Saturday, March 13, 2004

"THE WORD TO WATCH." CBC News reports:
According to its website, the Global Language Monitor "analyses and catalogues the latest trends in word usage and word choices." It bills itself as "a worldwide assemblage of linguists, professional wordsmiths, and bibliophiles."

The group named "Aramaic" as its "word to watch." Aramaic is the nearly-dead language used in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.

Some of us have been watching it. It's good to see that others are catching up.
A CAPSULE HISTORY OF ARAMAIC: Christianity Today has one in "Christian History Corner: Rediscovering the Language Jesus Spoke".
NOT A DEAD LANGUAGE: Chaldean Christians hope Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ will help efforts to preserve Aramaic as a living language. I think I may have linked to a version of this Knight Ridder article earlier, but this version includes a few everyday phrases in spoken Aramaic:

I love you (said to a woman). - K-haibinnakh.

What's for dinner? - Ma ittan ta ashaya?

Where's the bathroom? - Aika iyle betha d-maya?

Do you come here often (said to a woman)? - Kul gaha k-athyat akha?

Happy Birthday (said to a woman)! - Brykha aidha d-hwaithakh!

Source: Suad Gorial, who teaches a modern Aramaic dialect at St. Joseph Chaldean Catholic Church in Troy, Mich.

Friday, March 12, 2004

TERRORISM IN MADRID: Let me join with Mark Goodacre in extending sympathy, prayers, and shared outrage for our Spanish friends, including blogger Rub�n G�mez, concerning the cowardly terrorist attacks in Madrid. It still seems to be up in the air whether the perpetrators were ETA or Al Qaeda, but, whoever they are, we must hunt them down, bring them to justice, and smash their organization without mercy.

UPDATE: I've just e-mailed a note of sympathy to the Spanish Embassy in London. If you are in Britain and would like to do the same, follow the link for contact information. If you're in the United States, Glenn Reynolds has links to contact information there.

UPDATE: The Spanish Embassy replies:
Muy agradecido por sus palabras de p�same en estos tr�gicos momentos.

Se convoca a las personas interesadas a un minuto de silencio el viernes 12 de marzo de 2004, a las 13.00 horas delante de la puerta de esta Embajada (24 Belgrave Square; London SW1X 8QA)

La misa en memoria de las victimas del atentado terrorista se celebrar� en la Catedral (no la Abad�a) de Westminster (Victoria Street, Londres SW1) hoy 12 de marzo, a las 20.00 horas, habi�ndose cancelado la misa prevista en la Capellan�a Espa�ola.

El Embajador de Espa�a

We are most grateful for your sincere condolences during these tragic moments.

For anyone who wishes to express their condolences there will be a minute's silence at 13.hrs on Friday 12th March outside the main entrance of the Spanish Embassy at 24 Belgrave Square; London SW1X 8QA

The Westminster cathedral (Victoria Street, London SW1) will conduct a service in memory of the victims of this terrorist attack on the 12th March at 20.00 hrs.

The Spanish Ambassador
ARAMAIC WATCH. An article on Lasagna in Tandem says the following (my emphasis):
No one is absolutely certain where and when pasta came to be. But there are certainly a slew of theories. There are some highlights throughout history. Etruscan archaeological findings, (found mainly in near present-day Rome) display stucco relieves of several tools used for home pasta-making.
The first certain record of noodles cooked by boiling is in the Jerusalem Talmud, written in Aramaic in the 5th century AD.
Naples became Italy's pasta centre in the 1500s. The King of Naples, Ferdinand II hired an engineer who devised a system where a machine took over the job of kneading and cutting.
It's considered common knowledge that lasagna is an Italian invention and probably got its start during the Ancient Roman era.
That claim went undisputed for centuries until last year, when the BBC reported news that stunned the culinary world: lasagna is British.

Is the bit about the Talmud true? Typically, the article does not give a reference. Does anyone have it?

I had heard years ago that pasta was brought to Italy from the Far East by Marco Polo, but this article says nothing about it and I have no idea if it's really so.

UPDATE: A reader who doesn't give a name points me to messages 441, 448, and 462 on the Apicius (ancient Roman cookery) list. According to the last of these, noodles are mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud in Betza i, 60d; Nedarim vi,39c; and Hallah i, 59d.

UPDATE (13 March): The reader was Justin, The Mad Latinist.
Mattel Toys is currently negotiating with Mel Gibson and his production company to put out a set of toy dolls of Jesus Chris, Mary, Mary Magdalena, Caiphas and Pontius Pilate.

"The toys will be very tasteful," stated a VP of Mattel who wished to remain anonymous, "Kids will be able to play out at home the final hours of Jesus' death. It is very educational and entertaining. We think kids, regardless of their religion, are going to love these toys. For example, you can actually pull a string behind Jesus' back and he speaks to you in Aramaic."

But, sad to say, so is this:
Merriam-Webster, Incorporated, the company which makes Webster's dictionary, is publishing a new "Aramaic Dictionary" for those with the interest in learning how to speak Aramaic.

"We are seeing a renewed interest in Aramaic," stated Bill Spelitrite, "People really want to either learn the language or understand what Jesus was saying in Mel Gibson's movie. Therefore, in response to market demand, we are publishing a new set of Aramaic dictionaries and translators to help people. We are already sold out of the translators. We are working on new versions that cover not only English, but also Spanish, French, Italian and German."
WAQF WALL TAKEN DOWN, but not the concrete structure behind it. So Arutz Sheva reports:


Today's incident concerns a concrete structure and a wall around it that the Moslem Waqf constructed illegally just to the south of the Temple Mount. [Archaeologist] Dr. [Eilat] Mazar says that the Waqf is continuing its program of "turning the entire Temple Mount compound into a large mosque, with absolutely no Jewish, Christian or other presence there. The archaeology there absolutely does not interest them; they merely want to cover up all signs of Jewish history there. The wall they built there in just a few hours this week was designed to hide the beautiful Herodian walls at the majestic south-east corner of the Temple Mount, and erase all vestiges of Jewish presence."

Waqf workers in fact removed the wall this morning - but Dr. Mazar says that the struggle is not over: "Behind the wall stands a concrete structure, which they have not removed, but which is equally illegal - and it also must be taken down."
Fire destroys antiquities warehouse in Beit Shean (Jerusalem Post)

A treasure trove of artifacts excavated from the ancient site of Beit She'an has been destroyed in a blaze � apparently started deliberately � at an old building on the edge of the national park that had been used to store secondary finds.

The fire in the building, itself dating back to the eighth century CE, began on Wednesday and caused parts of the roof and walls to collapse, crushing many shards of pottery, marble, glassware, ceramics and other remains from various periods of history.


"What we had stored in the building were all the other finds excavated over the years since the project began in 1986. These were primarily from the Hellenistic period [circa 250 BCE] until the ancient city of Beit She'an was destroyed in an earthquake in 749 CE," said [excavations director Gaby] Mazor.

"These thousands upon thousands of finds formed the basis for our scientific research � everything we have written and are writing about the site since excavations began. Now all these discoveries are gone.

"The building has been gutted by fire and all the finds are destroyed. To stand there and see all this cultural destruction is just heartbreaking.



Thursday, March 11, 2004

THE MICHIGAN RELICS: The Michigan Historical Museum has a very full online exhibit, "Digging up Controversy: The Michigan Relics," with lots of photographs. (Via Anita Cohen-Williams's Museum Guru blog.) These are nineteen-century, quasi-biblical/ANE forged artifacts which were recently donated to the museum by the Mormon Church. I noted articles on the relics here and here, but both links have rotted away. This is why I try to excerpt articles whenever I have the time.

UPDATE: Cached versions of the articles mentioned above can be found here and here.

PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGIST JOE ZIAS now has a web page that includes some of his published articles. (Heads-up, Mark Goodacre.)

Wakf Temple Mount Devastation Continues Unimpeded


The current project began this morning, in the southeastern end of the Mount. Wakf officials report the new wall is intended to strengthen the ancient Herodian stones and nothing more. The new wall is two meters high and about 20 meters in length and creates a division between the Muslim cemetery and the eastern wall.

Dr. Eilat Mazar, an archeologist and member of the Committee Against Temple Mount Destruction rejects the explanation of the so-called strengthening wall, explaining the new wall totally blocks the Herodian and Byzantine period stones behind it, as well as antiquities dating back to the First and Second Temples.

Jerusalem City Hall stated it is unaware of any building request or permit being issued for the wall. Antiquities officials are referring inquiries to Israel Police. Jerusalem district police stated there is no new construction, but just scaffolding and a structure intended to fortify the ancient wall.


Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Beginning on March 24th (two weeks from today) there will be a colloquium with Professor Thomas L. Thompson concerning his book, "The Mythic Past" on the Biblical Studies discussion list. If you would like to participate, just sign up at
THE JOURNAL BIBLICA has a new issue (85.1, 2004) online (noted by Mark Goodacre). You can access the articles on the web page in either HTML or PDF formats. Here's an article of interest:
Rick STRELAN, �Who Was Bar Jesus (Acts 13,6-12)? � , Vol. 85(2004) 65-81.
In Acts 13, Bar Jesus is confronted by Paul and cursed by him. This false prophet is generally thought to have been syncretistic and virtually pagan in his magical practices. This article argues that he was in fact very much within the synagogue and that he had been teaching the ways of the Lord. He was also a threat to the Christian community of Paphos and may even have belonged inside of it. Luke regards him as a serious threat to the faith because of his false teaching about righteousness and the ways of the Lord.

Note also the following "Animadversiones" (critical notes):
Elie ASSIS, �The Choice to Serve God and Assist His People: Rahab and Yael� , Vol. 85(2004) 82-90.
This paper presents a series of analogies between Rahab and Yael, both gentiles, who unexpectedly choose to assist Israel against the Canaanites. The analogies are designed to illustrate the surprising and unanticipated means through which divine providence operates. Noteworthy differences between the two heroines indicate the specific significance of each story. Rahab�s conduct is motivated by her recognition of God�s absolute power. Yael�s motives, however, are unclear. Their concealment is meant to detract attention from Yael�s appealing character and focus on the prophetic role played by Deborah who had predicted Yael�s behaviour.

Paul SANDERS, �So May God Do To Me!� , Vol. 85(2004) 91-98.
In the Hebrew Bible we find the self-imprecation "So may God do to me and more also!" (2 Sam 3,35, 1 Kgs 2,23, etc.). In many cases, the phrase is immediately conditioned: "So may God do to me and more also, if you will not be the commander of the army" (2 Sam 19,14). God may punish the speaker, if the latter fails his promise. Ancient Mesopotamian sources suggest that the word "So" in the Hebrew expression originally referred to a gesture in use when taking an oath: the touching of the throat. The biblical passages where the expression occurs do not display any resistance to the use of the formula as such, even though it was often pronounced inconsiderately. However, the textual alteration in 1 Sam 25,22 shows that there was opposition to the idea that the pious king David failed a promise that he had reinforced using the self-imprecatory phrase.

Dominik MARKL, �Hab 3 in intertextueller und kontextueller Sicht� , Vol. 85(2004) 99-108.
The investigation of intentional intertextual references carried out in this article is based on the criteria introduced by the Anglicist Manfred Pfister. I arrive at the conclusion that Hab 3 refers to preceding biblical texts: In vv. 3.19 the prophetic prayer alludes to Deut 33 and 2 Sam 22 in order to assume the function of authoritative vicarious prayer, while avoiding martial ideology. If one approaches the book as a whole, Hab 3 stands in antithetical relationship to Hab 1, especially due to the fact that the theophany constitutes a counterattack against the Chaldean offensive described in Hab 1,5-11. This latter text seems to be given the form of a bitter ironical parody of Jer 5,15-17.

Simone PAGANINI , �'Ich bin ein Knecht des Herrn'.Bemerkungen zur LXX- �bersetzung des Wortes (BRY in Jon 1,9� , Vol. 85(2004) 109-114.
La frase pronunciata da Giona alla domanda dei marinai in 1,9 sembra voler rispondere all�ultimo quesito da loro posto: a quale popolo lui appartenga. Giona risponde con (BRY )NKY e usa la designazione tipica per un israelita che si trova a discutere con persone non appartenenti al suo popolo. La traduzione della LXX, DOULOS KURIO EGO EIMI, fa per� nascere un problema che non � risolvibile unicamente con il presupporre uno scambio tra R e D. (BRY viene tradotto altre volte con termini diversi da HEBRAIOS ma in Gio 1,9 il traduttore aggiunge di suo il termine KURIOU. Ci troviamo di fronte ad una traduzione interpretativa, fondata su un�idea teologica del libro di Giona secondo la quale, sin dall�inizio gli � chiara la sua missione, il suo esito e anche la sua realt�: lui � un servo di JHWH. [I have reformatted the Hebrew and Greek in this abstract � JRD.]

Michael L. BARR�, �'Tarshish Has Perished': The Crux of Isaiah 23,10� , Vol. 85(2004) 115-119.
Isa 23,10 is a long recognized crux interpretum within what is a difficult passage in its own right, Isaiah�s oracle against Tyre (23,1-14). The MT makes no sense. The restoration of the LXX Vorlage reconstructed by P. W. Flint brings us closer to the "original text", to the extent that only several minor errors separate us from what may be the original form of this verse. Once these are corrected the restored bicolon I propose not only makes good sense as a sentence but reads as good Biblical Hebrew poetry and fits the overall context very well.
Anthropology and the Old Testament
Research Symposium


Following on from the success of last year�s conference on Anthropology and Biblical Studies [the fruits of which are to be published in Aguilar, M. and Lawrence, L., (eds) Anthropology and Biblical Studies: Avenues of Research, Deo/SCM Press, 2004] another research symposium on Anthropology and the Old Testament has been planned for Friday 27th August, 2004. This will be held in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Glasgow. It is anticipated that papers delivered at this event will also be published in an edited volume.

Offers of papers are welcome from both anthropologists and biblical scholars on any aspect of reading or interpreting the Old Testament in light of anthropological and cross-cultural perspectives. Please send provisional titles and a short abstract to Dr Louise Lawrence ( by the end of May. Any other queries please do not hesitate to contact Louise or Dr Mario Aguilar (

We look forward to hearing from you.

Last year's symposium was a rousing success, so do come to this one if you can.
Passion' Can't Win a Foreign Language Oscar
Tue, Mar 09, 2004, 01:03 PM PT
By Mike Szymanski

LOS ANGELES ( - Mel Gibson's box office blockbuster, "The Passion of the Christ" won't be eligible for a foreign language Oscar nomination, according to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.

Although the whole movie is spoken in Aramaic and a form of street Latin, Gibson's company that produced the movie is American.

"It won't be eligible for the foreign language award because it was produced by an American company so it's considered an American film," explains Academy publicist Dawn Newell to "Although the film is in Aramaic, it wouldn't be submitted by a foreign country so it wouldn't qualify for the foreign language category."

THE JOURNAL OF THEOLOGICAL STUDIES has a new issue (55.1, April 2004) online. Some articles of interest include:
"On the alleged Aramaic idiom behind the synoptic HLQON-sayings"
Simon Gathercole
pp. 84-91
Full-Text PDF (79 KB)

The Aramaic background of Mark 9:11: A response to J. K. Aitken
Maurice Casey
pp. 92-102
Full-Text PDF (94 KB)

Resurrecting a calf. The origin of Testament of Abraham 6:5
D. C. Allison Jr
pp. 103-116
Full-Text PDF (112 KB)

St Aldhelm on Apocrypha
A. M. C. Casiday
pp. 147-157
Full-Text PDF (80 KB)

There are also a great many relevant book reviews.

Requires paid personal or institutional subscription to access.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

IMPORTANT US LEGISLATION ALERT (from the IraqCrisis list):
From: "Patty Gerstenblith" (by way of Charles E. Jones)
Date: Tue, 9 Mar 2004 12:30:53 -0600
Subject: [Iraqcrisis] Iraq Legislation

On March 4, the Senate passed legislation (S. 671) that gives the President the authority to impose restrictions to prevent the import into the United States of cultural materials that have been illegally removed from Iraq since August 1990. Enactment of this legislation is crucial to prevent cultural materials looted from Iraq's cultural institutions from entering the United States and to help combat the looting of archaeological sites.

Lobbyists on behalf of coin collectors and dealers are working to defeat this legislation in the House unless it exempts coins from any import restrictions. Please give your strong support to the Iraq provisions of S. 671 by contacting the following Senators, Representatives, and Congressional staffpersons:

Senator Charles Grassley: fax: 202-224-6020; website email form:
Senator Max Baucus: fax: 202-228-3687; website email form:
Representative William Thomas: email:; fax: 202-225-8798
Representative Charles Rangel: fax: 202-225-0816; website:
Representative Phil English: fax: 202-225-3103; website:
Representative Phil Crane: fax: 202-225-7830; website:
Representative Sander Levin: email:
Representative Jim Leach: email:; fax: 202-226-1278
Stephen Schaeffer, Senate Finance Committee: fax: 202-228-0554
David Kavanaugh, House Ways and Means Committee: fax: 202-226-0158

You should also urge these Representatives and Senators to include equivalent provisions for the protection of Afghanistan's cultural heritage, which is subject to massive looting and for which the United States also bears a special responsibility.

Please re-post this message where ever it might be of interest

My understanding is that Congressional Representatives and Senators take snail-mail letters and faxes more seriously than e-mails, so if you write, consider faxing rather than e-mailing.

UPDATE (10 March): Jim West e-mails:
You stated-
"My understanding is that Congressional Representatives and Senators take snail-mail letters and faxes more seriously than e-mails, so if you write, consider faxing rather than e-mailing."

My Senator makes clear that because of the slowdown in mail due to anthrax and other threats it is, in fact, best to contact directly through his website. My Senators (and I assume all) have a website which includes a "contact us" page where you simply fill out your information and submit your request/comment. I have used this method a number of times and always receive a snail mail reply to my web posted mail.

The Senate web address is
ARAMAIC WATCH: Iraq now has a transitional constitution. I haven't had time to read it all yet, but the following bit (my emphasis) caught my attention:
Article 9.

The Arabic language and the Kurdish language are the two official languages of Iraq. The right of Iraqis to educate their children in their mother tongue, such as Turcoman, Syriac, or Armenian, in government educational institutions in accordance with educational guidelines, or in any other language in private educational institutions, shall be guaranteed.

Islam is the state religion, but the constitution also (Article 7) "guarantees the full religious rights of all individuals to freedom of religious belief and practice." Cf. Article 12 and 13 (F).
GUIDE TO ARCHAEOLOGICAL DIGS: The Biblical Archaeological Society web page has one for the 2004 season which includes both digs in Israel and digs at ancient sites elsewhere.
TOLKIEN AGAIN, but this time not entirely irrelevant to PaleoJudaica. It seems that Aramaic isn't the only language benefitting from movie publicity:
Elvish is hobbitforming (Business Standard, India)

Nilanjana S Roy
Published : March 9, 2004

Lle quena i�lambe tel� Eldalie? The answer to that question �Do you speak Elvish? � is �yes� more often than you might realise.

Lord of the Rings fans trade phrases in Sindarin and Quenya in their online film discussions; linguists, particularly those with a puckish sense of humour, have confessed to occasionally speaking the language Tolkien invented; RPG (role-playing games) addicts often keep a downloadable phrase book handy.

But the Elven languages just took the mainstream world by surprise when a school in the UK announced that it planned to put Sindarin and Quenya on the syllabus.

It sounds like a load of Nevbosh, just another instance of hobbitmania run amok. (Nevbosh, an early language that Tolkien helped invent, stands for �New Nonsense�.)

But the educators who suggested incorporating Elvish into the syllabus suggested that a language, invented or not, that their students might actually be interested in learning, scored far higher in teaching terms than a worthier but dead language.

Every second kid in the playground wants to orate like Aragorn, give commands like Theoden and swear like an Orc; no one wants to go through the veni, vidi, vici routine any more, Gladiator notwithstanding. (It�s always possible that Mel Gibson�s Passion will spark off an Aramaic revival, but then again, we�re unlikely to see it happening in the classrooms at present. LOTR just has more reach.)


Unfortunately the article doesn't say which school in the U.K. is doing this.

UPDATE: Here's the information. The classes are being offered after hours. (Via Mirabilis.)
MORE ON THE "JEHOASH INSCRIPTION." Today's Ha'aretz reports:
Scholars want 'fake' Jehoash inscription reexamined
By Nadav Shragai, Haaretz Correspondent

The scholarly furor over the so-called Jehoash inscription has broken out again, nine months after an Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) committee pronounced it a forgery. Now four leading scientists demand that a new committee evaluate the inscription.


But four leading scientists have asked Education Minister Limor Livnat for a new committee to be appointed to evaluate the inscription. The group includes Prof. Haim Cohen of the department of Hebrew Linguistics, Bible, and the Ancient Near East of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev; Prof. Yoel Kronfeld, of the faculty of Geophysics and Planetary Sciences of Tel Aviv University; Dr. Gabriel Barkay of the department of Land of Israel Studies at Bar-Ilan University; and Dr. Yoel Elitzur of the departments of Language and Land of Israel Studies at Herzog College in Alon Shvut.


The four scholars calling for the establishment of a new committee to consider the authenticity of the inscription claim that the IAA committee was one-dimensional, and that expert opinions and interpretations from Israel and elsewhere were not brought to bear on the evidence. "Scholars who expressed the clear opinion that the inscription was a forgery were invited to the committee, " Prof. Cohen noted, "while those who believed otherwise, such as the two scientists from the Geological Institute, were disqualified." The four scholars also said that "professional errors were made in dealing with the issue, which led to hasty conclusions. "


"There is nothing philological in the inscription that attests to its being a forgery," Prof. Cohen, a philologist, noted. "I can categorically refute all the evidence that my colleagues have brought up in concluding that it is a forgery," Cohen stated. "I can explain everything written there from a linguistic point of view as suited to the biblical period, to the period of Jehoash, the ninth century BCE. And I am not the only philologist who thinks so."


You can find my opinion on some of the philological issues here.
MORE ON THE ARAMAIC AND LATIN in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. (If you're wondering why I keep repeating that phrase, it's to make it easier to find all the references in the search engine.) Three professors from Andrews University Seminary in Michigan comment on this and related matters in "'The Passion of the Christ' brings dead languages back to life" (St. Joseph Herald Palladium, MI). Excerpt:
Roy Gane is an assistant professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Eastern Languages and associate editor of the Andrews University Seminary Studies magazine. Robert Johnston is professor of New Testament and Christian Origins, while Jon Paulien is professor of New Testament Interpretation and New Testament department chairman at the Andrews University Seminary.
Their hope is that the movie will spark interest in learning more about languages that most people are likely to be hearing for the first time.

"The Aramaic in the movie was extremely well done," Johnston said as the three professors sat down for an interview on the Berrien Springs campus last week. "For the actors to be able to learn their lines in an ancient language was an amazing thing. They tried to reproduce the accents of the first century as much as they were able. The Italianate Latin was not as accurate."

All three questioned why Latin was used at all, because the language of administration at the time was usually Greek. It was Greek that would likely have been the language used when the Jewish leaders spoke with Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator who condemned Jesus to be crucified.

Gane noted that the use of Latin in a scene between Jesus and Pilate was probably not accurate. "The use of Latin in that scene was a little strange," he said. "Pilate says 'What is truth?' using the word 'veritas'. It was a nice bridge to the next scene where Pilate is speaking with his wife about truth or veritas, but it's not likely that Jesus knew Latin."

"As far as the Aramaic, it sounded very authentic," Gane said. "We really don't know today how it was pronounced, but for me it was fabulous and wonderful to be able to follow the language."

Gane has first-hand experience in trying to communicate in Aramaic, which is still spoken by an estimated half million people, mainly in the Middle East and in Arab conclaves in cities such as Detroit. He spent time in northern Iraq in 1989 on an archaeological dig near Mosul and tried to speak in Aramaic to the local people because it's their native language.

"I went to a Seventh-day Adventist church there and the people were speaking Aramaic," he said. "I tried to join the discussion speaking old Aramaic and they didn't understand it."

They also think there was too much flogging. But overall, they liked the movie.
Rethinking Nomos and Narrative
Marking Twenty Years Since Robert Cover's Nomos and Narrative
Sunday, April 25, 2004

(Via Steven D. Fraade on Ioudaios-L.)
PURITY PAPERS ONLINE. The full texts of papers from the �Purity from the Bible to the Mishna� session in the Association for Jewish Studies Annual Meeting in Boston, December 2003 are available on Professor Gary Rendsburg's website for downloading. (Via Ioudaios-L, where you can find more details.)
MORE ON THE ARAMAIC of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ: Geza Vermes e-mails:
In my article in the Guardian I too have referred to an odd mixture of Aramaic and Hebrew in the Passion. The several times repeated "Mashiacha" is surely a phonetical nonsense; it should be "Mshicha". Shame on William Fulco. Jonas Greenfield must be rotating in his grave. Also Jesus should have addressed God, in Gethsemane of all places, as "Abba", not "Adonai". Finally, has anyone detected any sign of Galilean Aramaic? After all, Peter, or should I say "Kefa", was betrayed by his speech in the courtyard of the high priest.

Monday, March 08, 2004

TOLKIEN DIGRESSION: Today is the sixty-fifth anniversary of J. R. R. Tolkien's presentation at the University of St. Andrews of his famous Andrew Lang lecture "On Fairy Stories." Professor Trevor Hart and his Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts at St. Mary's College has arranged a day seminar at the University, Tolkien: "On Fairy Stories" Here and Back Again, commemorating the event. I've just come from a reading by BBC Radio 4 presenter Nigel Ford of a reconstruction of the original lecture. To echo Professor Hart's comments afterward, it was a rare privilege to hear the essay read out as a lecture � the format for which it was originally composed. The oral version of such a skilled reader brings out many nuances that are easily glossed over in a silent reading. Shortly I will going to hear the new Andrew Lang lecture by Professor David Lyle Jeffrey: "The Future of Literary Studies: Was Tolkien Right?"

Many thanks to Professor Hart, his team of helpers and associates, the lecturers, and the University of St. Andrews for making this event happen. Tolkien fans, wish you could all be here.
I went to see The Passion over the weekend. The merits and problems of the film have been covered by others, but I don't remember anyone offering specific assessments of the Aramaic. I have to say that I found the Aramaic very strange. Often Hebrew vocabulary was used; e.g., in the Last Supper scene Jesus speaks of the "new covenant" as "berit hadathah" (instead of "keyama hadatha"); in a flashback, Jesus the carpenter refers to a "tall table" as "shulhan illay". Huh? I would expect "patur ram." On the cross, when Jesus says "ana sameh" (I thirst), again the vocab is Hebrew. And frequently, people say "adoni" for "my lord." I don't want to be pedantic -- maybe William Fulco was aiming at some kind of Hebrew-Aramaic patois in his reconstruction -- but I found it all very distracting.

UPDATE: Seth Sanders e-mails:
Dr. Cook is right that there's a good bit of Hebrew vocabulary in the movie, which I imagine Father Fulco (who studied with Jonas Greenfield, to my mind the greatest Aramaist of the previous generation) is presenting as loan words. For example, Robert Alter complained that mashiakha "messiah", with Biblical Hebrew phonology and the Aramaic determined ending, is a "conflation," but it is plausible as a religious import (cf. terms such as Elyon, with Hebrew morphology, in Daniel). For the everyday lexicon, I imagine he is presenting a language variety basically Aramaic in grammar but which overlaps with Hebrew in vocabulary. It is worth remembering that the neat division between official languages is more a product of schools and political units than it is a product of daily human interaction.

I have bigger questions about the *theology* of this language choice, which I'm preparing for the University of Chicago Divinity School's electronic Sightings op-ed format and which I'll deliver at the SBL or AJS.

Stay tuned.

UPDATE (9 March): More here.
REPAIRS TO THE DOME OF THE ROCK on the Temple Mount are being funded by the U.A.E. I think this Ha'aretz article is saying that the same group built the mosque in Solomon's Stables. The article also reports:
According to Palestinian sources, the Waqf, the Moslem religious trust, has completed repairs on the bulge in the Southern Wall. The work was carried out over the last nine months by Jordanian experts.
DR. NASHAT GABRAIL, an Iraqi Assyrian Christian and a native speaker of Aramaic, comments on Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ and on the future of the Assyrians and of Aramaic (New Philadelphia Times Reporter, OH):

�It�s very exciting to see a moving picture for the first time in Aramaic,� he said. �I was impressed by the actors. They really learned it.�

Gabrail, an oncologist who has a practice in Dover and is a resident of Stark County, is of Assyrian Christian descent, original natives of Mesopotamia, the current Iraq. His native language is Aramaic.


Gabrail said the dialect of Aramaic was so ancient in �The Passion of the Christ� that even he had to use the subtitles occasionally, but he said the language was completely accurate.

�I went in with an open mind to criticize, but I didn�t see anything. Mel Gibson should be complimented for what he did. He took Scripture and translated it in an honest way into a movie.�

While 4,000,000 people in the world still speak Aramaic, only 200,000 can read it and write it. Gabrail is one of those 200,000.

He said the language diminished because of the dying Assyrian identity, which was denied under the Iraqi government and rulers of Iraq like Saddam Hussein. As time passed, the Aramaic language became spoken less and less. Assyrians were not allowed to speak it in public and were not taught it in schools. They learned it through family and church.


Now that Hussein is gone, Gabrail hopes they can teach Aramaic in schools again.

The Aramaic language has been kept alive because of the Assyrians� religious faith. The church insisted that the language of prayer and mass remain Aramaic. However, Gabrail thinks it should not have to rely on the church.

�We want our identity intact based on rights, so individuals can say who they are,� he said.

Gabrail said the United States is concerned about preserving the identity of the Assyrians because the majority of Iraqis are trying to insert the word Islam in the new Iraqi constitution, something Assyrians do not like because they are Christians. Paul Bremmer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, is a supporter of the Assyrians and is trying to prevent this.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

ARCHAEOLOGY MAGAZINE has a new issue out (March/April 2004), which includes an article on That Movie and how, although archaeology really gives us no information about the events of the Passion, tourists keep going to look over the traditional spots anyhow. Core sound bite:
Archaeologists and historians are rapidly coming to the conclusion that, for most people, the past is a sort of theme park--and they want the themes to be familiar ones. "Everybody already thinks they know the story of Jesus," says [Paula] Fredricksen. "A truly ancient Jesus is just too different for audiences to deal with."

There is also a review of the "Petra: Lost City of Stone" exhibit in New York and an interview with museum curator Kenneth D.S. Lapatin about archaeological forgeries. Excerpt from the latter:
Forgery is closely linked to looting and it operates by many of the same mechanisms: the true origins of the object are necessarily erased, and fakes, like looted artifacts, often come on the art market with a false provenance. In my view, the only effective way to stop forgery, like looting, is not to try to cut off production, but rather to starve it, that is to say, to change the behavior, the desire, of consumers. But unlike the damage done by looters, that done by forgers is not irrevocable. A lost archaeological context can never be recovered, but a false antiquity can be removed from the corpus of genuine material. The damage can be undone.
REBECCA LESSES reviews Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Read both entries for March 6th. She opens:
I thought the Passion was a powerful film -- but in a very disturbed and violent way.

UPDATE (9 March): Goodacre fisks Lesses.
"PURIM STORY WOULD MAKE A SUPERB MOVIE," says Rabbi James Rudin in the Toronto Star.

I wonder if Mel Gibson is listening.
"RAIDERS OF THE LOST SYNAGOGUE." Arieh O'Sullivan of the Jerusalem Post looks at the problem of archaeological site looting in Israel and how it led to the excavation of the rich site Caphethra from the time of the Bar Kokhba revolt.
Ironically, it's because of these grave robbers that the Antiquities Authority, together with the Jewish National Fund, is opening a newly excavated ancient village this weekend in the Judean hills south of Beit Shemesh.

The organizers have planned a carnival at the site, called Hurvat Itri, this Saturday and Sunday (March 6 and 7) to coincide with Purim and the annual "Rural Food Festival" of the Yoav and Judean foothill communities.


"But this is the hottest area in the country for plundering ancient sites," says Amir Ganor, 35, the country's chief archeological cop.

As head of the Antiquities Authority's Unit for Prevention of Theft, Ganor says his dozen armed agents face a daunting task, since there are an estimated 50,000 archeological sites ripe for plunder in the Holy Land.

"One of them is right here," Ganor says, leading the way to Hurvat Itri, today a magnificently restored village from the Second Temple period. A hilltop like many others, it seemed to be a major draw for the grave robbers. Night after night in the late 1990s they dug up its ancient stones in search of treasure. In 1999, at least three gangs from the West Bank just two kilometers away were caught and jailed, but the looting continued. Driving them was a desire to find rare coins from the Bar Kochba revolt. Known as a sela in Hebrew or bawabeh in Arabic, each silver coin could fetch anywhere between $40,000 and $350,000.

In 2000, the Antiquities Authority began excavating the site, which yielded a wealth of undisturbed finds as well as what archeologists call the "missing link" to Jewish life here 1,870 years ago.


In the heart of the 50,000-dunam Adullam Cavern Park, near Moshav Tzafririm, the site contains beautiful ruins, including numerous ritual baths, decorated burial caves, and an amazing network of subterranean tunnels.

Ganor and archeologist Dr. Boaz Zissu led excavations for two years with the aid of unemployed locals - and even reformed grave robbers. One, named Sayid el-Amneh, proved to be invaluable in helping discover a total of eight underground tunnel networks. Three of these had not been touched since the Bar Kochba rebels hid there.

"It was the first time I was able to see a sealed tunnel network," Ganor says. "Items were lying on the ground where the rebels had left them. We simply had to come and gather them up. It was all very exciting."

There are about 6,000 known coins from the Bar Kochba period, nearly all discovered by grave robbers. In 1986, the Antiquities Authority did not have even one discovered in situ. Zissu and Ganor were able to find 1,000 from various periods on this site, including three extremely rare silver sela coins.

As valuable a find as it was, the place did not even have a name. It was referred to as Khirbet Hoch, after a family from Tzurif. But the mystery was solved when an ostracon was unearthed with the name Atra. From this, archeologists deduced that it was Kfar Atra, or the Caphethra mentioned in Josephus Flavius's historical account.

Apparently, one day in the summer of 69 CE, Cerealius, one of Emperor Vespasian's officers, led a small force of cavalry and foot troops and ravaged the village of Caphethra. The event was such a minor affair in the midst of the great revolt that Josephus recalled Caphethra as a place "which calls itself a town," adding that Cerealius vanquished it "in his stride and set it on fire."

After destroying the Second Temple in Jerusalem and carting off some of the survivors to slavery, the Romans were content. They did not cleanse the villages of the Judean Hills - a strategic mistake that would come back to haunt them 70 years later, when Bar Kochba organized his revolt from there.

Survivors rebuilt the village on a smaller scale and farmed grapes and figs. The hillside is speckled with numerous vats where the grapes were pressed. But the community added something new: a synagogue. At least this is what archeologists believe to be the purpose of a large hall facing Jerusalem.


Read it all.