Saturday, February 28, 2004

SO THAT EXPLAINS Microsoft Word X for the Macintosh. Now it all makes sense.

For the pedants who are wondering what this has to do with ancient Judaism, I'm trying to write a book on the subject using this dreadful word-processing software. Version 5.1 was vastly better but now I'm committed to version X, at least for this project. I'm a tolerably geeky sort but I find this software to be incredibly cumbersome and badly designed.

Maybe I should switch to AppleWorks after this book is done. Heck, maybe I should even transfer the whole project over now. Anyone out there have any recommendations?

(Thanks to Instapundit for noting the above link to the Volokh Conspiracy.)
ARCHAEOLOGIST GABRIEL BARKAY has lectured in New Orleans on the Ketef Hinnom silver amulets:
'Silver scrolls' are oldest O.T. scripture, archaeologist says (Baptist Press News
Feb 27, 2004
By Gary D. Myers

NEW ORLEANS (BP)--While excavating a burial tomb near Jerusalem in 1979, Gabriel Barkay uncovered the oldest known copy of Old Testament scripture. The priestly blessing, recorded in Numbers 6:24-26, was discovered on two small silver scrolls dated to the 7th century B.C.

�This was a discovery of utmost importance,� said Barkay, professor of archaeology at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv. �These verses pre-date the famous Dead Sea Scrolls by approximately four centuries. They are the only biblical verses we have from the time of the First Temple [period].�


The two silver scrolls were discovered by Barkay�s team in a rock-hewn burial cave southwest of the ancient city of Jerusalem. The structure of the tomb was of interest to Barkay because it dated to the First Temple period, but it appeared that over centuries looters had taken all the artifacts. The tomb had last been used for storing Turkish army rifles during the Ottoman period.

However, Barkay and his team discovered that some artifacts had been preserved in a bone repository in the tomb. When a family member died, he or she was placed on a burial bench in the tomb along with personal items such as vases and jewelry, Barkay explained. After the dead body decayed, the bones were collected and placed in a bone repository located in a separate area of the tomb. The practice is referred to in the Old Testament as being �gathered unto his fathers.�


The larger of the two scrolls was only about three inches long when it was unrolled. The smaller one was just over two inches long. Barkay said the thin fragile silver of each scroll was etched with 19 lines of tiny, Hebrew script. It was years before researchers realized that the inscription was an almost exact representation of the priestly blessing found in Numbers. Careful study revealed that the Hebrew characters used were distinctive of the 7th century B.C.

In English the verses read: �The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.�


Barkay published a book about the find in 1986, but recent advances in computer technology have helped researchers discover additional verses on the silver scrolls. The new research technique revealed that the scroll contains other verses from the Pentateuch. Barkay has written a manuscript about these other finds and plans to publish it in the near future.


You can see a photograph of the unrolled larger amulet here.

Friday, February 27, 2004

MOSES' HORNS AGAIN. Edward Cook e-mails:
I hate to beat to death the topic of Moses' horns, but I couldn't resist sending you this quote from James Kugel's "The Bible As it Was":

[Jerome's] translation was apparently based on the apparent connection of the word "beam" with "horn" in Hebrew: not only did this make good philological sense, but horns elsewhere were sometimes an ornament in headgear and a sign of distinction. The implications of Jerome's translation were not witnessed at once, but starting in the late Middle Ages, Western sculptors and painters frequently represented Moses as having horns. (Kugel, p. 437)

My apologies if Kugel has already been cited in the discussion. He didn't seem to find anything objectionable in Moses' "horniness".

Kugel hasn't been cited. Larry Swain and David Nishimura (see the link above) have made it pretty clear that Christian anti-Semitism was not directed at Moses and the OT worthies in general, so I'm now convinced that Michelangelo was trying to reflect what he thought the Bible said about Moses and was not demonizing him, nor did he expect his patrons to take the horns as demonic.

Here are some photographs of the collapsed embankment. And heres an article in the Jerusalem Post on the efforts to repair the bulge on the south wall of the Temple Mount. The work was reported to be finished last month, but evidently it isn't. Excerpt:
Following a one hour police-escorted tour of the ancient compound Tuesday, [Minister-without-Portfolio Natan] Sharansky, responsible for Jerusalem and Diaspora affairs, said that slabs of new stone and two tractors filmed last month at the site were being used by Jordanian workers to complete repairs on a bulge on the southern wall.

Earlier this month, the head of the Jordanian team, Dr. Raief Najim, had said that the year-long repair work on the bulge on the southern wall had been completed, but that additional restoration work was needed in other areas of the 2,000-year old wall.

But officials say that, despite the Jordanian announcement and a recent Technion report on the state of repair work at the bulge, the work at the site is far from over. Sharansky said that it appeared to him that the repair work on the bulge was less than 50% complete.

Both links are via Bible and Interpretation News.
MYSTERY WITNESS UNVEILED: Stephen Carlson reports that, as promised, Hershel Shanks has revealed the identity of the archaeologist who reportedly saw the "James Ossuary" in an antiquities dealer's shop in the mid-1990s, but with it lacking the phrase "brother of Jesus." It was Joe Zias. I haven't seen the article myself and there's nothing on the Biblical Archaeology Review web page yet, but you can read about it in Carlson's post linked-to above. He also summarizes David Noel Freedman's promised article on the "Jehoash Inscription."
EARTHQUAKES IN ISRAEL: The Jerusalem Post has a historical review:
When the earth trembles

The tremors felt throughout Israel earlier this month had been predicted for some time by seismologists.

There is a fault (no pun intended) that runs through our country, and every so often the seismic plates shift and rub against each other, causing the earth to tremble.

Our country has a long history of earthquakes. In the Book of Isaiah and the Book of Kings, we are told of the great earthquake that occurred during the reign of King Uzziah in First Temple times. That earthquake made such a great impression upon the populace that later events were dated from the time of the quake.

Not entirely correct. There is no mention of this earthquake in Isaiah or Kings but the prophet Amos dates his visions by it in Amos 1:1 and it is mentioned in passing in an anonymous oracle in Zechariah 14:5
According to the Talmud, the earthquake coincied with King Uzziah's contraction of leprosy; subsequent references to the physical earthquake connoted the "spiritual earthquake" that befell the king.

This earthquake also foretold the decline of the Kingdom of Judah, even though that would not occur for a number of centuries. Because of this, the earthquake during the time of King Uzziah became a watershed in Jewish history.


The prevalence of earthquakes in Israel during Second Temple times is indicated in the prayer of the High Priest on Yom Kippur. He included a special wish that the people who lived in the Sharon should be spared the fate of "having their houses become their graves." Apparently, there were frequent and damaging earthquakes in that area. The messianic era is also to be marked by earthquakes in Israel. The mountains of Jerusalem are predicted to split, though it will occasion more joy than sorrow.

Elijah's vision of God was accompanied by an earthquake in 1 Kings 19:11-12 and Jesus' death and resurrection likewise according to Matthew 27:52-54 and 28:1 (but not according to the other Gospels). Paul and Silas were delivered from prison in an earthquake according to Acts 16:26. Earthquakes are also mentioned as an element of the eschatological crisis in Isaiah 29:6, Ezekiel 38:19, and Mark 13:8 (//Matthew 24:7, Luke 22:11) and various places in the Book of Revelation. Whether or not all of these happened (or will happen), this shows that people in biblical times were used to frequent earthquakes.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

READER EVY NELSON (a.k.a. Yvonne Gomez Nelson) points me to a piece on Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ which she has recently published in Christianity Today:
The Latest Temptation of Christians
TWO BOOK REVIEWS of interest in the current issue (72.1; March, 2004) of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion:
Lamontte M.Luker : Passion, Vitality, and Foment: The Dynamics of Second Temple Judaism
Reviewed by Carl D.Evans
pp. 267-269

James Arthur Diamond : Maimonides and the Hermeneutics of Concealment: Deciphering Scripture and Midrash in "The Guide of the Perplexed."
Reviewed by Aaron Hughes
pp. 249-252

Note also this article:
Authority, Tradition, and the Creation of Meaning in Medieval Kabbalah: Isaac of Acre's Illumination of the Eyes
Eitan P.Fishbane
pp. 59-95
Abstract Full-Text PDF�(380�KB)
JUDITH WEISS of Kesher Talk has a roundup of media coverage of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Just click on the link and start scrolling down.
"IN THE MOVIE BUT NOT THE BIBLE": Beliefnet has the details. Emmerich appears to be a significant source of inspiration.

By the way, someone tell the Beliefnet people that the ad singing "Celebrate" is obnoxious.
THE SYRIAN VILLAGE OF MAALOULA is featured in another article:
Syrian Villagers Determined to Keep Ancient Language Alive (
Laurie Kassman
Maaloula, Syria
25 Feb 2004, 17:22 UTC

Arabic is the official language of Syria, but in the mountain village of Maaloula residents still converse in Aramaic, a language that can be traced back 3,000 years.

The village of Maaloula is nestled in the snowy mountains, 50 kilometers north of Damascus. In the ancient language of Aramaic, the name means, opening to a high place.

Its relative isolation has allowed spoken Aramaic to survive for several thousand years - from the days when the Assyrian Empire spread across Syria and southern Turkey, and traders carried its words to Afghanistan and beyond.

I think they mean a few thousand years. We first start getting Aramaic inscriptions in the early first millennium B.C.E. And the following is a bit odd too:
Later, it is said that Jesus Christ spread the language, as he traveled through the region to preach a new religion.

"When he addressed the people, Hebrew was the language of the prayer, of scriptures, but Aramaic was the vernacular," he [retired school teacher Georges Rezkallah] said. "It was simple script." Use of Aramaic began to die as the Greek conqueror Alexander the Great spread his empire and his language across the region. Later, the spread of Islam gave Arabic a more prominent role.

I think someone has misunderstood what Rezkallah was saying. Jesus' listeners already spoke Aramaic in the areas where he traveled (which did not include Syria). There was no need for him to spread the language.

This sounds encouraging:
Georges Rezkallah, his mustache and sideburns flecked with gray, says he is about the only one left in the village who can read, write, and speak Aramaic fluently.

Mr. Rezkallah has devoted his life to preserving the language of his ancestors. Now, the mayor of the village wants him to share his knowledge.

"Now, we are trying to build a center," he said. "This is what the mayor has told me - to build a new center. He asked us to come and train a number of teachers, 25 or more."
ARAMAIC SPEAKERS go to see The Passion of the Christ:
Assyrians hear native tongue in 'Passion' (AP in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer)


Aramaic is spoken by a handful of small Christian groups from Iraq and other parts of the Middle East, including Chaldeans, who are Catholic, and Assyrians, who have their own church.

There are an estimated 250,000 Chaldeans and Assyrians in the United States - mostly in Michigan, California and Chicago - said Martin Manna, executive director of the Chaldean Chamber of Commerce, based in Farmington Hills.

In metropolitan Detroit, where Manna says the Chaldean community numbers about 120,000, Chaldean Catholic congregations have organized special outings to see the movie.


For Ismat Karmo, 48, hearing Aramaic in the movie caused mixed emotions.

"It makes me feel proud and sad at the same time. Proud that we always carry this language that at one time was the dominating language in the region and a language that was spoken by Jesus, and sad that today there is not enough support for it to preserve it," said Karmo, a businessman who came to the United States from Iraq when he was 21.

Did anybody ask him how well he could understand the Aramaic in the movie?

Also, note this:
But Joseph Amar, a classics professor specializing in Christian Aramaic at the University of Notre Dame, strongly criticized the endeavor, saying there is no way to know how similar the Aramaic spoken in Jesus' time is to the forms preserved today.

"It has no intellectual integrity. The very enterprise is bogus," he said.

I wouldn't go that far, but it certainly is very speculative.

UPDATE: There's more in this Detroit Free Press article. Martin Manna, mentioned in the article above, evaluates the Aramaic:
Manna, who is president of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce in Farmington Hills, saw a matinee Wednesday and left the theater moved by the story but slightly confused by the language.

"These people were obviously amateurs when it came to the language," Manna said of the actors. "We did catch about 30 to 40 percent of it."

And another scholar gives his view:
Since then, Aramaic has evolved and splintered into dozens of dialects. Jews once spoke a western dialect, while Chaldeans and Assyrians used an eastern dialect. Chaldeans today speak a modern form they call Chaldean, though scholars and linguists call it Syriac.

"There are many, many forms; some of them I really can't even read," said Charles Krahmalkov, a recently retired professor of ancient and biblical languagesat the University of Michigan. "Dictionaries are coming out now all the time on the various Jewish dialects and Christian dialects."

Krahmalkov said he was astonished when he learned Gibson was filming in Aramaic and Latin.

"I don't think it was the first time it was done, but it is usually done in English and spiced with foreign languages," he said. Gibson "had a conception and an idea, and it was a fascinating one."

UPDATE: According to this BBC article, Syriac speaker George Kiraz had more success than Manna:
Some believe audiences may be put off by having to read so many subtitles, but for George Kiraz the language was the highlight.

For Dr Kiraz, who lives in New Jersey, this was the first time he could hear his own language in a Hollywood blockbuster.

"From a language point of view, they did a good job," the Aramaic-speaker told BBC News Online after being one of the first to see the film when it opened on Wednesday.

"I understood 60% or more of the Aramaic - not bad considering I wasn't used to the particular dialect they used."

Dr Kiraz is founder and president of the Beth Mardutho Syriac Institute in Piscataway, New Jersey. The organisation promotes the study of Syriac, an Aramaic dialect.

Other articles on Aramaic are here and here.

UPDATE: Pontius Pilate speaks Aramaic in the movie? So Monsignor William Carr in a round table discussion in Wichita:
"I even found it amusing that the Latin of course was with the ecclesiastical pronunciations, which came centuries later, but it was done with an Italian accent. I was able to get some of the Aramaic from the Hebrew... but little details you get hung up on. The inscription on the cross was supposed to be Hebrew, but was Greek and Latin. As I mentioned beforehand, the (language) of that time was not Latin but Greek. If anybody spoke another language, they spoke Greek. They didn't speak Latin.

"And Pontius Pilate communicating in Aramaic is just unbelievable. Totally unbelievable. So those things, I would get a little disturbed by. But that's me. The whole thing I think is to try to capture the message....

"Just unbelievable" is right. One of the strongest arguments for Jesus knowing some Greek is that it is almost impossible to imagine Pilate bothering to learn the Judean vernacular. Ancient Roman governors were not modern diplomats (who frequently don't learn the language of their assigned country anyhow). Presumably he spoke to Jesus and the crowd (assuming the story of the crowd is historical) in Greek. I suppose Gibson, rightly enough, did not want to have Jesus speaking Latin. But this brings us back to the fact that the characters should, at least for the most part, be speaking Greek rather than Latin anyhow.

UPDATE (27 February): Ruth Gledhill has more on the movie's Aramaic in her review in the London Times:
Does it matter that the film is in Latin and Aramaic?

There is not a lot of dialogue, so you hardly notice the language after a while. But it is important.

Gibson left out the deicidal line from Matthew 25:27.

She means Matthew 27:25. And he didn't: he just didn't give it a subtitle in English.
But there are two scenes where Jesus's persecutors demand his crucifixion, crying to Pilate: "Yitstalev! Yitstalev! Yitstalev!" This is Aramaic but it happens also to mean "crucify him" in modern Hebrew. How anyone in a post-Holocaust era, and aware of the sensitivities swirling around modern Israel, could have done such a thing as this almost beggars belief.
"PURE PORNOGRAPHY." Andrew Sullivan reviews Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Excerpt:
I wouldn't say that this movie is motivated by anti-Semitism. It's motivated by psychotic sadism. But Gibson does nothing to mitigate the dangerous anti-Semitic elements of the story and goes some way toward exaggerating and highlighting them.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

REVIEWS of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ are pouring in already and it's only being released today. Mark Goodacre, bless his heart, is keeping track of them, starting with this post (then just keep scrolling up).

As Mark mentions, the movie won't be released in Britain until 26 March. I'm not privy to any advance screenings, so you'll have to wait for my opinion until then. I hope everyone will be thoroughly bored with the subject by then anyway. According to custom established with the last two Lord of the Rings movies, I'll be organizing a group of people from St. Mary's College to attend the British premier.

In the meantime, I hope we can talk of other things.
STILL MORE ON MOSES' HORNS. Larry Swain e-mails:
Thank you very much for posting my points on Moses' horns the other day. I would like to respond, perhaps a final time, to Gerald Honigman's points and suggest some bibliography for those interested in pursuing the matter further.

Gerald writes: "While scholars, artists and others may interpret this sculpture as they will and assume Michelangelo's understanding of the fine details of the differing translations and attempts to portray a variety of ideas via his Moses, my main point stays the same"

Here I will raise a number of points:
a. merely restating the position does not make it any more true
b. Gerald has passed by the import of my comments. The point I sought to make was that Michaelangelo was certainly NOT weighing in his mind the various semantic options. There really was one option available to him: the Latin Vulgate. Remember that Michey worked on this sculpture 1513-1515: this is before any of the great vernacular
translations, before Erasmus' Greek NT, before the Reformation. Michaelangelo knew the Vulgate, the Vulgate has "cornutam faciem". There are few options for Michaelangelo here. So no fine details of translations are needed, only a basic knowledge of the story of the ten commandments in Latin, which he would have known as an educated man in the Renaissance.
c. And as if this were not enough, let me mention once again that not only does the Vulgate invite such a depiction of Moses, and had done so as the principle Scriptural source for over 1100 years before Michaelangelo, but we have a long, ubiquitous, and very common understanding of Moses with portruding horns on his head--commentaries, sermons in Latin and the vernacular languages, sculpture, stained glass, manuscript art, church art and sculpture....a horned Moses, sometimes with two "horned" groups of rays, sometimes with horns of light (which in sculpture is difficult to depict), but by the time of Michaelangelo again we have some 1100 years of such depictions of Moses, and very little else. This is difficult to set aside.

Gerald continues with a lengthy discussion again on the unfortunate anti-Semitic depictions of Jews. I don't deny any of this demonization of Jews. Its a matter of historical record. What I do deny is the connection made by Gerald that this is the necessary background for Michey's Moses. As I pointed out last time, figures from the Christian Old Testament are NOT lumped in with the Jews of Jesus' and subsequent eras. The heroes of the Bible are commemorated in church calendars and have "saints" days, they are studied and provide exempla for Christian belief and practice, they enjoy special priveledge in the liturgy where the works of the Old Testament are read and preached on and commented on. The figures of the Old Testament are types of Christ and so not only prophesy about him, but the events of their lives become prophesies too, and so Moses' shining face with horns is read as a prophecy of Jesus'transfiguration. In fact, in the famous, and so very influential, story of the Harrowing of Hell, it is these Old Testament figures, MOSES included, that Christ comes down and delivers from Hell!

Now what Gerald's position would have to lead us to is that Michaelangelo and company rejected that understanding and use of the Old Testament and that suddenly Moses, rather than as a type of Christ, is without preamble or comment understood as standing in for Jewry. I don't find such a change in perspective in the literature, not even in the Reformation.

This brings me to Gerald's most interesting point, that the masses would have seen horns on Moses' head as "devil's horns" and thus that all Jews, including Moses, are some devil spawn. But would the masses have seen horns on Moses in this fashion? Frankly, no. I've already given the reasons: 1) Old Testament figures were pre-Christian Christian heroes and were not lumped together with the villified Jews. 2) there was a long, common, all but omnipresent tradition of describing and depicting Moses with horns.

Let me take a couple of off the top of my head examples. There's a Botticelli painting that depicts the rebellion and punishment of Korath and company. In this painting Moses is depicted as having two horns of light rays emanating from his forehead. All the other people in the painting are Jews. NONE of them has horns. Not one.

Let me skip backwards to a 12th century Cistercian mss that has an illumination of Moses teaching the 10 Commandments to the children of Israel. Once again we have a crowd of "Jews" gathered around Moses but the only figure with horns is Moses, horns colored white presumably to signify light.

There are myriads more, but the point is simply that the average person in the street going into church, passing statuary on the street, looking at stained glass, hearing sermons on Moses and the ten commandments and the giving of the law etc would have been quite accustomed to seeing and hearing about Moses with horns, and knowing that it was Moses with horns of light, not a devil spawned Jew.

On the issue of Michey's not including horns on other Jewish figures, we need to remember that we are not just talking about David here--there are sculptures of Jeremiah and other Old Testament prophets as there are also on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. And in not one of these cases are there horns. Only on Moses, which I suggest is best explained by not only the choice of words in the Vulgate, but by a hoary tradition of depicting and describing Moses in such a fashion.

Finally, I'll make an additional point that I did not make before. That point is that we need to look at the context. Michey was commissioned by the pope to sculpt an appropriate tomb for him, a very large and expensive tomb was planned with the sculpture of Moses as its centerpiece. Before M completed it, the pope died, and his family approached M about a smaller, less expensive ediface to the pope. This is what we now have located in the church "St Peter in Chains" which is were the Horned Moses is. To sustain Gerald's position we must ourselves why Michaelangelo would risk offending his patron's family and lose a very good commission by making an insulting sculpture the centerpiece of a "tomb" commemorating a pope? While Michey often had no use for the church and disagreed with the church, and even ran into some difficulties on certain paintings in the Chapel, nonetheless, I don't think that he would go so far as to put a demonized Moses/Jew as the centerpiece of that large memorial to the Pope just to tweak a nose or two It just doesn't fit the context of his creation or even of his personality.

I in no way wish to minimize the horror of anti-semitism in Christian society, nor its theological justifications in those circles. However, I will say that this is not a case of anti-semitism, but simply a piece of fabulous art depicting an important and lauded figure commemorating appropriately another kind of law-giver, in a typical and well-wrought fashion.

To end at last, I will point to Ruth Mellinkoff _The Horned Moses in Medieval Art and Thought_ to start, and of course opening any Medieval or Renaissance art book will show a number of such depictions of Moses with his horns.

UPDATE: David Nishimura of Cronaca holds the same view.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

MEL GIBSON AND THE HOLOCAUST: This is one I missed. On 30 January the New York Post reported the following exchange between interviewer Peggy Noonan and Mel Gibson. It appears that the whole interview hasn't been published in full. At least I couldn't find it online.
January 30, 2004 -- 'YOU'RE GOING to have to go on record. The Holocaust happened, right?" Peggy Noonan asks of Mel Gibson in the Reader's Digest for March.

Gibson: "I have friends and parents of friends who have numbers on their arms. The guy who taught me Spanish was a Holocaust survivor. He worked in a concentration camp in France. Yes, of course. Atrocities happened. War is horrible. The Second World War killed tens of millions of people. Some of them were Jews in concentration camps. Many people lost their lives. In the Ukraine, several million starved to death between 1932 and 1933. During the last century, 20 million people died in the Soviet Union."

Blogger David Bernstein of the Volokh Conspiracy is disquieted by the quotation, which never quite comes out and says that, yes, millions of Jews were murdered in an attempt at genocide. Bernstein thinks this sounds suspiciously like the carefully phrased waffling of the Holocaust deniers. See his post, "Mel Gibson: Holocaust Denier?"

UPDATE: Reader Paul Connors e-mails:

In the article you refer to in your recent blog, David Bernstein said last
month of Mel Gibson: "if someone would ask him directly, 'do you believe
that the Germans murdered approximately six million Jews during World War
II' and he said 'yes' I would leave it at that."

In the more recent and well-known interview with Diane Sawyer (transcript
Mel Gibson clearly agrees that six million "defenceless and innocent Jews"
had died in concentration camps in "an atrocity of monumental proportion".

So he does. I'm afraid I haven't been keeping up with Gibson interviews. The full quote in context is:
DIANE SAWYER: Gibson's father, Hutton Gibson, age 85, who has written books and a newsletter with some decidedly provocative terms of phrase. He has called the Pope "Garrulous Karolus, the Koran kisser". And in that New York Times magazine interview, he seemed to be questioning the scope of the holocaust, sceptical that six million Jews had died. What does Gibson think?

MEL GIBSON: Do I believe that there were concentration camps where defenceless and innocent Jews died cruelly under the Nazi regime? Of course I do, absolutely. It was an atrocity of monumental proportion.

DIANE SAWYER: And you believe there were millions, six million, millions?


DIANE SAWYER: I think people wondered if your father's views were your views on this.

MEL GIBSON: Their whole agenda here, my detractors, is to drive a wedge between me and my father and it's not going to happen. I love him. He's my father.

DIANE SAWYER: And you will not speak publicly about him beyond that.

MEL GIBSON: I am tight with him. He's my father. Got to leave it alone, Diane. Got to leave it alone.

I'm relieved to see the clarification. One of David Bernstein's readers suggested that Gibson's careful phrasing in the first quote was to try to avoid personal conflict with his father. Perhaps that's right.
"A MONSTER 'FORGERY MACHINE.'" Rochelle Altman reviews "Oded Golan: Another Type of Trustworthy" (na'aman ocher) (Ouvda) for Bible and Interpretation News:
The History Merchants

�� The forged products are not unique in type; they are unique in extent. While this is a money machine on a magnitude that Wilhelm Shapira could never imagine in his wildest dreams, this is also a forgery machine geared to rewrite the history books on an equally vast scale. It is the enormous scale of the operation that is unique.

��� When kings and emperors and governments rewrote their histories (as the winners always do), their primary purpose was to whitewash themselves. This is not the case here. Helena started the relics-machine rolling back in the fourth century, but she did not think in terms of money. Shapira, the best known of the 19th-century forgers, thought in terms of money. This time money, yes, but with an agenda aimed at the "creation" of biblical history; a fake history that lets the forgers turn legitimate scientists and scholars into whispering voices trying to be heard above the roar stimulated by the sensational finds and the agenda behind the "finds." And what an ugly agenda it is!


� The target is the religious market. This is a market that Dr. Yuval Goren refers to as "The Jerusalem Syndrome" in his paper presented at the SBL in Atlanta in November of 2003; that paper is available for all to read right here on And there are also most specific markets, one of which Ian Ransom exposed in his book Mary and the Ossuary: Beneath the "Brother of Jesus" Forgery. This market is the key to the entire series of sensational "finds."

Another take-no-prisoners Altman essay.
" Dome of the Rock Mosque Damaged in Quake" (Arutz Sheva)
07:40 Feb 24, '04 / 2 Adar 5764

( According to a report an Arabic news report, the roof of the Dome of the Rock Mosque on the Temple Mount was cracked in the recent earthquake that hit Israel. According to an Israel Radio report, renovations will be funded by the United Arab Emirates.

THE MANDAEANS ARE GETTING SOME PRESS TOO, which is also a good thing.
Iraq's Baptist Mandaeans are survivors, but ranks are thinning (Kansas City Star)


The Dallas Morning News

BAGHDAD, Iraq - (KRT) - They call themselves the original Baptists, but any similarities to Americans of that description pretty much end with the waterborne ritual they share.

Iraq's Baptists, known as the Sabaean Mandaeans, don't gather in suburban megachurches equipped with TV screens and state-of-the-art sound systems. Their Baghdad headquarters is a tiny temple whose cash-strapped congregation doesn't own so much as a bullhorn.

Preaching the Gospel and winning converts are not among their strong suits. For one thing, while some Mandaeans have studied the Bible, they don't regard it as their holy book. For another, these Baptists don't consider themselves Christians. Their faith, with influences from Judaism, Gnosticism, pre-Christian religions, Christianity and Islam, predates Christianity, possibly by centuries, if not millennia.


The word Sabaean comes from the Aramaic-Mandic word saba, or "immersed in water," according to the group's Web site, Mandaean comes from the word menda, or "knowledge."

"We are one of the oldest monotheistic religions in the world. Some say we are the oldest," Sheikh Jabbar Helu, the most senior Mandaean cleric, who wears a long gray beard, flowing robes and is a fluent speaker of Aramaic, the language of Jesus and John the Baptist. "Our religious texts date to Seth, son of the prophet Adam. Our last prophet was John the Baptist."


Unlike Christians, for whom baptism is typically a once-in-a-lifetime event, Mandaeans may be baptized thousands of times as a purifying rite, Sheikh Jabbar said.

Couples, for example, will be baptized once after their engagement, again before the wedding ceremony and yet again after the marriage is consummated.

Pallbearers must be baptized before and after carrying a coffin. Anyone who comes into contact with a "sinner," or nonbeliever, must be baptized. And every Sunday, all Mandaeans are encouraged to undergo baptism.


The business about Madaeans being mentioned in the Bible is dodgy:
They are mentioned four times in the Old Testament, not always in the most glowing terms. In the Book of Job, Mandaeans are described as violent raiders who seized livestock and killed servants "at the edge of a sword." But the Book of Isaiah describes them as "men of stature."

Job 1:15 mentions Sabeans, but they are North Arabian tribes, not Mandaeans. The Sabeans in Isa 45:14 seem to be an African people, perhaps in Nubia. There's another reference to Sabeans in Joel 3:8, which may refer to the people of Sheba in South Arabia. (See the article "Sabeans" in the Anchor Bible Dictionary. I'm not sure what the fourth reference would be. We have no evidence that the Mandaeans existed this early (it seems most unlikely: from the little I've read about them they seem to fit the profile of a baptizing sect in the early centuries C.E.), our sources for them are very late, and it looks to me as though their title Sabaeans is a later Aramaic term, coincidentally similar to the Arabic (?) word Sabeans in the Bible. Any specialists in the Mandaeans out there who want to comment?

The website cited in the article is dead and I can't find a replacement.
HISTORICAL ERRORS in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ: Here's a roundup. There are lots of 'em, including Jesus' traditional long hair. We're told that ancient Jewish men had short hair. One excerpt, involving more serious issues:
Jesus Scholars Find Fault in Gibson's 'Passion' (Reuters)


For some scholars the errors go beyond language or hairstyles.

They say the heart of the problem is the film's script which interweaves the literal interpretation of four sometimes contradictory gospel accounts of Jesus' last 12 hours with the visions of a controversial 19th century nun.

"This is my version of what happened, according to the gospels and what I wanted to show," Gibson told the U.S. television network ABC this month.

But Crossan complained that the lack of historical context was the movie's "basic flaw."

The film begins not when Jesus enters Jerusalem to the exuberant welcome of thousands of Jews but rather at night in a garden on the eve of the crucifixion when he is arrested by the Romans after being betrayed by Judas.

"Why did they need a traitor? Why did they need the night? Why didn't they grab him in the daytime?" Crossan asked.

"Because they did not want a riot," he said, explaining that Jesus was immensely popular among his fellow Jews, which is why the high priests and Romans felt threatened by him.

Those details, Crossan said, were absent in the film.

"The lack of context is the most devastating thing for anyone who says it (the film) is faithful to the gospels because the gospels have the context," he told Reuters.

ARAMAIC IS IN THE NEWS AGAIN, thanks to Mel Gibson. Latin too, even though using it in The Passion of the Christ is an error.
Watch Your Languages. They're Ancient. (New York Times)

Published: February 24, 2004

TOMORROW is the big day for Mel Gibson, the actor-director who apparently considers himself in some respects to be more Catholic than the pope. His much-debated film, "The Passion of the Christ," will open in theaters.

George A. Kiraz can hardly wait.

His interest, though, is not in the theological and social disputes the movie has generated. He is curious about the dialogue, which Mr. Gibson chose to render entirely in Aramaic and Latin, not exactly the hottest languages on the planet.

"I want mainly to see if I understand any of the Aramaic, and what form of Aramaic it is," said Dr. Kiraz, director of the Syriac Institute in Piscataway, N.J. His organization promotes the study of Syriac, an Aramaic dialect that is the liturgical language of the Syrian Orthodox Church and some other churches with Middle Eastern roots.

"I call it BBC Aramaic - the standard form that continues to be used today," said Dr. Kiraz, 39. He began speaking it as a boy in Bethlehem (as in Little Town of Bethlehem, not the place in Pennsylvania). He uses it today with his daughter, Tabetha.


THESE days, Latin is enjoying a resurgence. "The nadir came in 1970, right after the Roman Catholic Church gave up Latin," said Thomas J. Sienkewicz, vice chairman of the National Committee for Latin and Greek, a group that promotes studies in those classical languages.

But all indicators point to a turnaround in the last two decades, said Professor Sienkewicz, who teaches classics at Monmouth College in Illinois. Indeed, one problem now is a looming shortage of qualified teachers for the growing numbers of students. A nationwide campaign to recruit instructors is planned for the first week of March.

Some young people like studying Latin for its own sake, Professor Sienkewicz said. Others are persuaded by evidence that high school students who take Latin do far better than average on the verbal SAT.

There is, too, the "Gladiator" factor, said Nancy McKee, chairwoman of the Latin and Greek group and a former Latin teacher in Lawrenceville, N.J. The Russell Crowe movie "prompted an interest in the Roman culture," she said.

MOSES' HORNS � Gerald A. Honigman replies to Larry Swain:
In response to Larry Swain's comments about my problem with Michelangelo's horned Moses ("Michey"... to try to lighten up a topic which has brought immense suffering to Jews), let me state/restate the following...

While scholars, artists and others may interpret this sculpture as they will and assume Michelangelo's understanding of the fine details of the differing translations and attempts to portray a variety of ideas via his Moses, my main point stays the same. For those wanting to see another interpretation, see Guy Shaked's at The rays of Michelangelo's Moses as the sign of the with another interesting take on this.

I hope your viewers read the article at Arutz Sheva that you mentioned which prompted this discussion. For the demonization of the Jew from the getgo in Christian teaching created a climate where--whatever Michey did or didn't mean regarding those extra-cranial growths--the overwhelming majority of those who would see them would know how they would interpret them. They had been taught of the Jew as the Devil's offspring for 1500 years...and with deadly consequences.

How many average people today are aware of the consequences of this demonization by Christendom of the Jews? While those who post on this site may or may not be aware of this, does the average Christian understand...or really care? "May His blood be upon us and our children" still provides the answer for Jewish suffering in many a Christian mind regarding all of this. Regardlesss of the necessity of Jesus to die in Christian theology, Jews are still too often seen by many-- if not most-- as G_D killing sons of the Devil in many places. Well-documented studies by non-Jewsish scholars have pointed to the theological roots of anti-Semitism...which is once again on the rise in Christian Europe and elswhere...despite decades of education about the Holocaust. And on that very topic, unfortunately, still too many would like to pretend that it was caused by Martians rather than deal with the fact that two millennia of this demonization, dehumanization, and other such "religious" enlightenment carefully paved the road to Auschwitz.

While there are Christians who have been trying to come to grips with how such teaching in the name of the Christian "Prince of Peace" could have caused such pain and suffering, there are still many who comment that they don't understand why the Jews are still so upset about all of this "past history." An important book several decades back by Charles Glock, I believe, a Protestant scholar, Christian Beliefs and Anti-Semitism is an eye-opener. There are other good sources as well by both Christians and Jews on this topic.

I will yield on one point. I too am puzzled by why Michey just chose Moses to place horns on. His David doesn't have them...though some may have wished that he did to distract from other protrusions Michey did include.

So, that has me wondering a bit more about this too. But don't miss the forest of Mel, Meet Irineos for the one iffy tree.

As for the tree, I agree with Larry Swain that the lack of horns on other figures tends to indicate that M. was thinking in terms of biblical exegesis before any demonizing of Moses, although, as I said before, that may have been a subtext. I also agree with Jerry Honigman that M. could hardly have been ignorant of the understanding some viewers would have of it � alway assuming that horns meant demonic in this period, which I suspect it did, but I don't know. Comments from specialists on Michelangelo and Renaissance art would be very welcome on this one.

As for the forest, I think there's an awfully big jump from Mel Gibson's unreleased movie to Irineos's comment, Arafat, and Auschwitz, and I worry that the rush to make that jump carries the danger of granting too much importance to the first (even in a worst-case scenario) and trivializing the others. But obviously some disagree with me. I blog, you decide.

Monday, February 23, 2004

WHATEVER ELSE Mel Gibson has done, good or bad, by making The Passion of the Christ, he has accomplished one good thing: it is now cool to know Aramaic.
Aramaic boosters hope for lift from Gibson's 'Passion' (Ha'aretz)
By Associated Press

At a small Jerusalem church, Aramaic, the ancient language that Jesus spoke, is little more than an echo these days.
An elder from the Syrian Orthodox congregation laments that he's got few people to speak to in Aramaic besides the monks. Parts of the liturgy have to be done in Arabic. And a nun who sings the Lord's Prayer says the words are just about the only ones she's able to recite in Aramaic.

Some say spoken Aramaic may vanish in just a few decades.

Linguists hope for a boost from Mel Gibson's new film "The Passion of the Christ," performed entirely in Aramaic and Latin.


Sami Barsoum, 69, a leader of the Syrian Orthodox community in Jerusalem, is one of the few who still speaks Aramaic fluently here. The community offers Aramaic in summer school, but there's little interest and fewer than half the 600 members speak the language. "Maybe the new generation will wake up and continue," he said.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

The rampart fell but the Temple Mount is safe (Ha'aretz)
By Danny Rubinstein

Any news about the Al-Aqsa Mosque is immediately highlighted in the Palestinian press. That's what happened last week with the collapse of part of the northern wall of the rampart that leads from the southern entrance of the Western Wall up to the Mograbi Gate.

The collapse took place a week ago, some time after midnight between Saturday and Sunday. Al Quds, the most widely circulated Palestinian newspaper, wrote in its main headline on Monday that "the collapse of part of the path in the Al Bureq area is a renewed warning of the danger of collapse to the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Al Bureq was the Prophet Mohammed's magical horse, which Muslim tradition says Mohammed tied to the Western Wall. When the Muslims speak of Al-Aqsa Mosque they are actually referring to all the Temple Mount area. However, in this context it must be said that there was nothing about the rock slide on the rampart to the Mograbi Gate that had anything to do with the safety and security of the walls of the mount plaza and the stability of the buildings on the mount.

The rampart is narrow path built between the prayer plaza of the Western Wall and the archaeological digs that have been underway for many years by archaeologists Benjamin Mazar and Meir Ben David. The rampart was made after the Six-Day War in the wake of the demolition of the Mograbi (Moroccan) quarter, to make room for the plaza. Most of the Mograbi quarter belonged to the Waqf of Abu Medein, and a special gate led from the quarter into the Temple Mount above. In Arabic, there are two gates that carry the name Mograbi Gate. The first is the gate in the Turkish wall around the city, known as Dung Gate, through which one now reaches the Western Wall and the other is the gate in the wall of the mount itself, at the top of the rampart that fell.


I would have found this article more helpful if it had included a diagram or two of the area.
MOSES' HORNS YET AGAIN. Reader Larry Swain e-mails:
In regard to today's posts on "Michey", your correspondant is making leaps in logic. The issue is easily resolved.

1) In the Vulgate, as you know, Jerome uses the word "cornu"
2) we can point to commentaries which so describe Moses
3) in addition to the commentaries one can point to manuscript art, sculpture, church art etc that depict Moses with horns of light coming out of his forehead, almost always 2, just 2 horns
4) while it is true that Jews were demonized in the period, that art frequently depicts them as wearing horns in the late medieval and early renaissance period, that the Council of Venice for example required them to wear hats with horns etc, there is little direct connection to M's Moses' sculpture (see below)
5) While the Jews are vilified in the period, the heroes of faith in the Christian Old Testement, though recognized as Jews, are held up as forerunners, types, and "pre-Christian" Christians. Moses and Jeremiah and David are the good guys.
6) Finally, the capper. In Michelangelo's works are many Jews...Jeremiah, Moses, David, Abraham to name a few. Of these, ONLY MOSES POPS UP WITH HORNS!

If one wishes to explain the presence of horns on M's Moses as part of a villification of Jews and Judaism one must on the one explain away the tradition of Moses depicted with horns and the commentary tradition which accompanies it as of no or little importance to Michelangelo as well as why none of his other Jewish figures do not bear similar horns. On the other hand, one must be able to make a direct connection between such vilification and demonization of Jews and Judaism and Michelangelo's Moses such as a vilification of Moses himself in Christian thought or rejection of Moses as a type of Christ as well as explain the lack of such horns on other Jewish figures such as David and Jeremiah. It seems to me more likely that Michelangelo is simply making use of a typical, frequent, well-known, well-attested tradition of depicting Moses.