented as a spiritual as well as an intellectual exercise.
Well of course it can.
From the perspective of ancient Jewish studies, one of the interesting things about the Gospel of Thomas is that its doctrine of Jesus doesn't include a "Christology." Jesus is never called Christ/messiah/anointed and the title "Son of Man" isn't applied to him either. He seems, rather, to be identified with the Divine Wisdom. These and other issues are discussed in detail in Stevan R. Davies's vast Gospel of Thomas website. Note in particular the full text of his book The Gospel of Thomas and Christian Wisdom.
Monday, June 16, 2003
Montreal museum to exhibit pieces of never-displayed Dead Sea Scrolls
(Buffalo News via Archaeologica News)
By INGRID PERITZ
Toronto Globe and Mail
MONTREAL - With its tattered and darkened edges, the animal skin covered in indecipherable writing hardly looks like one of the most spectacular archaeological discoveries of modern times.
Yet museum workers donned white gloves and spoke in reverential tones last week as they unveiled the centerpiece of an exhibit that opens in Montreal this week: pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Offering a brief glimpse, officials from Montreal's Pointe-a-Calliere museum and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem literally lifted the lid on a section of the Isaiah scroll, one of the original seven scrolls discovered in a cave near the Dead Sea in 1947.
Deemed too fragile, it has never before been exhibited anywhere, including Israel. "It's one of the most important" of the Dead Sea Scrolls, said Michal Dayagi-Mendels, senior curator of archaeology of the Israel Museum.
It appears that three more of the original seven scrolls from Cave One are on display as well, but the article doesn't say which three.
UPDATE: Carla Sulzbach (McGill University) writes:
In reference to your posting on the DSS exhibit in Montreal I would like to add to following, from the press release of the museum:
"The portions of three scrolls that will be presented in Canada come from the first group of scrolls discovered in 1947. They are among the most symbolic manuscripts in this incomparable collection: the War of the Sons of Light with the Sons of Darkness (War Scroll), the Community Rule and Isaiah B. This is the first time that the War Scroll and the Isaiah scroll will leave Israel. The Community Rule scroll has not left Israel since 1954, when it was purchased from an American collector."
Also on display are the presumably First Temple [inscribed ivory] pomegranate as well as the Tel Dan stele. The exhibit runs from June 17 to Nov 2, 2003 after which it will move to Ottawa.
For more info please go to the museum's website and follow the links.
josephus.yorku.ca (Professor Steve Mason, York University)
Current information on scholarly projects and series on Josephus and on online materials, including the searchable Josephus bibliography at Muenster.
Flavius Josephus Home Page
A page by "independent scholar" G. J. Goldberg (Ph.D. in Physics, autodidact in Greek and Josephus). I haven't had the chance to go through the site carefully, but it seems to have a lot of interesting material.
Gibson slams anti-Semitic claims (NEWS.com.au)
From correspondents in Los Angeles
June 14, 2003
HOLLYWOOD star and filmmaker Mel Gibson has hit out for the first time at claims that either he or his controversial new film about the death of Christ was anti-Semitic or anti-Catholic.
The comments, in an exclusive statement to entertainment industry bible Daily Variety today, mark the first time that the star, a strict Catholic, has spoken out about the furore.
"To be certain, neither I nor my film is anti-Semitic," Gibson said following an outcry sparked by fears that the movie - The Passion - which is still in production, might portray both Jews and Catholics in a negative life.
"If the intense scrutiny during my 25 years in public life revealed I had ever persecuted or discriminated against anyone based on race or creed, I would be all too willing to make amends. But there is no such record.
"Nor do I hate anybody - certainly not the Jews," Gibson wrote, adding that many of his friends and business associates were Jewish.
"Anti-Semitism is not only contrary to my personal beliefs, it is also contrary to the core message of my movie," he said.
The statement came after the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which with the Jewish Anti-Defamation League had also criticised the movie after obtaining a copy of the script, apologised for its stance.
"The Passion is a movie meant to inspire not offend," Gibson said of the film that portrays the last hours in the life of Christ and parts of which are played in the ancient tongues of Latin and Aramaic.
The controversy continues. I'm baffled, by the way, about how the film could portray Catholics in any sort of light. Personally, I'm going wait to decide what I think of the movie until after I've seen it.
Sunday, June 15, 2003
The Quartz Hill School of Theology offers a group of short online courses (optionally for credit - $50 a pop). The following by Dr. Jim West (well know from the Ioudaios-L discussion list) are of interest:
B243 Old Testament Pseudepigrapha
Mostly involves assignments from Charlesworth
B451 Introduction to the Dead Sea Scrolls
Includes lecture material, some scroll photos, and essay questions.
B461 Apocalyptic Literature
Includes brief lectures on OT, noncanonical, and NT apocalyptic texts.