Thursday, August 07, 2003


Carla Sulzbach e-mails the following:

I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the Faculty of Religious Studies of McGill University is organizing an International Conference from September 15th to 19th 2003 with the title "The Changing Face of Judaism, Christianity and Other Greco-Roman Religions in Antiquity". The info below is from the "call for papers" which, of course is closed now. The conference schedule may be found at

Description of the Conference

The conference on "The Changing Face of Judaism, Christianity and Other Greco-Roman Religions" has three main objectives: first, it seeks to advance research materially by coordinating and comparing recent perspectives on the often separated sub-fields of pre-Rabbinic Judaism, early Christianity, Gnosticism and other Greco-Roman religions. Second, the conference is intended to foster emerging research partnerships between McGill's Faculty of Religious Studies and two key Religious Studies centres in Germany as well as among research universities in Montreal. Finally, we hope the conference will engage and stimulate research interests in Canada which have been moving toward a broader and more interdisciplinary approach to the religious world of Mediterranean antiquity (e.g., in the Religious Rivalries Seminar of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies)

In recent decades, Greco-Roman Judaism has become a major field of interest linking Biblical Studies, Religious Studies and Jewish Studies. The whole corpus of writings found in Qumran and elsewhere in the Judean Desert has finally been published, while new critical studies and translations have made other non-canonical writings of ancient Judaism (the so called Pseudepigrapha) newly accessible to wider scholarly study. The corpus of Gnostic literature found in Nag Hammadi has similarily challenged our understanding of the relations among Judaism, early Christianity, Gnosticism and their wider religious environment.

These texts and the new methods applied to their study have forced scholars to re-think well-established and widely accepted historical and religious constructions in the areas of Biblical Studies (Hebrew Bible and New Testament), Religious Studies (the interaction between Ancient Judaism, Early Christianity and the Greco-Roman religions) and Jewish Studies (the continuity and discontinuity between Ancient Israel, Post-Exilic Judaism and Rabbinic Judaism).

At the same time scholars interested in the religious diversity and complexity of the Roman Empire have also absorbed the influence of new methods (e.g., ritual studies) for studying practices, sources, periods and regions often neglected in Classics.

This not only has resulted in a growing number of publications with an interdisciplinary character, but also in new approaches to Jewish-Christian and interreligious dialogues and concepts of religious pluralism. Thus, not only the face of the various religious traditions of the Greco-Roman period, but even the ways in which the members of present-day religions are looking at themselves are changing.

The planned conference, which is scheduled to take place from September 15th to 19th 2003 and will be hosted by the Faculty of Religious Studies, will therefore seek to cover and link the following fields: 1) Hellenistic Judaism and Greco-Roman Culture 2) Sectarian and Non-Sectarian Writings from Qumran, 3) The Canons of the Hebrew Bible, Septuagint and New Testament, 4) Interactions between Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, and 5) Jewish and Christian Traditions in the context of Greco-Roman religions.

International scholars will be invited to present papers on the basis of their merits in the sub-fields of Ancient Judaism/Early Christianity/Greco-Roman Religions. A call for short papers will be sent to all members of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies (as far as they do not belong to the invited speakers) as well as to all colleagues and graduate students from Montreal universities. Papers will be selected not only for general merit, but also especially for their light on the interrelations among the sub-fields named above. A representative selection of papers will be published in a congress volume.

An important motive for the Montreal meeting is the realization of hopes for closer research relationships in the study of ancient religions among McGill, Erfurt and T�bingen, a nexus into which we would also like to invite local colleagues from the Universit� de Montr�al and Concordia University.

LINDA CHAVEZ saw the rough cut of The Passion and liked it (CNSNews via Bible and Interpretation News). But was it really quite necessary to put St. Veronica in the movie? And the bit about Caiaphas urging Pilate to crucify Jesus is not in the Gospels and doesn't sound good.

Archaeology turns to superconductivity (PhysicsWeb)
6 August 2003

Researchers from Israel have developed a new way to date archaeological objects that is based on superconductivity. The new technique relies on measuring the magnetic signal from lead - which was widely used in antiquity - in samples that have been cooled to cryogenic temperatures. The method could be used to date pipes, coins, bottles and other objects (S Reich et al. 2003 New J. Phys 5 99)


The tests were done on samples from Tel Dor, Israel, which had previously been dated by other means to dates ranging from the Persian Period to the time of the Crusaders.
TODAY IS THE NINTH OF AV, the traditional anniversary of the destruction of both temples, the fall of Betar during the Bar Kokhba revolt, and other disastrous days in Jewish history. It's the culmination of three weeks of annual mourning of these events.

Here are some randomly gathered links of relevance. The Orthodox Union website has more information on the holiday. Here's an article on it in Greenwich Time. This is a Biblical Archaeology Review article by Hanan Eshel on the archaeology of the Bar Kokhba revolt. Meredith Scheck has some very modern meditations on the nine days of mourning in her new blog ReJew. And, via Protocols (which also has been commenting off-and-on on the Ninth of Av and the preceding days of mourning - keep scrolling up to today), here's a live webcast for Tisha B'Av, again from the Orthodox Union, and an audio address from the Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. The former also includes a link to a PDF file of Talmudic material on the fall of the Second Temple.

A healthy fast to my Jewish readers.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

MICHAEL MEDVED has seen the rough cut of The Passion and was answering questions about it online. Lots of them. There's a transcript in the Washington Post.

The opening: Michael Medved, welcome to You have seen this unfinished movie. First off, how is it as a film? Is it well-done, believable? Second, the controversy. Can you explain what that is all about?

Michael Medved: Yes, I have seen the movie. As a work of film it's remarkable, though flawed. Most Biblical movies are laughable -- reminiscent of "The Life of Brian" -- but "The Passion" is intense, persuasive, believable. The use of Aramaic and Latin (with subtitles) helps avoid goofy dialogue (remember, "Oh Moses, Moses, you adorable fool Moses!" in "The Ten Commandments."
The controversy, meanwhile, centers on charges from people who have never seen any version of the film that it is anti-Semitic. Those charges are unfair and inappropriate, in my opinion.

Then there's this:

New York, N.Y.: Has there been any word from scholars on how well the Aramaic language is presented? If this film appeals to every one on Earth who speaks the language, it will still need a few more viewers to break even. It is interesting, though, that the film attempts to capture the original language. Did you find this brought anything to the movie that the audience could appreciate, or is it just something of interest to note?

Michael Medved: I study in Aramaic several times a week, of course, because that is the language of the Talmud and of many prayers in the traditional Jewish liturgy. The pronunciation of Aramaic in the film is wildly uneven. Some of the actors seem to speak the language with authority, others seem to struggle with it and to garble the words. A few dozen movie goers may notice this but I'll plead guilty to being one of them.

UPDATE (7 August): The last quote is making some Christians feel guilty about their poor Hebrew and Aramaic skills. Good. Anything that motivates people to work harder at their Hebrew and Aramaic is all right in my book.

The Internet Sacred Texts Archive has two collections of Enochic material: Enochian Magic Archives and The Calls of Enoch by Benjamin Rowe. There is also The Enochian Web Ring which has many links to such things. Enoch lives!

WARNING: this is modern occult material, not ancient Enochic traditions. I've spot-checked some of it but by no means all. Some people will think it's interesting but others may be disturbed by it. If you are one of the latter, don't go there.
"GROUP WANTS TO LAY TEMPLE CORNERSTONE" (Ha'aretz, via Bible and Interpretation News).

The Temple Mount Faithful, led by Gershon Salomon, has asked the police to allow the group to hold a symbolic cornerstone-laying ceremony for the rebuilding of the Temple this Thursday, Tisha B'Av, the day of mourning for the destruction of the First and Second Temples.


The police have turned them down.

Fountain, A. Kay
Literary and Empirical Readings of the Books of Esther

Wesselius, Jam-Wim
The Origin of the History of Israel: Herodotus' Histories as Blueprint for
the First Books of the Bible

(That's what the RBL web page and the review say, but the author's name is actually "Jan-Wim.")

Jones, F. Stanley
Which Mary?: The Marys of Early Christian Tradition

The last one is especially timely.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

MORE ON MEL AND THE PASSION: I had noticed this New York Times article, "Mel Gibson's Martyrdom Complex," a couple of days ago but never got around to posting it. I was reminded today when I looked at Mystical Politics. Frank Rich does not like Mr. Gibson or his movie and some of his quotes, if they are accurate and in context, do sound pretty unsavory. I still think that the nature of Hollywood movies is to be inaccurate and irresponsible and am keeping my expectations and view of their importance correspondingly low.

UPDATE: This article and others quote the following exchange:

Asked by Bill O'Reilly in January if his movie might upset "any Jewish people," Mr. Gibson responded: "It may. It's not meant to. I think it's meant to just tell the truth. . . . Anybody who transgresses has to look at their own part or look at their own culpability."

As it stands, this quote makes Gibson sound as if he could be saying that the Jewish people were culpable for the death of Jesus and they need to face up to it. If so, this is scuzzy. But note those suspicious ellipses. What's been deleted from the quote and how might it change the sense? Does anyone know where the quotation came from and how it read in full? What did Mel actually say?

Also, Cal Thomas saw the rough cut of the film and liked it a lot. And - an interesting aside - it seems that it contains a "unique portrayal of the resurrection."

UPDATE: I found the full transcript [sorry, not full, but without the ellipses] of O'Reilly's interview of Gibson here The full exchange was as follows (material omitted in the ellipses above is italicized):

O'REILLY: Is it going to upset any Jewish people?

GIBSON: It may. It's not meant to.

I think it's meant to just tell the truth. I want to be as truthful as possible. But, when you look at the reasons behind why Christ came, why he was crucified, he died for all mankind and he suffered for all mankind, so that, really, anybody who transgresses has to look at their own part or look at their own culpability.

As I suspected, Gibson was saying that according to Christian theology Jesus suffered and died for everyone and so therefore everyone is responsible in some sense for his death and needs to look at their own failings as a result. Even if you find this theological notion distasteful, it's right there in the center of Christianity and it was fair game for Mel to use it. By deleting the italicized material, those who have used the quotation have left the reader with the impression that Gibson was talking in particular about Jews and thus making an anti-Semitic remark. He wasn't doing either. This is another case of "Dowdification." I don't know who doctored the quote in the first place, but it took me about five minutes of research to find the full version. The abbreviated version appeared in the New York Times (above), the Guardian, the Sydney Morning Herald and the International Herald Tribune. Who knows where it's going to spread from there? Are these major newspapers really all so sloppy that no one in any of them bothered to check the original quotation? I think Frank Rich and quite a few other people owe Mel Gibson an apology.

Which is not to say that my view of Hollywood movies, including this one, has changed any. Unfortunately, the press frequently does no better.

UPDATE: Note also that O'Reilly's question is a follow-up to this immediately preceding exchange, which further nuances what Mel said above: he was talking about people in general, not just Jews. Read the whole transcript!

O'REILLY: Is it going to upset some people to see the person they believe is God brutalized in this manner?

GIBSON: Well, I think anybody that is in the know about Jesus as God and they believe in that realize that he was brutalized and that I'm exploring it this way, I think, to show the extent of the sacrifice willingly taken. I think it's going to be hard to take, but I don't necessarily know that people are going to be upset by it.

UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers. For more information about this blog, have a look at the "About" link to the right. If you are interested in ancient history, please do visit again.

UPDATE (6 August): Protocols notes that Bill O'Reilly trashes Rich's essay without even noticing the dowdified quote from his own interview! Also, I should point out that O'Reilly misspells Barbara Theiring's name. Her theories are very idiosyncratic and are not accepted by any other Dead Sea Scrolls scholar I know (and there aren't many I don't know), but if you want to find out about them you'll have to enter the correct spelling of her name in his search link. These media guys are careless.

UPDATE (6 August): In his blog Along the Tracks, Paul A. Miller pointed out Rich's misuse of the Gibson quotation a day before I did.
REMINDER TO ANYONE WHO HAS RECENTLY COMPLETED A HIGHER DEGREE IN SOMETHING TO DO WITH ANCIENT JUDAISM: I am willing to post abstracts of recently completed (fully completed, accepted, and passed, not just submitted) doctoral or master's-level dissertations. If you've finished one, please send me (by e-mail to the address above) an abstract and, if you have it, a link to any additional information on the Web. If you have ordering information (e.g., a UMI order number), give me that as well. If I think it's relevant to this blog's focus, I'll post it here. Feel free to pass this information on to anyone you know who might be interested.
DESPITE JORDAN'S RICH BIBLICAL HISTORY, its foreign tourism has dropped enormously in recent years.

Monday, August 04, 2003

THE PROCEEDINGS OF THE SECOND ENOCH SEMINAR (VENICE) WILL BE PUBLISHED UNABRIDGED ON THE WEB. This according to an e-mail from Seminar organizer Professor Gabriele Boccaccini. Excellent!
WAS JESUS MARRIED TO MARY MAGDALENE? The bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown, has been getting some press lately for having this as part of the plot line. It does play off a real mystery in the Jesus tradition: Jewish men normally got married. It was considered a duty by the rabbis and celibacy (apart from temporary periods of celibacy by priests when they served in the Temple) was quite unusual. Philo, Josephus, and Pliny tell us that at least one faction of the Essenes were celibate men. (If the Dead Sea Scrolls were collected by Essenes, as I think they probably were, it is interesting to note that none of the texts ever refer explicitly to celibacy. It is possible to take the Community Rule as the constitution of a celibate group living at Qumran, although I don't find this interpretation persuasive myself. And one passage in the Damascus Document (CD VII.4b-7) could be read as referring to a celibate group, but it need not. The archaeology of the site of Qumran seems to be fairly consistent with the possibility of a quasi-monastic group living there, but it isn't by any means necessary to interpret it that way.) And Philo also tells about a celibate Jewish community (male and female) in Egypt called the Therapeutae.

So Jesus' marital status is a mystery. We would expect, a priori, that he would have been married, but the tradition tells us nothing about his wife, if he had one, and I can think of no good reason the Gospel writers would have wanted to hide the fact if he was married. But it would have been unusual, although not unprecedented for a Jewish man of that period to be celibate. Like the Essenes, he may have renounced marriage for the sake of his ministry. Most people assume that this is the case.

Judging by its sales records, The Da Vinci Code is probably a good read, although I doubt I'll get around to it myself. I have too many science fiction novels heaped up at home crying for attention. But I wish the author weren't so confident that it is actually true that Jesus was married to Mary. You can read the arguments for this in the linked review. I'm not impressed by them. If Jesus was married, I suppose Mary Magdelene is a possible candidate for his wife. But nothing in the traditions we have says anything about his being married, even though his family is mentioned a number of times. Like so much about Jesus, we just don't know.

I'm not an expert on the area of women in the Gospels, and these are just my extemporaneous musings. (Come to think of it, most of what I say here is extemporaneous musing. I blog, you decide.) If you want to read the latest serious scholarship on Mary Magdelene and other women in the Gospels, see Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels by my colleague Professor Richard Bauckham.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

MORE ON ODED GOLAN. Excerpts from an article, with my commentary interspersed.

Relic's owner under cloud of suspicion (Boston Globe, sent by Stephen Goranson)

By Dan Ephron, Globe Correspondent, 8/3/2003

JERUSALEM -- Oded Golan shunned publicity when a 2,000-year-old artifact he owns was made public last year and dubbed one of the most striking archeological finds of the 20th century.

In fact, for a short time, the Israeli antiquities collector managed to keep his name out of the many newspapers and journals that wrote about the relic -- a burial box with an inscription indicating it once contained the remains of Jesus' brother, James. But nearly a year later, Golan is being investigated, not only on suspicion of forging the inscription, but also for allegedly counterfeiting a series of other artifacts that fetched hundreds of thousands of dollars on an antiquities black market.

Police allege he did it not just for the money, but for public exposure.

''He has aspirations in the field of archeology and maybe even religion. He wants to make a name for himself,'' said Yoni Pagis, the Israeli police officer leading the investigation.

The 52-year-old collector has not been indicted and denies any wrongdoing. And although a team of specialists assembled by the Israel Antiquities Authority ruled last month that the ''James ossuary'' inscription is a forgery, many distinguished archeologists and experts still believe it is genuine.

One of them, Gabriel Barkay of Hebrew University, said at a panel discussion last week that all great archeological finds are disputed for a time, and that questions about their authenticity are resolved only through the scholarly discourse in scientific journals.

I made the same point the other day.

He says he bought the ossuary with the James inscription in the early 1970s from a Palestinian dealer in the Old City for a few hundred dollars. Police believe Golan acquired the ossuary more recently and is lying about its origins.

As I mentioned the week before last, Shimon Gibson thinks it was looted from the "shroud tomb" in 1998. (This is not to say that he made any accusation about who took it. The tomb was looted, but we don't know by whom.)

Pagis, who dabbles in archeology, says his team confiscated tools from Golan's warehouses that could be used to create forgeries, along with relics he described as sophisticated counterfeits. Another official involved in the investigation said other burial boxes were discovered in Golan's collection with sham inscriptions.

Now that is the most interesting paragraph in the whole article. More details, photographs, etc., please!

But in an interview screened alongside the documentary this week, the director of the Geological Survey, Amos Bein, said the chemical tests did not necessarily prove the ossuary was a fake, because even something as simple as a rigorous cleaning of the box over the years could have skewed the results.

''I don't think these things should be decided on by a committee,'' said Barkay, who took part in the panel discussion after the film. ''In due time, people come to the proper conclusions and they are convinced either by one side or another in the debate.''

In due time. This is a good point that we all need to keep in mind.
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC JOINS THE LARA CROFT DISSING-FEST. Poor Lara: not only is her archaeology all wrong, her technology is out of date. This article has lots of interesting information on the latest archaeological hi-tech. (Via Archaeologica News).
MORE ON THE ZACHARIAH INSCRIPTION AT ABSALOM'S TOMB (Ha'aretz, via Bible and Intepretation News). In this long article, Joe Zias tells about the two years of work it took to get adequate photographs of the inscription, about his work on the DNA of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and about 9000-year-old lice found on ancient combs in caves. Emile Puech tells about the inscription's decipherment. There's also information about research on the tomb itself. Plus much more. I won't excerpt anything, because you should read it all.
WAQF MAY REOPEN TEMPLE MOUNT TO ALL VISITORS (Jerusalem Post; requires free registration; via Bible and Interpretation News).

Wakf to deliberate reopening of Temple Mount to non-Muslims

The director of the Wakf said Thursday that members of the Islamic Trust will meet next week to deliberate the possibility of completely reopening Temple Mount to visitors in the near future for the first time in nearly three years.

"A new evaluation to the situation will be made very soon," Wakf Director Adnan Husseini said in a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post Thursday. His comments came just a day after Jerusalem police suspended the limited visits of non-Muslims to the site, just weeks after it was reopened to Jewish and Christian visitors. Police said Wednesday that the decision to again close off Judaism's holiest site to non-Muslims was made for "operational reasons," and declined to say when the visits would be renewed.


Saturday, August 02, 2003

"ANCIENT ART AT MET RAISES OLD ETHICAL QUESTIONS" (New York Times). Should scholars use and publish or ignore and boycott unprovenanced ancient artifacts obtained from antiquities dealers and collectors? A very controversial topic among specialists. Via David Nishimura at Cronaca, who also cites my earlier post on problems with unprovenanced inscriptions (but note my comments to his post).
THE TOP TEN BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGICAL DISCOVERIES, as ranked by New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan and archaeologist Jonathan Reed, are given in this Washington Post article (requires free registration). It has a heavy bias toward discoveries that illuminate the New Testament: Qumran, with Madasa, only comes in at number 8 and there is no mention at all of the Ugaritic texts or the Iron Age epigraphic finds. I wonder if the book this comes from didn't make clear that this was about New Testament-related finds and this article missed that point. The "James Ossuary" comes in at number one, which, despite the rationale given, seems to me to be overdoing it. Even if it turned out to be genuine it wouldn't tell us much new. The Dead Sea Scrolls (which I would rank as number one) and the Ugaritic texts (which I would rank as second) both give us vastly more new information. And the major excavations, such as Caesarea and Jerusalem (number 6) and Sepphoris and Tiberias (number 7) add much more cumulative data too.

Friday, August 01, 2003

ANOTHER ACCOUNT OF THE PREMIER OF THE "JAMES, BROTHER OF JESUS" DOCUMENTARY appears in the Jerusalem Post (requires free registration; via Bible and Interpretation News). There was a panel of experts, Oded Golan was present, and questions were taken from the audience. I always try to be wary of press reports, but if this version is accurate, the authenticity of the "James Ossuary" is still up in the air. Ultimately, this is going to be decided, if at all, in the realm of scholarly journals and monographs, and it's likely to take time.

My favorite quotation:

However, as one audience member was overheard commenting regretfully to his companion, "Too bad it was a fake. Just think how many millions of Christian tourists would start visiting the Israel Museum were it real."

Yes, quite.
THE TEMPLE MOUNT has again been closed to non-Muslim visitors.
THE JEWISH MUSEUM IN NEW YORK HAS REDESIGNED ITS WEBSITE. Note in particular its antiquities collection and its numismatics collection, both of which have items of paleojudaic interest. (If when you click on the individual items you get a larger photograph but black background with no text, try selecting the black area to the right; that made the text visible for me.) There is also a profile of their children's exhibition "Camels and Caravans: Daily Life in Ancient Israel" (Grades K - 3) which tells about life in first-century C.E. Jerusalem and which includes lesson plans with more photos of ancient artifacts.

The new website is profiled in detail by the Art Museum Network News.