Saturday, March 06, 2004

MARK GOODACRE REVIEWS Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. He liked it.
THE FESTIVAL OF PURIM, as I noted yesterday, begins this evening at sundown.
I HAVE UPDATED yesterday's "Thoughts on Freedman's Article" post in order to respond to a third point he made.

It seems that PaleoJudaica may not have seen the last of Mel.
The first rumor flitting through the evangelical world is that the filmmaker intends to plow the profits from The Passion into a movie about the central characters of the holiday of Hanukkah, fighters called the Maccabees. Their story is told in sacred writings of the biblical period, although the two books of the same name are not officially a part of either testament.

Nearly 200 years before Jesus' birth, religious Jews in the land of Israel rose in violent rebellion against pagan occupiers and their Jewish allies.


The Maccabean uprising was sparked when a government official compelled a Jew to offer a pagan sacrifice. This sacrilegious act enraged a pious man named Mattathias, who killed the collaborator and the official with his sword, and then shouted to the crowd: "Whoever is for the Lord, follow me!"

Mattathias led his five sons and their followers into the hills, from which they launched a protracted guerrilla war, led by his son Judah, a brilliant military tactician. Bloody battles and torture ensued, as the outnumbered believers wore down their enemies, some of whom rode into the fray on armored elephants.

Maybe he can recycle the sets from The Return of the King.
In the end, after Mattathias died and several of his sons were killed in battle, the orthodox Jewish believers triumphed and the temple in Jerusalem was cleansed and restored to holiness. According to tradition, a remnant of sanctified oil in the temple lamp miraculously burned for eight days, until more could be found.

And here's another suggestion:
Last week, the American-born Israeli educator Yossi Katz suggested that Gibson's next film should be a dramatization of the Bar Kochba Revolt of A.D. 132-135. This rebellion took place a century after Jesus' death, and 60 years after a failed uprising against the Roman occupation that led to half a million Jewish deaths and the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.

Well, the gore potential in either should meet Mel's standards. What's next: 4 Maccabees, The Movie?

Friday, March 05, 2004

ISRAELI ARCHAEOLOGIST DR. DAN BAHAT will be lecturing in Western Canada on "In Search of the Ark of The Covenant & Jerusalem at the Time of Jesus." And I'm not making that title up.
A QUMRAN BIBLICAL FRAGMENT � evidently yet to be designated � is to be donated to Ashland Theological Seminary by art dealer Bruce Ferrini in memory of his son, Matthew. Ferrini is the owner of the Dead Sea Scroll fragments now touring with the From the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Forbidden Book exhibition.
ISRAELI ARCHAEOLOGIST ASHER AFRIAT has been lecturing in Deerfield on Idumean ostraca from Tel Maresha:

Israeli scientist dazzles with archaeology (Deerfield Review)


Forty-five minutes south of Jerusalem, Israeli archaeologist Asher Afriat was among a group digging for artifacts 10 years ago with a group of North American tourists as assistants, when they stumbled across six clay pieces with Aramaic writing on them.

Called an ostracon, the clay pieces bore an inscription that was basically a marriage contract, quite similar to the one used by Jews to this day called a ketuba.

But the kicker is that the ostrocan discovered at this site, which is 2,180 years old, was from the time of the Edomites, who were not Jewish. The discovery may shed light on the origins of the present-day Jewish marriage contract, Afriat said.


For Afriat, continuing his life means making the trek from Jerusalem to Tel Maresha several times a week to see what other ancient wonders can be uncovered.

The dig, at Tel Maresha, dates back to the Hellenistic period and was the hometown of Herod the Great, at the time of the second Temple in Jerusalem, Ofriat said. The city of Maresha was built in the Iron Age, about 3000 years ago, and is mentioned several times in the Bible, starting in the book of Joshua. The city later became part of the Edomite kingdom.

The site is built on a mound or "tel," as dirt from one civilization was piled on top of dirt from the next. The site also has hundreds of caves, one with 31 rooms, created by the excavation of stone in ancient times.

"It's the wealthiest Hellenistic site in the world. Our labor force is a group of tourists. They dig with us. It is so addictive," he said.
"THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT ESTHER." In honor of Purim, which starts tomorrow at sundown, Beliefnet has an article on recent books about the biblical heroine.
THOUGHTS ON FREEDMAN'S ARTICLE: Might the "Jehoash Inscription" be genuine after all? Here are a few off-the-cuff responses to Professor Freedman's points. I haven't canvassed the literature on this, online or elsewhere, and, although these are all my own observations, others may have gotten there before me. If anyone has already made the same points, please e-mail me with references or links so I can give you credit. My conclusions are based only on the specific points discussed below. I'm not taking a position on the geological analysis (which I am not qualified to evaluate) or the script (which would take me a lot more time to evaluate than I'm willing to invest).

Here's one point Freedman and I agree on:
Authenticated inscriptions frequently challenge our knowledge of Biblical Hebrew, containing syntax, vocabulary and orthography (spelling) that differ from Biblical usage. Of the very few inscriptions of any kind from this period, including those of neighboring nations, every one provides something novel and sometimes disturbingly surprising about a language we may think we know but don?t always fully grasp. And the surer we are, the more surprised we are likely to be by what comes out of the ground.

The study of ancient Northwest Semitic inscriptions is made very difficult because our corpus is so small. So we should be very cautious about how much we claim to know. That said, I do think there are some things that we can know with reasonable certainty.

There are two main arguments in this article which I want to address. The first is:
Perhaps the most fought-over issue so far is the inscription's use of the word bedeq in line 10. In the Bible, bedeq means "crack" or "fissure." However, the inscription, because it combines bedeq with the verb 'asah ("to do," line 9) appears to mimic not the Hebrew of the Bible but rather the modern Hebrew phrase 'e'aseh 'et bedeq, which means "I made repairs." It therefore looks as if the inscription betrays a knowledge of modern Hebrew. However, it is unlikely that bedeq means "repair" in the inscription. The word is actually part of a construct chain that joins it together with the word habbayit ("the House," line 10), forming the expression "bedeq habbayit" or "the bedeq of the House." If we interpret bedeq as "the repair," then we would have to join it similarly to the other definite nouns ("walls," "ledge," "lattices," etc.) and read the text as "the repair of the walls," "the repair of the ledge" and so forth. But this is not possible. The appearance of the definite direct object marker 'et in line 11, though it does not appear before every noun, is an indication that all the nouns function as direct objects of the verb 'asah (i.e., "I did the walls," "I did the ledge" and "I did the lattices," etc.). It would seem that 'asah alone is the verb used in the inscription to mean "repair," not bedeq, which most likely carries its Biblical meaning "crack." Use of 'asah to mean "make new" or "remake" is unusual, but not unimaginable (see Deuteronomy 21;12; 2 Samuel 19:25).

In a nutshell, the expression used in the inscription looks identical to a modern Hebrew expression that means "to make a repair," and this usage is not attested in Biblical Hebrew. In biblical Hebrew the phrase would mean "to make a breach/crack." Freedman, however, suggests that bedeq in the inscription means "breach" or "crack" as in BH but that (asah', which normally means "to make" or "to do" is used in specialized sense meaning essentially "to repair." As evidence he gives Deut 21:12 (the captive woman "does" her nails, i.e., trims them) and 2 Sam 19:25 (Mephiboshet does not "do", i.e. dress?, his crippled feet or "do," i.e. trim, his moustache ).

I'm not convinced. The examples Freedman gives have to do with attending to bodily upkeep. I cannot find a case of (asah being used of repairing a building. The expressions I would expect would be chizzeq bedeq, "to strengthen a breach" (cf. 2 Kgs 22:5); or chiddesh, "to renew (the House)" (cf. 2 Chr 24:4); or just chizzeq "to strengthen (the House)" (cf. 2 Kgs 22:6); or badaq "to repair (the House)" (only in 2 Chr 34:10). These are the biblical expressions. Is it possible that the inscription preserves an otherwise unattested sense of 'asah as "to repair"? Sure. But there's no evidence for it.

Here's another line one could take to defend the inscription. The verb badaq, noted above, is obviously related to bedeq, "breach, fissure, crack" and means "to repair a breach, fissure, crack." So the idea of repair was associated with the root in the biblical period. That leaves open the possibility that there was a noun meaning "repair" from the same root, either as an alternate sense of bedeq or perhaps another noun with a different vocalization. If that's right, then (asah bdq may have been an acceptable usage in Iron Age Hebrew and the identical formation in modern Hebrew could be a later, independent back formation.

Conclusion: the expression (sh bdq could possibly be a legitimate ancient formation and our lack of information about ninth century Hebrew should make us hesitant to insist that it couldn't be. Nevertheless, there is no positive evidence for such an expression and the identical modern phrase should make us suspicious.

Second argument:
More problematic is the word 'mw ("his people," line 15), which is indeed unusual for this time and appears to many to be a clear anachronism. The normal indication of a singular masculine possessive suffix attached to a singular masculine noun is by a he at the end, with the letter representing the sound -hu. The use of the waw, for the suffix, doesn't turn up in the archaeological record until the oldest Qumran manuscripts dating from the third-second century B.C.E, meaning that the shift from he to waw came sometime between the sixth and third centuries B.C.E. So how can we explain the waw in the Jehoash inscription? The Siloam Tunnel Inscription, from the eighth century B.C.E., contains a noun with the suffix waw�the word r'w ("his fellow"). This unusual form is explained as a contraction of the archaic r'hw with synacope loss of the he. Although there is no example of "his people" spelled with a he anywhere in the Bible or extrabiblical sources, there is little doubt that in early periods the word would actually have been pronounced with a -hu suffix, making it possible that the word 'mw in the Jehoash inscription, like r'w of the Siloam inscription, is a contraction of an archaic form 'mhw.

I don't see the two cases as comparable, for reasons that unfortunately require me to go into excruciating comparative-Semitic detail. (In what follows I must be more rigorous in transliteration and short vowels are indicated as lower case and long vowels as capitals. If you'd like to read a brief discussion of the orthography of ancient Hebrew and Aramaic, see my article "Orthography" in Schiffman and VanderKam, Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls [Oxford: OUP, 2000], 625-28.) Freedman's case sounds plausible initially only because he cites all the forms without vocalization and he does not give ordered sound changes to get from the Proto-Semitic forms to the forms in the inscriptions. He seems to be floating a general possibility without having a specific route in mind to get to the form in question. I don't think there is one.

As for the Siloam inscription: the vocalized form of R(HW would have been *Ri(iHU (with the normal u-vowel before the suffix assimiliated to the i of the noun, probably under the influence of the gutteral. Cf. BH RE(EHU). This appears to have collapsed into the form Ri(iW, which is a reasonable possibility. (It may also be that the word is plural, in which case the orthography would be unremarkable.)

But the geminate (MW in the "Joash Inscription" would be vocalized as (aMMO (from Proto-Semitic *(aMMuHu, with the -uHu suffix collapsing to long O by the biblical period). In the ninth century this word would have been written (MH, since final long O was always written with a he in this period. I can't figure out any way that *-uHu could have collapsed in Hebrew to anything that could have been spelled with a waw in the ninth century B.C.E. The use of waw to mark final long O (standard in the Masoretic Text) is very late, Persian period or later. Although our knowledge of ancient orthography is imperfect, we do understand the history of the orthography of official Jerusalem Hebrew pretty well, and it boggles my mind to think that a final long O could have been written with a waw in the ninth century.

Conclusion: it looks to me as though the inscription was written by someone who was not thinking in ancient Hebrew (Modern Hebrew seems most likely) and who tried to adjust the vocabulary and orthography to fit the ancient language, but who did not entirely succeed.

Bottom line: if I had to bet, based on the two cases [now three - see below] that Freedman deals with, I would bet the inscription is a forgery.

UPDATE (6 March): I forgot to discuss one more argument that Freedman offers:
The only instance of a possible medial vowel letter in the inscription is the waw in the word lwlm ("staircase," in line 12). It is possible, however, that the original form had a diphthong. (lawlim) or simply a consonant (lewulim).

The issue here is that medial or internal vowel letters are generally agreed to have been introduced into Judahite Hebrew spelling much later than the ninth century. The earliest certain case I know of is the form )RWR, "cursed be," in the Siloam Tomb inscription (c. 700 B.C.E., although the place name ZYP may be another example from sometime in the eighth century. Thus waw to indicate long U seems to be an anachronism in this inscription.

Freedman posits two explanations. The first is that the original form had the diphthong -aw, in which case the waw would have been written as in the inscription. The problem with this idea is that the biblical Hebrew form for this word is LUL , with a long U. (I know of no cognates in other Semitic languages.) If the original form was a diphthong, the form should be LOL, with a long O. Hebrew long U comes from Proto-Semitic long U, not from a diphthong. The first explanation does not work.

His second explanation is that the waw was a consonant, and he suggests the form *lewulim. I'm not sure what to make of this form; it just doesn't look possible to me. There was no long or short e vowel in Proto-Semitic and I don't see how to get to one in this sort of environment in the Hebrew of the ninth century. In any case this looks like a triphthong, which is a very unstable form and which had collapsed to long E or long U in proto-Hebrew. Perhaps he has in mind the waw being doubled: *lawwalim or the like. This is possible. The problem is that you can't get from a doubled waw in this form to the long U in the biblical Hebrew form LUL. Doubled waw doesn't turn into long U. This explanation doesn't work either.

If one wants to save the form LWLM, the best approach would be to point to the Aramaic Tel Fakhariyah inscription from Syria, which dates to the ninth century or earlier and which has numerous medial vowel letters, especially in names and loanwords. One could then say that we don't know all that much about the development of the system of vowel letters and that it is not in principle impossible that we could find an internal vowel letter in an ninth century Judean inscription. I can't argue with this, but it's an obscurum per obscurius explanation, which makes me nervous. It makes me even more nervous that the word LUL means stairway in Modern Hebrew and is spelled with the waw. We already have reason to suspect a forger thinking in Modern Hebrew and this does nothing to allay our fears.

Bottom line: as above.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Charlesworth, James H. and Michael A. Daise, eds.
Light in a Spotless Mirror: Reflections on Wisdom Traditions in Judaism and Early Christianity
Reviewed by Tobias Nicklas

Lohfink, Norbert
Translated by Sean McEvenue
Reviewed by Christo Lombaard
David M. Goldenberg, The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Princeton: 2003. Pp. xv, 448. $35.00.. ISBN 0-691-11465-X.
Reviewed by Molly Myerowitz Levine.
THE JOURNAL FOR THE STUDY OF THE OLD TESTAMENT has a new issue (28.3, March 2004) online. Here's the table of contents:
The Victories of Merenptah, and the Nature of their Record 259
Kenneth Kitchen

The Babylonian Gap: The Archaeological Reality 273
Ephraim Stern

Reading 'Rape' in the Hebrew Bible: A Consideration of Language 279
Sandie Gravett

Body Images in the Psalms 301
Susanne Gillmayr-Bucher

Biblical Wasfs Beyond Song of Songs 327
David Bernat

Deutero-Isaiah of Jerusalem 351
Michael Goulder

Observations on the Marital Metaphor of YHWH and Israel in its Ancient Israelite Context: General Considerations and Particular Images in Hosea 1.2 363
Ehud Ben Zvi

Requires paid personal or institutional subscription to access.
THE "JEHOASH INSCRIPTION" AGAIN: David Noel Freedman's article, "Don't Rush to Judgment: Jehoash Inscription May Be Authentic," is now online at the Biblical Archaeology Society Breaking News website. (Heads-up, Stephen C. Carlson.) I don't have time to read it right now, but I'll comment when I get a chance.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

DAVID FRUM has acknowledged that Mel Gibson accepts that six million Jews were killed during the Holocaust, by posting a letter from a reader (not me) who made the correction.

No word from Andrew Sullivan, which is surprising. He is usually quite good about making corrections.
Excavations begin to unearth Tiberias of the Talmudic era (Ha'aretz via Archaeologica News)

By Eli Ashkenazi

Excavations to uncover the ancient city of Tiberias began this week, as part of a project to reconstruct the old city and operate an archaeological park on the site.


Professor Yizhar Hirschfeld, the archaeologist in charge, said that the excavations will focus on the bath house, the cardo and the marketplace of the ancient city. Later, the diggers will advance to the eastern part of the old city, toward the Kinneret. That is the site of the Basilica, where the Sanhedrin (the Supreme Court of the time) is believed to have sat.

HERE IS HOW Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ is being spun by the media in the United Arab Emirates:
Passion of Christ to hit theatres by mid-March (Khaleej Times)


Renowned Muslim scholar, Dr Ahmad Al Qubaisi, who saw the film Monday evening during a private screening, told Khaleej Times that the movie was "awful and depressing", two and a half hours of the worst torture imaginable poured on one man.

"As Muslims, we do not hold with the belief that Jesus Christ died on the cross. In the film Jesus suffers enough torture to die one hundred times over. When in the film he is shown to have died on the cross, the last words uttered by Jesus place the blame for his death on the Jews. Is it possible for God to torture and kill his own beloved prophet, when he saved Moses and Noah and the other prophets?" Dr Al Qubaisi wondered.

He said the film troubled him deeply and made him cry twice as he watched it. "The horror is that the people who witnessed the crucifixion in the film were happy with this torture, the Jewish religious leaders in the film were shown to be especially cruel and heartless. "I cried twice during the film even though I know it was not true, so how would a Christian, who believes in what was shown in the film, feel while watching it. I believe this film is evidence that the American people have grown to despise and hate the control that the Jews exert over their lives and over their political leaders. This film comes after the Pope officially absolved the Jews of the blood of Jesus Christ," Dr Al Qubaisi said.

He said he believes that the Western world are beginning to realise that the Jews are really aiming to destroy world peace and a strong anti-Jewish feeling is welling up in the West that could culminate in the Jewish people subjected to another wave of mass killings similar to what they suffered under Hitler.

"God said that the people of Israel will reach great heights before their fall. How can such a film be shown in America at a time when the Jews control America? The same thing happened in Germany, when Hitler started the holocaust the Jews had reached a pinnacle of power in Germany. This film is a turning point in the history of the Jews we will see unmatched hatred for the Jews culminating in their traditional end.


Not a good sign.
"TEMPLE MOUNT FAITHFUL petition court on Wakf work" (Jerusalem Post)

The ultra-nationalist Temple Mount Faithful group on Tuesday petitioned the High Court of Justice to halt "illegal" construction work by the Islamic Wakf on the Temple Mount.

The petition states that archaeologists from the Antiquities Authority are not supervising the goings-on at the Jerusalem holy site as stipulated by law, and that Wakf officials are doing "as they please" at the disputed compound.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

SOME ARAMAIC ELEPHANTINE PAPYRI are on display in the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida:
Papyrus scrolls detail ancient Jewish life in Egypt at Norton exhibit (Palm Beach Daily News)
By JAN SJOSTROM, Daily News Arts Editor

Tuesday, March 2, 2004 � On July 3, 449 B.C., Ananiah and Tamut were married in Khnum, a town on Elephantine Island in the Nile River near present-day Aswan.

Actually, their relationship was well-established by then. Ananiah, a Jewish temple official, and his wife, Tamut, an Egyptian slave, already had a young son, Palti. But in Egypt 2,500 years ago, formal marriage was superfluous until children were born, and the future disposition of property became an issue.

Ananiah's and Tamut's marriage is documented in the first of eight papyrus scrolls recording important legal transactions in their and their children's lives over 47 years.

The scrolls form the foundation of Jewish Life in Ancient Egypt: A Family Archive from the Nile Valley at the Norton Museum of Art. The exhibition was organized by the Brooklyn Museum of Art from its 8,000-piece Egyptian collection.

Charles Edwin Wilbour, an avid amateur Egyptologist and one-time Tammany Hall printer and publisher, bought the scrolls in 1893 while cruising the Nile River on his houseboat.

He sealed them in a biscuit tin, tucked the tin in the bottom of a trunk, and forgot about it. The scrolls remained undisturbed for 54 years, when Wilbour's daughter discovered the trunk in her attic, and donated its contents to the Brooklyn Museum.


The One News article "Gibson's dad plays down Holocaust," after discussing Mel's father's well-documented Holocaust denial, says:
In a television interview with Diane Sawyer this week, Mel Gibson accused the Times of taking advantage of his father, and he warned Sawyer against broaching the subject again.

"He's my father. Gotta leave it alone Diane. Gotta leave it alone," Gibson said, while offering his own perspective on the Holocaust.

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

It then goes back to Gibson senior's bizarre views. Now here is that quote from Gibson junior in context:
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.

The key exchange (which I have put in bold font), in which Gibson affirms unambiguously that six million Jews died in the Holocaust is omitted. The most generous interpretation of this I can come up with is that someone was culpably careless: this is an important issue and it is very misleading to leave out the part of the exchange where Gibson removes all doubt regarding his position.

Now look at the harm such distortions can do. In his National Review Online blog, David Frum writes:
On the other hand, I have to say I was very disturbed by something Gibson said in his interview with Peggy Noonan in Reader's Digest.

Gibson's father is of course a notorious Holocaust denier and trafficker in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Noonan offered Mel Gibson an opportunity to separate himself from his father's views. Here is Gibson's reply:

"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."

Sounds unambiguous, right? Now listen again. Note that Gibson did not say, "Don't be absurd, Peggy. Obviously it is a matter of historical record that Adolph Hitler and the Nazis deliberately murdered millions of Jews." Note that Gibson did not cite the universally accepted casualty count of between 5 and 6 million Jewish fatalities. Nor did he acknowledge that Jews were special targets of Hitler's hatred or that anti-Semitism occupied a central place in Hitler's ideology.

Note next that Gibson did not use the word "murder." Instead, he used the generic term "atrocities," which could cover anything from mass murder to assault and arson. And whatever was the point of that strange formulation, "Some of them were Jews..."?

Notice finally how Gibson goes on to speak of Stalin's massacres. Gibson speaks of Stalin's crimes in plain, direct language. For them, he invokes commonly accepted casualty counts. What prevented him from speaking that way of the Jewish Holocaust?

Gibson used equally stilted language when asked a similar question by Diane Sawyer on ABC: "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." Here again, Gibson seems to bypass the issues of (1) the numbers killed; (2) whether those people were deliberately murdered; and (3) whether that murder proceeded from Nazi ideology.

I am not parsing these words so closely to be pedantic. The trouble is that Gibson's words, whether carefully considered or not, bear an uncomfortably close resemblance to those deployed by genuine Holocaust deniers.

Frum's source of information is the selective quote from One News (follow the link and see). Moreover, Andrew Sullivan perpertuated the distortion yesterday when he quoted Frum's column with approval:
NOTICING EVIL: David Frum parses Mel Gibson's verbal non-committal on whether the Holocaust really took place as we know it did.

Now it was reasonable to be concerned by Gibson's comments to Noonan. As you can see with the above internal link, I thought the same thing when I first encountered comments on what he said. But I corrected myself promptly (the evening of the same day) when the Sawyer interview was drawn to my attention. I did check the actual Noonan interview as far as it was published, but in retrospect I should have run a "mel gibson holocaust" search on Google in the first place, which probably would have alerted me to the Sawyer interview.

But what One News has done is taken the Sawyer interview and selectively quoted it so that it now gives the impression that Gibson was waffling on the scale of the Holocaust when the full context makes it clear that he was not. As I said, the most positive face that can be put on this is that it was slipshod reporting. They could easily have summarized what he said in such a way to make clear that he accepted that six million Jews died in concentration camps under the Nazi regime. They could also easily have made clear that "the subject" that Gibson warns Sawyer to leave alone is Gibson's father rather than the Holocaust itself. Is this another Mel Gibson Dowdification? I'm not sure. I'll leave it for you to decide.

Frum and Sullivan were careless too: they should have checked the actual interview before posting. I trust that both will post corrections promptly. (I've e-mailed them both.)

I don't like what I hear about the movie and it's only a sense of professional obligation that makes me plan to see it at all, but the Mel-Gibson-as-Holocaust-denier meme is false, yet it seems to be spreading. (I even helped spread it for a few hours.) It needs to be stamped out.

Also, Frum quotes with approval a very strange essay by David Warren, which includes the following:
"It was, historically, Pontius Pilate, a rather gutless Roman administrator, of some personal charm, who passed sentence and then washed his hands of the sentence he had passed. He could believe a man innocent yet send him to torture for reasons of state, which included his own personal convenience. In the proto-modernism of the ancient world, it is Pilate who asks with such droll urbanity, 'What is truth?'

I'm not going to get bogged down in critiquing this piece; I'll just stick to the issue of historical veracity. We know enough about Pilate to know he was nothing like this. I quote senior Qumran scholar Geza Vermes in a recent Telegraph article:
About Pilate a great deal is known. All the first-century sources other than the Gospels depict him as a harsh, insensitive and cruel figure, guilty of bribery, and responsible for numerous executions without trial. He was dismissed and banished by the emperor Tiberius. The portrait in the New Testament of a vacillating weakling, troubled by his conscience but eventually yielding to the bloodthirsty Jewish mob, is quite at odds with what we know of the real Pilate.

Vermes's article has been discussed on PaleoJudaica and he has nuanced it further in this comment, but none of the specialists who have commented on it disagree with his characterization of Pilate. (This includes Dr. Helen Bond, who has published a book on Pilate.) Frum gets bad marks for approving erroneous history when he could have checked up on it first.
The Seminar on the Jewish Roots of Eastern Christian Mysticism


The Department of Theology of Marquette University

are pleased to invite you to a series of lectures by


Friday, April 23, 2004 3 pm, Olin Hall (EN 120)
Assumptionist and Pre-Existent Christology: The Exalted Servant of the Christ Hymn in Philippians 2 and the Eternal Son of the Logos Hymn in the Johannine Prologue

Saturday, April 24, 2004 10 am, Olin Hall (EN 120)

Saturday, April 24, 2004 3 pm, Olin Hall (EN 120)

Professor Fossum is a major representative of what is sometimes referred to as "the new History of Religions School." He is the author of a classic study on The Name of God and the Angel of the Lord: Samaritan and Jewish Mediation Concepts and the Origin of Gnosticism. Other contributions to the study of traditions that shaped Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity are collected in the volume The Image of the Invisible God: Essays on the Influence of Jewish Mysticism on Early Christology.

All sessions are open to the public and will take place on the campus of Marquette University. For the directions to the campus see:

For further information contact Dr. Andrei Orlov, Marquette University Theology Department,
P.O. Box 1881 Milwaukee, WI USA 52201-1881,

Monday, March 01, 2004

USEFUL ARAMAIC PHRASES. Reader Carl Mosser points me to this Guardian article, What's popcorn in Aramaic?, which provides some Aramaic phrases that may come in handy when you're watching Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. A few selections:

B-kheeruut re'yaaneyh laa kaaley tsuuraathaa khteepaathaa, ellaa Zaynaa Mqatlaanaa Trayaanaa laytaw!
It may be uncompromising in its liberal use of graphic violence, but Lethal Weapon II it ain't.

Aykaa beyt tadkeetha? Zaadeq lee d-asheeg eeday men perdey devshaanaayey haaleyn!
Where is the loo? I need to wash my hands of this popcorn.

Ktaabaa taab hwaa meneyh.
It's not as good as the book.

Etheeth l-khubeh 'almeenaayaa d-Maaran Yeshu Msheekhaa, ella faasheth metool Moneeqaa Belluushee!
I came for the everlasting love of our Lord Jesus Christ, but I stayed for Monica Bellucci.

D-tetbuun deyn men yameen u-men semaal, la hwaat deel l-metal, ellaa l-ayleyn da-mtaybaa.
To sit at my right or my left is not for me to grant; it is for those to whom it has already been assigned.

Tev attuun men qdaamaa!
Down in front!

Peletaa kuullaah da-Qraabay Kawkbey.
It's all an allegory of Star Wars.

Looks more like Syriac to me than first-century Galilean Aramaic. The fifth one quoted above is almost identical to the Peshitta of Matthew 20:23b. And I'm afraid I can't vouch for the word for "popcorn."
ODED GOLAN RESPONDS, on the Bible and Interpretation website, to the Uvda program and to the many charges made against him in the media:
Television Broadcast Was No More Than �Rumor�

��� For many months, individuals related to the IAA (The Israel Antiquities Authority) have leaked false information to the media and press on five continents and to thousands of websites on the Internet.

By Oded Golan
March 2004

��� At this stage, I wish only to mention two important facts which may assist the reader in analyzing the recent �media circus�:

1. The number of times that I have sold or mediated in a sale of antiquities in my entire life is smaller than the number of fingers on my hands, and this in itself is much smaller than the number of sales or exchanges performed by any serious antiquities collector I know in the world.

2. In all my 42 years of collecting antiquities, I have never sold a single item to any individual or institution outside Israel (I reiterate � not even a single item in the entire 42-year period was sold by me outside Israel!).

��� For many months, individuals related to the IAA (The Israel Antiquities Authority) have leaked false information to the media and press on five continents and to thousands of websites on the Internet.


��� Without going into the legal issues in depth, the violation of civil rights and privacy, personal property, libel, direct damage to personal property, publication of information without rights (including scientific information), were all blatantly clear to anyone viewing the program. Equally obvious was the absolutely improper conduct. On one hand, as the object of investigation, I am prevented from responding freely to the media and restrictions of discussing information at this stage apply to me. On the other hand, IAA and police officials repeatedly stated to the courts that the information concerning the investigation is classified, yet the Israel Police had no trouble in approaching the media and providing the information to the public during the legal proceedings.


As far as I know, this is the first public statement of any significant length which Golan has made, so it's worth reading in full.
I BET THIS IS THE FIRST TIME that Aramaic has been mentioned during the Oscars ceremony.
Given the "Return of the King" juggernaut, the greatest suspense in the ceremony may have come from anticipating how [master of ceremonies Billy] Crystal might acknowledge "The Passion of the Christ," the highly controversial Mel Gibson film that upstaged the Oscars when it opened on Ash Wednesday last week.

Crystal obliged by announcing, "For the very, very first time, we're being simulcast in Aramaic."
PROFESSOR BETH GLAZIER-MCDONALD discusses her work on ancient Galilean amulets in the Danville Advocate:
Centre professor of religion connects past to present

Staff Writer

Beth Glazier-McDonald has an engaging way to characterize one of the interesting aspects of her job as professor of religion at Centre College.

"I speak many, many dead languages," she says with a grin.

She studied Syriac, Aramaic, Ugaritic, which is a Canaanite dialect, and Akkadian, as well as Hebrew, Greek and Arabic during graduate school at the University of Chicago.


Glazier-McDonald's lifelong interest in languages led her to want to work with primary sources, she says. When fellow religion professor C. Thomas McCollough came back from an archaeological dig in summer 1994, he asked her to translate an amulet found in Sepphoris. "It was a dream come true," Glazier-McDonald notes.

Their first collaborative effort was a bronze fever amulet that measured 3.5 centimeters in width by 8.2 centimeters in height. It is partially broken at the bottom. Its language is Aramaic and it dates to the early fifth century Common Era (C.E.) Glazier-McDonald says it is an "amulet for protracted fever." In ancient times, amulets were written, rolled up and put in a case.


They've also collaborated on three other amulets, including a silver amulet that is written primarily in Hebrew with occasional "Aramaicisms." Its message is social rather than protective, and it dates from the same period as the bronze amulet. It was found in its silver case, and measures 11.2 centimeters long by 3.1 centimeters wide.

Glazier-McDonald spent a lot of time working on the silver amulet during a recent sabbatical. She says it "looks like silver foil." Because the amulets do not leave the country where they are found, Glazier-McDonald works from photographs.


For Glazier-McDonald's most recent work, there were almost 56 lines of text in a space less than 2 inches wide. It was written in Hebrew, with words that "flowed into one another," Glazier-McDonald says.


"The more I work on an amulet, the more I see," she explains. "This silver amulet is an analysis between Biblical literature and amulet literature. And the line drawing is painstaking."


McCollough says he is trying to correlate the amulet with a recently excavated synagogue that has a Zodiac mosaic.

"Which is not too unusual, but it is unexpected," he says of the mosaic.

Glazier-McDonald says the amulet makes reference to Zodiac signs. Some of the language of the amulet leads them to believe there could be a connection between the amulet and the mosaic.

A fourth amulet is out of a collection and measures 8 centimeters by 3 centimeters. Glazier-McDonald says she is beginning to work on it.

I love ancient amulets. Incantation bowls too.

Sunday, February 29, 2004

THERE'S A TEMPLE MOUNT ROUND-UP in the Boston Globe. It starts with the recent earthquake damage to the Dome of the Rock and mentions the Palestinian Authority's Jewish-temple denial. Excerpts:
So far, the Palestinian newspaper Al Quds has published a front-page report that the stunning gold Dome of the Rock -- an internationally known symbol of the city -- was damaged by the quake, and the Jerusalem municipal government has requested a police permit for its inspectors to enter the highly-charged, Muslim-controlled area to check for structural damage.

A reporter who visited the mosque Wednesday saw no damage to the dome, but observed a horizontal row of fresh cracks in a westerly wall of the mosque. The cracks were nearly half an inch wide and 8 inches to 16 inches long. Worshipers and Israeli security sources said the earthquake also opened new cracks in the Marwani Mosque, which is better known to Jews and Christians as the Solomon's Stables area of the compound.


"It is a very good trigger" for rallying the Muslim masses, said a senior Israeli police official, who spoke on condition that his name not be published. "No leader of Arabs could say `I'm not involved' when Al Aqsa is invoked."

Muslims are fearful that if Jews become involved in the affairs of the site -- which was the scene of the great Jewish temple built by King Solomon at the dawn of verifiable human history, and of the Second Temple, built by King Herod, from which Jesus chased the moneylenders -- they will attempt eventually to reestablish a Jewish temple there.

Israelis worry that the "waqf," the Palestinian-dominated Muslim religious trust that has day-to-day sovereignty, is both incompetent to maintain the archeologically complex site and liable not to preserve non-Muslim antiquities found there.

The Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa have been in place since the seventh and eighth centuries, respectively, and Palestinian leaders including Yasser Arafat and the current mufti of Jerusalem, Ikrima Sabri, assert that there is no evidence the Jewish temples ever existed.

The deep distrust sometimes produces paralysis, sources on both sides acknowledge, and that could pose grave danger to the physical stability of the ancient site.

Earthquake damage is just one in a series of recent signs of physical deterioration.

Gnostic Sect in Iraq Lobbies to Protect Its Way of Life (Los Angeles Times)
* The Mandaean Sabians are emerging from their closed society to press for recognition and rights in a lawless and largely Muslim land.

By Megan K. Stack, Times Staff Writer


During Saddam Hussein's regime, years the Mandaean Sabians spent hunkered in their cloistered communities while their country dried up, water came to represent the many things Iraq was losing.

The regime drained the marshes and dammed the rivers. Mandaean temples were seized by Hussein, and the sect was banned from erecting new houses of worship. Some members were killed.

But now the marshes are wet again, and the rivers full. This has been Iraq's rainiest winter in nearly a decade � and the Mandaean Sabians are hoping for a renaissance.

"The dictator did not allow us to express our religion freely," said Toma Zeki Zehrun, the Mandaean secretary of affairs in Baghdad. "Now it is time." A quiet people who preach peace and traditionally shy from authority, the Mandaean Sabians are pushing cannily into politics. They have opened a rudimentary lobbying campaign to protect their rights during Iraq's political formation and have enlisted spokesmen to meet with political and religious figures.

All the while, they are reminding anybody who will listen that they are a test for Iraq's nascent government. The quality of Iraq's democracy will show itself in the protection of its minorities, they argue.

The Mandaean Sabians want permission, never granted under Hussein, to build schools to educate their children in their language. The sect also expects representation in the Iraqi Governing Council and is pushing for a mention in the Iraqi constitution.

"We would like to fix our religion as a religion of Iraq," Zeki Zehrun said. "We demand strongly to prove our existence, and to participate in the political process." But with opportunity comes danger. Mandaean Sabians are vulnerable and isolated in a newly lawless Iraq. Moreover, some Islamists are taking advantage of the demise of the secular regime by leading a sort of vigilante push to impose Islamic code on Iraqi society. Christians and other minorities, including the Mandaean Sabians, have suffered most, especially in the south.

Here in the southern city of Nasiriya, a predominantly Shiite Muslim region, Mandaean Sabians are particularly worried about protecting their weekly baptism rituals. Muslims regard the rites either as charming curiosities or infidel shows of paganism. The sect has been accused of worshipping images, and threats to the Baghdad temple have driven its rituals indoors, away from the river and into the white pools built within the temple walls.


It has been 50 years since Lady E.S. Drower, a lifelong observer of the Mandaean Sabians, was disturbed by the increasing secularism and dwindling priesthood of the sect. "The writing is on the wall: In 50 years' time this ancient religion will languish into its death," she wrote. But the sect is still here.

Good luck to them!
MORE ON ARAMAIC and Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ:
In 'Passion,' ancient Aramaic again finds its voice (Newark Star-Ledger)
Sunday, February 29, 2004

Star-Ledger Staff

At the searing blockbuster "The Passion of The Christ" last week, a retelling of the last hours of Jesus' life, George Kiraz sat rapt as moviegoers around him wept.

All around him people succumbed to their emotions, but Kiraz quietly exercised his brain and ears. He was focusing on the dialogue, spoken in the ancient tongue of Aramaic.

"We felt a bit guilty. People were sobbing all around us," said the Piscataway resident, who went with his wife Christine. "We were really concentrating on the language. It was so exciting to hear it."


Most Americans have probably never heard of Aramaic, although it figured in one episode of the TV show "Law and Order" and was actually spoken in a 1998 Denzel Washington movie, "Fallen." Most of the Talmud, the sourcebook of Jewish religious law, is in Aramaic. So are portions of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Most of the Talmuds (there are two of them) are in Hebrew, but there's some Aramaic. Aramaic has also figured in the movies Stigmata and The Order.
"I would like my children, when they go to church and hear liturgical Syriac, to understand it," said Kiraz, who worships at Saint Mark's Syrian Orthodox Church in Teaneck and at a new Syrian Orthodox parish he helped found in Cranbury.

Kiraz also has published teaching aids for Tabetha, including a coloring book, so that she is learning her ABCs in Aramaic as well as English -- plus Turkish. Mom Christine Kiraz, a chemist for Colgate-Palmolive, was born in Istanbul and speaks Turkish to her daughter. That makes Tabetha, who learns English at the baby sitter's next door and from TV, trilingual.

At the opening-day showing of "The Passion," Kiraz found he only understood about 60 percent of the dialogue. His wife, who studied Aramaic as an adult, understood a bit less.

No matter. They were thrilled to hear the sounds of a 2,000-year-old language come off the big screen.

"Thanks to this movie, there is a realization that there are communities that speak Aramaic," said Kiraz, director of the Syriac Institute in Piscataway, an organization that promotes the study of Aramaic. He earns his living as a consultant in the field of computational linguistics, which combines computer science with the study of language.


"It's kind of a dream for us," George Kiraz said, one day after viewing the movie. Little Tabetha played nearby, thumbing through her Aramaic dictionary and coloring in the letters.

"We hope that this interest in Aramaic will not peak and then disappear," he said. "We hope it will continue."

Me too.

Also, here's an interview with renowned Aramaic scholar Joseph Fitzmyer which I seem to have missed.