Saturday, July 26, 2003


Forgery mystery creates a Pandora's Box (The Globe and Mail, Canada)


The dispute [over the authenticity of the "James Ossuary"] has already besmirched the reputation of [Oded] Golan, the ossuary's owner. Yesterday, the middle-aged Israeli entrepreneur, an important collector of biblical artifacts, was released from an Israeli jail, where he had been questioned for five days on suspicion of forgery. No charges were laid.

Police officials said they had found the ossuary, said to be worth as much as $2-million (U.S.), sitting on a toilet in a shed on the roof of Golan's modest Tel Aviv apartment. They also claimed to have found forging tools on the premises and several semi-completed forgeries.

"I do not know whether Oded Golan is a forger," said Hershel Shanks, editor of the Biblical Archaeology Review and a champion of the ossuary's legitimacy. "What I do know is that the police, pressured by the IAA, have been sweating him to confess.'' Golan's release is unlikely to end the controversy.

His detention followed a report earlier this month by the IAA concluding that both the ossuary, and another controversial relic to which Golan has a middleman connection -- the so-called Yoash tablet, dating from the ninth century BC -- are frauds.

The IAA report was signed by 14 prominent Israeli academics. One has since defected, saying the oxygen isotope test on which the IAA based its conclusion was flawed. Even more problematically, Amos Bein, director of the Geological Survey of Israel, which conducted the test, is now saying he's agnostic on the question of the box's legitimacy.


Another very distinguished scholar, Israeli paleographer Ada Yardeni, has also cast a vote in favour of authenticity. The problem with trying to determine whether the ossuary is real or a fabrication is that for every analysis pointing in one direction, there are counter-indications and arguments. Neither geology nor epigraphy seems capable of providing a definitive answer.


Reading the IAA report with all its appendices for the first time this week, Royal Ontario Museum archeologist Ed Keall said that, considered in isolation, some of the evidence of forgery seems persuasive.

"I am open to the idea that I have been duped by an extremely clever forger," Keall wrote in a formal response. But "there may be other explanations for the isotope readings," he added in an interview. "We really don't know the circumstances of the ossuary's life. For scientific data to be statistically valid, the physical history of the object must be the same as that of the others. And I'm very uncomfortable with the idea that the authenticity of the artifact is being determined by machines.''


Meanwhile, the debate continues. Tomorrow night in Jerusalem, voices on either side of the issue will square off in a public forum. The discussion will follow the screening of Toronto filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici's hour-long documentary on the ossuary, James, Brother of Jesus. Unless he is arrested, Oded Golan has said he will attend.

The IAA report is out? Is it available online? Anybody know?
IN RESPONSE TO MY CONFERENCE PAPER, Meredith Scheck writes in the COMMENTS section at the bottom of the following Protocols post: "It�s things like this that remind me why I�ll never again live with a Bible critic."

Don't flatter yourself, Meredith.

UPDATE: Sorry about that one. Full apology here.
"THE JAMES OSSUARY YET AGAIN" (Bible and Interpretation News)

Eric Meyers told us so! Excerpt:

What I would like to reiterate once again, as I did in my Toronto presentation, when a supposedly important artifact comes to light in an unusual way and its provenance is unknown or its owner refuses to share information about it, scholars, journalists, religious leaders, and publishers should be wary. Scientific confirmation should proceed in an unbiased and unfettered way and the host country from whence the artifact derives should be fully involved from the outset. A report should be commissioned by the Antiquities Authority as it ultimately was in Israel, and their findings should now be respected and not attacked.

Nevertheless, "Jesus ossuary' promoters unfazed by forgery arrest" (Jerusalem Post). Also, according to this article an "an elaborate archeological forgery lab" was discovered in Golan's home.

Jewish Yad Avshalom revealed as a Christian shrine from Byzantine era (Ha'aretz via Archaeologica News)
By Amiram Barkat

The historic Yad Avshalom monument in Jerusalem's Kidron Valley, revered for centuries as a Jewish shrine, was also a Christian holy place in the fourth century, new evidence has revealed.

A fourth-century inscription on one of the walls near the monument, recently uncovered by chance, marks the site as the burial place of the Temple priest Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist who baptized Jesus.

Scholars believe the monument was built in the first century, making it possible that figures holy to Christians could be buried there. According to Jewish belief, Yad Avshalom was named for Absalom, the son of King David, since Samuel II relates that Absalom built a memorial in "the valley of the king" which lies below the Temple Mount. Absalom died more than 1,000 years earlier.


According to Hebrew University expert Prof. Gideon Foerster, the inscription tallies with a sixth century Christian text that says Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, was buried with Simon the Elder and James, the brother of Jesus. Foerster believes the document and inscription are historically authentic.


Friday, July 25, 2003


There's a new exhibit of Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient biblical manuscripts in Fort Worth and then Dallas:

"From the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Forbidden Book."

Good night.
G-MEGILLOT is a new scholarly discussion list on the Dead Sea Scrolls. For more information, follow the link. (Via Jim West on Ioudaios-L.)
MANUSCRIPTS, MANUSCRIPTS, MANUSCRIPTS! Yesterday evening, Dirk Jongkind, a Cambridge doctoral student (who, bless his heart, gave me coffee in the Divinity Faculty building this morning) gave a paper on his research on the physical features of the Codex Sinaiticus (see online abstracts). Fun fact I learned: 1-4 Maccabees were already labeled numerically as such in this period (4th century-ish) and 1 and 4 Maccabees appear in Sinaiticus labeled as such. His project is good news, because this sort of thing desperately needs to be done.

This morning John W. Welch gave a paper on "The Use of Multispectral Imaging in Working with New Testament Manuscripts." He started out with a Qumran Scroll (4QGenb) which is so blackened that it is almost totally illegible to the naked eye and on a normal photograph, but which can be read easily from an infra-red photo. As it happens, I published that manuscript and worked closely with the original in the Rockefeller Museum. For some of the other Genesis/Exodus scrolls I published, it was helpful to see the original in person and I was even able to establish one or two important readings from a naked-eye examination. But not for 4QGenb: most of it is unreadable and the infra-red photograph is effectively the primary evidence for its text. In my popular lectures on the Scrolls I use slides of it to illustrate the same point made in Professor Welch's lecture.

Professor Welch's project also is working with the carbonized manuscripts of the Petra Papyri and the Herculaneum library, and other texts as well. They are able to make the invisible text on many of these blackened manuscripts stand out so that it is easily readable on their photographs.

In the discussion someone asked if we even need the manuscripts any more after this sort of imaging has been done to them. Everyone agreed that we do, if only for their sentimental value! I think a more important reason, which didn't come up in the discussion, is that we need the manuscripts because new technologies (e.g., the burgeoning field of molecular technology) will allow us to extract new information from them which we can't even imagine now.

Professor Welch also commented to me afterwards that DNA analysis has established that the parchment of the Dead Sea Scrolls were mostly made from the hide of ibexes, which I hadn't know before.

Excellent conference.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

OKAY, I LIED. BLogging has not been "very light." But I'm in a hurry tonight: I need to get across town to hear a lecture on the sociology of scribal practices in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Go to the Geniza Online Database to see images of the Damascus Document ("Zadokite Fragments") and a Ben Sira fragment. I got to see them both in person today, along with the other CD manuscript and the Nash Papyrus. Made me feel like I should take my shoes off or something. Also some cool medieval things such as a letter in Maimonides's own handwriting. This online database has images of 500 manuscripts from the Cambridge Geniza collection. Pretty good: only 139,500 to go.

[There was a typo in the last number, which I have corrected.]

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

ODED GOLAN HAS BEEN ARRESTED. Details here. Gotta run to the next paper.
I REALLY WISH I COULD BLOG AT LENGTH on all the papers I've heard at this conference. But time and energy limits are forcing me to focus my comments on the papers I find most interesting and stimulating. I can't mention every paper I've heard and I can't comment fully on most of them, but I've heard a great many worthwhile ones and I've had to miss a number I really wanted to hear. Thanks, everyone, for all your work, and thanks especially to those who have given me permission to quote from and interact with their papers.

Some highlights from today:

Shimon Gibson spoke on "A First-Century Burial Shroud at Akeldama in Jerusalem, the Turin Shroud, and the So-Called 'James Ossuary.'" (See abstract at SBL site - see Saturday's last post for a link.) Read the abstract, but note the following additional items. Gibson reports that he has reason to believe that the "James Ossuary" was looted from this tomb in 1998. (Incidentally, I hear from more than one source that Mr. Golan, the owner, has been arrested.) He also reports that the shroud is quite different from the Shroud of Turin, but matches the description of Jesus' shroud in one of the Gospels (John, I think).

Deborah Cantrell spoke on "Ritualistic Aspects of Horses and Chariots in the Jerusalem Temple: Akitu Festival?" Again, read the online abstract. I'll just add that she referred to the many small clay horse figurines discovered in Jerusalem and other Iron-Age Israelite cities, always broken, evidently deliberately, which she thinks may have had a ritual use. I found one of these figurines at Tel Dor in around 1984 when I was a lowly assistant there.

Two papers today deal with matters related to mine. Albert Hogeterp (who was also at the St. Andrews conference a couple of weeks ago) presented on "Paul and Palestinian Jewish Culture: Semiticisms in Paul's Letters and in Greek Texts from the Judaean Desert," (no abstract, at least in the paper program book) and we had an interesting conversation on how many of his semitisms may actually be septuagintalisms. A nice tie-in with my paper. Tonight, Laurens Geeraert presents on"Semitisms in the New Testament: A Problematic Research Topic." (See online abstract.) Yep, it is. We've alread started talking.

I presented my paper this morning and got some very useful feedback and bibliography. I was asked to comment on what I mean by the "LXX," a term that tends to fall apart as soon as you poke it. Explaining what is meant by interference by THE "LXX" is not as easy to do as it might seem at first. A listener suggested that I should refer to "sub-bilingual interference" rather than "bilingual interference," since a truly bilingual writer would not show interference in his or her writings. Fair point, although another participant thought that in recent work "bilingual" could be used for a sliding scale of competency. It was pointed out that interference from the LXX could come not only in the author's work, but also in the scribal tradition: scribes could - deliberately or unconsciously - correct the language of the texts they copied toward the Greek of the LXX. Also, finding the right Semitic dialect to retrovert is not only a matter of finding the dialect of the right period, because synchronic dialect variation existed too (Qumran Hebrew, proto-Mishnaic Hebrew, Galilean Aramaic, etc.)

Tomorrow, along with more papers, is a tour of the Geniza Exhibit of the Taylor-Schechter Unit. See the Unit's web page in the links section to the right.

Incidentally, thanks to those who have e-mailed me with more information on matters I raised in the conference posts of the last few days. I will try to digest these and update the entries accordingly after I get home.

Also, a small suggestion to the conference organizers. You guys are doing a great job and we do appreciate your hard work. It has been very helpful to have a plentiful supply of water in the reception area. But having a supply of coffee there too next year would be excellent. We have to walk 20 minutes into town to find any.

Blogger already gobbled up this message once and I had to reconstruct it. So I'd better post it fast.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

THE KARAITES ARE ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN LITHUANIA. At least a few of them, according to this article (Radio Free Europe - Czech Republic). They have their own Turkic language called Karaim.
HAPPY NEW YEAR TO THE SABAEAN MANDEANS. But they have a long and rocky road ahead of them in postwar Iraq.

UPDATE: Uday and Qusay are dead. A good omen for the day.
AT 12:48 A.M. LAST NIGHT the fire alarm went off in my hotel. I got up, threw on some clothes, grabbed my wallet and brief case, and got out in a few minutes. It took ten or fifteen minutes to get the all clear from the fire service and they said it was a false alarm, even though I and others smelled smoke in the lobby. Maybe some one on the night staff burned their toast.

Anyhow, I went to the Judaica session last night and heard two papers on a project collecting the poetic fragments in the Talmud. I look forward to the book. Today I've been running from room to room, Hermione-like, trying to be two places at once. (Okay, I skipped half the morning for a gym session, but after that, I mean.) I heard some good papers on the Syriac lexicography project. Peter Williams presented on elements in the Greek New Testament that don't match well in the Syriac translation, pointing to some phenomena that I''m also going to mention in my paper tomorrow when talking about the Septuagint translation.

James K. Aitken gave a paper on his way cool Database of Septuagint Greek, which you can look at yourself.

Today's Apocrypha session dealt with "Gnosticism." I heard Tuomas Rasimus speak on "Who Founded Gnosticism" and Ky-Chun So speak on "Jewish Influences on Gnosticisim in the Apocalypse of Adam." The abstracts are online at the SBL site (see Saturday's post for the link - I don't have the time to put links in now). Rasimus passed out a detailed handout and So gave us his whole paper. I have both in front of me and, herewith, some friendly, polemical comments that I also made, more or less, in the session.

1. The Nag Hammadi texts (and all Gnostic texts) were transmitted by Christians in the form we have them. The burden of proof lies on anyone who wishes to assert that we need to move backwards to a pre-Christian (in these cases, Jewish) origin for any of the documents. Bob Kraft has made this point in his paper "The Pseudepigrapha in Christianity," and I have developed it further in my online essay "Jewish Pseudepigrapha and Christian Apocrypha: (How) Can We Tell Them Apart?." The latter is an early draft of a chapter of the book I'm writing on Christian transmission of Jewish Pseudepigrapha. You can find both by going to the links section to the right, clicking on the "Courses Online" link, then clicking on the link to my Old Testament Pseudepigrapha site. Again, I don't have time to put in the links myself right now.

2. "Heresy" in ancient Judaism, insofar as we can use the term at all, revolved around disagreements about ritual praxis rather than about beliefs or theology. By and large, ancient Jews argued about praxis, not beliefs.

3. The biblical demiurge myth has profound implications for Jewish ethnic/national identity issues and issue of halakhah, Torah observance, and ritual purity and praxis. These issues are entirely ignored, not only in the Apocalypse of Adam, but in the corpus of Gnostic texts as a whole. This is a very serious problem for anyone who wishes to assert a Jewish origin for Gnosticism.

4. The ApocAdam has elements that can be read most naturally as Christian: a suffering redeemer, baptism, and even (if memory serves - I don't have the text in front of me) a play on the name "Jesus of Nazareth" near the end: Yesseus Nazareus or Mazareus or the like. It is possible to find ways to read these in ways not involving Christianity, but this is specious and unnecessary. The ApocAdam makes perfectly good sense as a document by Christians who believed in the biblical demiurgic myth.

5. The paper on ApocAdam cited no Jewish primary sources to support its assertion that the ApocAdam used Jewish sources that could not have been available to Chrisitians. Even if it could be shown that the work uses Jewish midrashic or apocalyptic sources, as it may well have, this proves nothing unless it addresses Jewish issues (such as ethnic identity or halakhah) which were mostly not of interest to Christians.

6. The argument appears to be that Jewish apocalyptic exegetical techniques could only have been used by Jews, since only Jews knew them. But the Jewish apocalypses that have come down to us were transmitted by Christians, not Jews.

7. I believe it was Jack Neusner who said "What we cannot show, we do not know." It applies here. The case for Jewish origins of Gnosticism has not been made and I myself doubt that it can be, given the evidence we have available at present.

I let Dr. So know that I would be blogging on this and I will e-mail him and Dr. Rasimus and invite them to send me any comments in response which they wish me to post.

I spent 45 minutes waiting in line to get to this computer and I don't intend to do that again. More blogging in Cambridge (after this session) depends on a short queue in future. If not, look for me on Saturday. Again, apologies for any hasty typos and half-digested thoughts.

Monday, July 21, 2003

INDUSTRIAL ESPIONAGE MEETS THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS? Would new scanning technology for reconstructing shredded documents help us reconstruct the Dead Sea Scrolls? I don't know. Interesting question.
ARCHAEOLOGY IS GETTING MORE DANGEROUS. Religious and nationalist concerns are leading people to take it personally. The Temple Mount is a premier example. Indiana Jones, move over.
HERE I AM IN CAMBRIDGE, blogging from an Intenet Cafe. Only they don't seem to serve coffee. Yesterday in the opening session of the International SBL meeting, Steve Mason gave a stunning lecture on "Rediscovering Josephus." He decried the usual approach of using Josephus as "background" to NT or rabbinic studies without taking him first on his own terms. My favorite sound bite was when he said that scholars try to make Josephus disgorge undigested chunks of history by performing a kind of historical Heimlich maneuver on him, or words to that effect. I've been making similar points about the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha for some time (without the Heimlich maneuver), so I found his presentation especially welcome. He also doubts the widely accepted connection between Josephus' Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls. He said that Josephus speaking so positively on the Qumran group would be like President Clinton praising the Branch Davidians during his 1994 State of the Union address.

This morning I went to the session on Hebrew seal inscriptions in the Shlomo Moussaieff collection. Dr. Moussaieff (who was present) is a private collector who has made his huge collection of Hebrew and Aramaic epigraphic material freely available to scholars for study and publication. All the papers were interesting but I'll just note Robert Deutsch's, since I have his handout in front of me. He spoke on royal bullae (clay seal impressions). I won't repeat specifics, but I'm sure he won't mind if I say that he displayed and commented on numerous bullae that included names of kings and names of royal officials of various types, and that this material gives us lots of new details about the Judean royal court in the monarchical period. His paper will be published in Shlomo: Studies in Epigraphy, Iconography, History and Archaeology in Honor of Shlomo Moussaieff (Tel Aviv-Jaffa) later this year. If you're into Hebrew seals, look for it.

Please excuse typos; the conditions here are a little primitive. I'm going to poke around on the Web now to see if there's anything interesting worth noting and, if so, I'll post it. Otherwise, I'll try to blog again in the next few days, but no promises.