Saturday, March 27, 2004

Scholar says Pharisees got a 'bum rap' (Staten Island Advance)
Jesus shared a great deal in common with the Pharisees, including his teaching style and belief in an afterlife
Saturday, March 27, 2004


Still, the view of Pharisees and their Jewish followers as Christ-killers has helped perpetuate nearly 2,000 years of anti-Semitism. As Easter approaches, many Christians will reflect on Jesus' ministry and sacrifice. This might be a good time to rethink the Pharisees' image as the conniving bad guys of the New Testament.

In truth, the Pharisees get "a bum rap," says Thomas Smith, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Loyola University in New Orleans and an early church historian.


"The Pharisees," he said, "were a major component of the 'glue' that held Judaism together after ... the destruction of the Temple" (in A.D. 70). Indeed, the Pharisees were the predecessors of the modern rabbis.

They were in the lineage of scribes who first came to prominence at the end of the Babylonian exile in the sixth century B.C., Smith said. They focused on careful interpretation of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, and in finding ways to make it applicable to everyday life.

By Jesus' day, the Pharisees had introduced two concepts into Jewish thinking, said Rabbi David Kline of Temple B'nai Israel, a Reform synagogue in Monroe, La. Kline also teaches biblical studies at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

The first was an oral tradition to complement the Torah. This tradition would ultimately form the foundation of the Talmud, a multi-volume Jewish sacred text. The second idea was even more revolutionary -- a belief in an afterlife.

The Pharisees didn't introduce the idea of an afterlife � this is an old concept even if it wasn't very important in ancient Israel - but they did help to popularize it.
[The Rev. Pat] Madden said the Pharisees enjoyed argument, and it's quite conceivable they would have debated at length with Jesus over interpretations of the law.

But he suggested that the Gospels used the Pharisees mostly as foils for Jesus, narrative devices to provide a counterpoint to his teachings.

Amy-Jill Levine, a professor of New Testament studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville, Tenn., agrees.

"For a modern, albeit inexact, analogy: The New Testament's depiction of Pharisees is much like the depiction of very liberal Democrats by very conservative Republicans, or vice versa," she said. "Some Pharisees were hypocrites, as, of course, were some Christians; others were not."

The rest of the article looks pretty good, although I don't think that Jesus himself being a Pharisee is a realistic possibility.
JAB'EDINE - another Aramaic-speaking village in Syria:
The language of Christ awaits resurrection (Financial Times)
By Kim Ghattas
Published: March 27 2004 4:00 | Last Updated: March 27 2004 4:00

Khaled Ahmad Alloush and Mohammed Qassem Tawil are anxiously waiting to hear whether there will be a special screening of Mel Gibson's controversial film, The Passion of the Christ, in their isolated village of Jab'edine, perched in the hills north of Damascus.

The two farmers are among the few thousand people who will not need subtitles to understand the language spoken throughout the movie, Aramaic.

Mostly considered a dead language, Aramaic, which was once spoken all over the Middle East, is still alive in three Syrian villages, Jab'edine, Bakh'aa and Maaloula. Even young children play and tease each other in Aramaic.


It is unclear why Aramaic survived in this particular region but the most common explanation is the villages' isolation, which preserved them from the spread of Arabic.

For the Christians of Maaloula, Aramaic has an added significance. Ten years ago, villagers celebrated Good Friday mass in Aramaic for the first time in centuries. Everything from the sermon to the hymns was translated.

This was made possible by one man, George Rizkallah, Maaloula's Aramaic expert. He has been working hard to promote the language and develop it beyond simple, everyday, Aramaic.

THE ANCIENT TREASURES AND THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBITION has dramatically raised attendance at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa.
From the time the exhibit opened in December, until March 21, 334,670 people visited the museum. In December, January and February, attendance has been about 20 per cent higher than the record.

One of the silver amulets from Ketef Hinnom is on display in the exhibition.
NO, STEVEN SPIELBERG is not making a movie about the Crusades in order to spite Mel Gibson, despite a report that has been circulating on the Internet. The story is refuted in this Toronto Star piece: "Passion play."
Shockingly, the spam lied. Spielberg's people came out last week denouncing and denying. (The urban legend clearinghouse has a solid account of the drama.) Indiana Jones fans � eager for a fourth instalment � breathe a collective sigh of relief. The director insists that show will go on.

Then there's this:
Turns out, however, a Crusades film, Kingdom Of Heaven, is already in production in Morocco and Spain � helmed by Gladiator director Ridley Scott.

Great. Richard the Lionheart meets the Alien.

Friday, March 26, 2004

JACOB NEUSNER OFFERS "A Judaic Reading of the Passion Narratives for Mel Gibson to Consider" (at the Bible and Interpretation website). It concludes:
� In the Halakhic context, the death penalty achieves atonement of sin, leading to the resurrection at the end of days. It is an act of mercy, atoning for the sin that otherwise traps the sinner/criminal in death. In the context of the Gospel narrative, with its stress on repentance at the end and atonement on the cross by a single unique man, representative of all of humanity, for the sins of all humanity, we deal with no juridical transaction at all. It is an eschatological realization of the resurrection of humanity through that of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. Read in light of Mishnah-tractate Sanhedrin and its Halakhic theology with its climax, "All Israel has a portion in the world to come," the passion narrative coheres, each component in its right proportion and position, all details fitting together.

��� The Mishnah interprets the death penalty as a medium of atonement in preparation for judgment leading to resurrection, just as the theology of the passion narratives has always maintained. For both the Mishnah and the Gospels, the death penalty is a means to an end. It does not mark the end but the beginning. The trial and crucifixion of Christ for Christianity, like the trial and execution of the Israelite criminal or sinner for Judaism, form necessary steps toward the redemption of humanity from death, as both religions have maintained, each in its own idiom.

��� Indeed, in the context of the law as articulated in the Mishnah, the details of the passion narratives take on acute meaning. All that requires translation is Christ for the criminal, and the passion narrative covers that ground in the context of the larger theology of atonement. A truly Christian film of the passion narratives begins with a prologue of suffering on the cross, giving way to a luminous, truly sublime vision of resurrection in all its glory. The climax comes not on Friday but on Sunday.
THE BEIT SHEAN ARSON: Ha'aretz (via Bible and Interpretation News) has a very long and informative article on what happened and what was lost. Excerpts:
Up in smoke
By Avihai Becker
When a fire swept through an antiquities warehouse near the Beit Shean archaeological site earlier this month, thousands of artifacts were destroyed. Now it is clear the fire was set deliberately, but no one knows why.

It was apparently just another routine fire. Two weeks ago Wednesday, the Beit Shean firefighters were called to a structure next to the local mall that was engulfed in flames. The time was 7:57 P.M. Within two minutes, word of the fire reached the regional fire station in Afula as well. Two fire engines, a water tanker and a control car carrying veteran officer Avraham Tal rushed to the scene. When Tal arrived, he found that the basalt structure, 30 meters long, was burning from end to end and its ceiling was collapsing. Frantic onlookers told him that the structure was an antiquities warehouse.


"Eighteen years of excavations down the drain" was the title of the joint press release issued by the Antiquities Authority and the Nature and Parks Authority. Amos Sabag, commander of firefighting and rescue services in the Jezreel region, sent fire investigator Miki Cohen, who found "at least two separate fire centers, with no connection between one and the other," as he wrote in his report. "The main entrance door to the structure was broken into," he added, and the lock was found to be broken. "I did not find any signs of an electrical short or of materials that could spontaneously combust," Cohen wrote. "I used a machine to test for gas fumes, which detected a relatively sharp odor next to the two fire centers, indicating the use of a flammable substance." The conclusion was "premeditated arson." The Beit Shean police went into action.


"The Beit Shean national park is the most ambitious archeological project ever undertaken in Israel," explains Gabi Mazor of the Antiquities Authority, who directed the excavation project together with his colleagues from Hebrew University, professors Yoram Tzafrir and Gideon Foerster. His previous position in the Antiquities Authority was chief archaeologist for the northern district. A native Jerusalemite, after the army he settled on Kibbutz Revivim and became a teacher in the Ma'aleh Habesor regional school. Among other places, he has excavated in Halutza, Mamshit and Tel Dan. In the coming months, he will be working with an American group excavating at Omrit to uncover a temple whose construction is attributed to Herod. The work in Beit Shean is especially dear to him.


The only bit of consolation left is the realization that the damage could have been much greater. "Statues, coins, inscriptions, glass, artifacts of some significance and worthy of restoration were already sent to our labs in Jerusalem," says Mazor. "Everyone knew that in the warehouse there were no items of great financial value. The main worry, if there was one, was that they would steal columns and capitals - fantastic things that were scattered around. But they didn't touch those."

The motive, therefore, if not money, was simply a desire to wreak destruction. "I can't remember any other acts of vandalism and so I am genuinely surprised," says Mazor. "Valuable artifacts, the kind that are displayed to the public in the various museums, are not here. So what's the problem? The answer is that while the shards that were stored here weren't destined for museums, they were crucial for scientific research and for use in writing scientific articles. Luckily, I'd already finished processing most of the raw material I needed for a summary report on the excavation, which will be published starting next year. Unfortunately, this is not the situation for two other groups involved in the project. The direct damage done to their work is worse than it is to mine."

And that's not all. "A researcher - either tomorrow or 20 years from now - who wants to examine the validity of the publication and authenticate the data upon which the conclusions were based will need to have all the pottery available. Because of the fire, all this documentation is lost to us."

HERE'S A ROUND-UP of some of the responses so far to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ in Arab countries:
The Passion of the Christ� a hit in Beirut, Damascus (Middle East Online)


"Some members of the audience could not conceal their astonishment on hearing some expressions - such as Ya Illah (My God) - that are close to Arabic," said [theater-goer Fayez] Wehbe.

Added another Syrian cinema-goer: "The fact that this film is being shown in the current Middle East context, which opposes Israel and the Arabs, explains part of its success."


Here in Beirut, the film has been warmly received. Lebanon's Maronite church has described it as "impressive" and found it not to be anti-Semitic.


Elsewhere in the Arab world, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat saw the film at his headquarters in Ramallah on the West Bank and pronounced it "moving."

"The Passion of the Christ" will also be shown in Cairo, where it is likewise forbidden to minors because of its violent scenes, starting March 31, and has been available to movie goers in the Gulf state of Qatar since last Sunday.

Only existing First Temple relic may be forged

By Amiram Barkat, Haaretz Correspondent

Investigators for the Israel Antiquities Authority have been informed that a precious Ivory Pomegranate, on display at the Israel Museum since 1988, is a forgery.

On the basis of an inscription it had been dated from the period of the First Temple, 10th century BCE. However, it is information on the origin of the inscription that has raised doubts about the authenticity of the item. The Antiquities Authority refused to reveal the origins and nature of the information it holds.

The inscription, completed by archaeologists, is translated as "Belonging to the Temp[le of Yahweh, holy to the priests." The expert who confirmed the authenticity of the inscription is Andre Lemaire, who also recently asserted the authenticity of the "James Ossuary" which had an inscription attributing reference to the brother of Jesus - which proved to have been a forgery.

The Ivory Pomegranate was bought in 1988 for $600,000 from a contribution made by a Swiss donor. The sum spent and the circumstances of the find resulted in severe criticism, rejected by the museum that argued that the find is unique.

ARAMAIC WATCH: The Syrian town of Maaloula is featured in yet another article.
Aramaic has gained new prominence with `Passion' movie

By Warren P. Strobel

Knight Ridder Newspapers

MA'ALOULA, Syria - Completing a tour of his 1,700-year-old church, with its ancient altar, precious icons and wooden beams that have stood for nearly two millennia, the Rev. Toufic Eid stopped, closed his eyes and recited the Lord's Prayer.

His handful of visitors speak English, Arabic, Italian and Norwegian. But the language Eid used for the prayer was Aramaic - the language of Christ.

"Abunah ti bishmo," he said. "Our Father who art in heaven."

Aramaic, long the preserve of scholars and theologians, is making something of a popular return, thanks to the hugely successful (and hugely controversial) Mel Gibson epic "The Passion of the Christ." Gibson's characters speak Aramaic and Latin on-screen.

But in Ma'aloula, a town of 5,000 tucked into the mountains about 35 miles northeast of Damascus, and in two other villages nearby, the locals have been speaking Aramaic for 25 centuries. They have preserved it in their rocky enclave as invasions, conquests and a long parade of cultures have come and gone.


But pockets survived in places such as Ma'aloula, where a dialect known as Western Aramaic is spoken, and in small Christian communities in Iraq, Turkey and Iran, where the dialect is known to scholars as Eastern Aramaic. The Chaldeans of Iraq, who have a large community in the Detroit area, use Aramaic as the language of the Bible, their prayers and their native villages, while using English or Arabic for everyday communication.


The man who translated the dialogue into Aramaic and Latin for "The Passion" is the Rev. William J. Fulco, a professor of ancient Mediterranean studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.


Townspeople in Ma'aloula often speak Arabic in public, saving Aramaic for at home.

Eid, the superior at the Monastery of Saints Serge and Bacchus, said Syria's youngish president, Bashar Assad, has taken an interest in the issue. And the regional government recently decided to create an Institute of Aramaic in Ma'aloula and has purchased a parcel of land.

"It will survive because we still have people in Ma'aloula who speak the language - not because of academic effort," said Eid, who's from neighboring Lebanon. "If it becomes an academic language, it will die."

But others, including Fulco, say modern-day Aramaic is likely to die out in a few more decades, as globalization and international culture reach even the mountains of Syria.


Thursday, March 25, 2004

JEWISH-TEMPLE DENIAL ALERT: In an article on the late Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in Islam Online we find the following aside:
"Aqsa mosque appeals with you. Zionists have prepared themselves for demolishing it," he [Sheikh Yassin] wrote in his latter [sic].

Israel claims the Mosque, Islam's third holiest site, was built on the so-called Temple Mount, an allegation refuted by scores of historians.

I take it they're disputing that there was a Jewish Temple on the Mount, not that the Mosque was built there. It gets tiresome to have to keep repeating that the idea that there weren't Jewish Temples on the Temple Mount in antiquity is preposterous and is not accepted by any historian. But as long as people keep repeating the lie, I can keep repeating the truth. Follow some of the links at the beginning of this post for more.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

ZOHAR TRANSLATION WATCH: The critically reconstructed Aramaic text that served as the basis for Daniel Matt's translation of the Zohar (for volumes 1-2, covering more than half of the Genesis commentary) is available online in PDF format for free downloading. Is that cool or what? There's also a brief introduction to the text-files by Matt. (Heads-up, reader Carl Kinbar.)
AL JAZEERAH is in top form with this one:
The Talmud, Racism, Hatred and Anti-Christism
By John Anast

Al-Jazeerah, March23 ,2004

The Talmud forms the religious training for Rabbis, observant and reformed Jews. Upon close examination is it clear that the Talmud not only supports racism and hatred, but is the source of hatred directed towards non-Jews.

American Christians need to reexamine their relationship with organized Jewry and insist that racist Talmudic teachings be removed from such offensive texts and that if necessary all Yeshiva's which teach and promote hatred and racism be closed in the United States and removed from US soil. Organized Jewry seems to feel that certain Islamic schools need to be addressed all over the world. It is therefore only fitting that Yeshiva's and its faculty and students in the United States be made to conform to the Christian doctrine of love and mutual respect.

It was Christ who pointed out that Phariseeism / Talmudism / Judaism is a religion based upon the instructions of men. Basically the Pharisee appointed themselves g-ds and taught and ruled as if they were man-g-ds. Several Talmudic passages which speak to this point are clearly found in Tractate Mechilla whereas, it says: " Yahweh Himself studies the Talmud standing, He has such respect for that book. " How blasphemous that any man or group of men would not only accept that nonsense but teach it to others in religious doctrine? In another tractate Mizbeach 13 Judaism teaches that " There is nothing superior to the Holy Talmud ". Who made the Talmud "holy"? Is it Torah or Law? In other words the Talmud is the Jewish law and like Zionism it has replaced Torah as the instruction book on how to live. I am sure that our Creator did not consult with any Rabbi or the Talmud before He created the universe. There is nothing superior to the Creator.

Not withstanding, the Talmudists place themselves not only above the Law but also disregard the Prophets of Yah as in Treatise Berachoth Judaism advises that " The words of the elders are better than the words of the prophets ". In contrast the New Testament which is made up mostly of Old Testament passages is a guide to the completion of the Law of our Creator. Christians believe Christ lived the Law in completion, without blemish, without flaw. I do not mean that Christ was a handsome fellow for certainly he was not. The basic tenant of Christianity is that our rescuer lived the Law and was without transgression therefore allowing His sacrifice to cover our transgressions. Christ was not a "revolutionary" or any other myriad of pejorative titles ascribed by men, he was and is a living example which example was and continues to be rejected by Judaism.

While the above are distinctions of religion and whereas reasonable men may differ in their opinions and beliefs the Talmud contains passages which are less academic and in fact form the basis of Talmudic hatred of all non-Jews. One of the most interesting passages in the Talmud is found in the book of Libbre David,37 , whereas, " To communicate to a Non-Jew about our religious relations would be equal to the killing of all the Jews, for if the Non-Jews knew what we teach about them, they would kill us openly." Christians and Muslims have to educate themselves to understand that Judaism is not only opposed to Christianity and Islam but teaches and advocates actions against all non-Jews including Christians -- as exemplified by the organized reaction of Jewry to the Mel Gibson film about the death of Christ.


The writer seems to have been gathering propaganda from various anti-Semitic sources. You can find lots of them on the Web, but I'm not going to link to them. This article cites nonexistent tractates like "Mechilla," "Mizbeach," "Iore Dea," and the "Libbre David," and nonexistent passages in actual works, whether in the Talmud or not. It has historical errors like the ones above about the contents of the New Testament and about the Talmud citing itself as "the Holy Talmud," and a comment later that there are no more Samaritans. There's lots of creative spelling and grammar too. I'm not a Talmudist and I don't have time to take up its claims one-by-one (the article is very long) but I hope Talmudists in the Blogosphere will give it a good going over. If you do comment on it, please drop me a note with the link address.

UPDATE (25 March): Reader Joe Slater e-mails regarding "Libbre David etc.":
Texts like these are interesting from an historical perspective, because they mutate so rapidly that it should (in theory at least) be possible to produce a family tree of anti-Jewish racism. Note the weird spellings which indicate to me that the alleged quotations have passed between several languages.

David Maddison from Australia has written and collected a huge amount on this. You can find his site here:

Briefly, the source document was an anti-Jewish libel composed by a Russian priest named Pranaitis(sp?). This text, written around 1898 and translated around 1939 as "The Talmud Exposed" is the origin of all these quotes.

Here's David Maddison's collected refutation of the libels. Note that it's much harder to respond to libels than create them - anyone can make stuff up, but you need time and access to a library if you want to demonstrate that they are false.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO PALEOJUDAICA! My first blog post, one year ago today, was a welcome message, a later version of which is now the About file in the links to the right. The second was on Saddam and Nebuchadnezzar. As far as I can tell, the subject I've blogged on most frequently is Aramaic (49 posts). (I've mentioned Hebrew more often [52 posts], but many of these were focusing on other things.) Both Aramaic and Hebrew have been addressed from many different angles. The next most frequently discussed topic has been Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (34 posts), although I've dealt with it less since Mark Goodacre started intensive coverage of it in his New Testament Gateway blog. The next is Iraq (30 posts), especially the looting of the Baghdad Museum and the country's archaeological sites. I covered that area a lot initially but nowadays only note things that especially catch my eye and leave the rest to the IraqCrisis list and Francis Deblauwe.

The post that drew the most hits in the last year was the August 5th entry "More on Mel and The Passion," which reported Frank Rich's Dowdification of Gibson (still uncorrected, at least by the Times) and which received about 7000 hits over twenty-four hours thanks mainly to a link from Glenn Reynolds's Instapundit. There's a recent important update on the story here. The second biggest hit grabber was my fisking of David Klinghoffer in "Leviticus and the Gay Marriage Debate," with about 1700 hits in a day or so, thanks mainly to a link from Andrew Sullivan.

My personal favorite post of the last year is "When Scholars Cry Wolf," which dealt with the overreaction of academics to the hysterical initial press reports about the looting of the National Museum of Iraq. This didn't get as many hits as some others, but I put more time and effort into it than into any other post and I still stand by it. The companion piece to this post, "About that Hague Convention", is a close second. Another important story has been the ongoing denial in the Arab world (and sometimes pandered to in the Western media) of the existence of Jewish temples on the Temple Mount in antiquity. Follow the links in these posts and see also entries on "Jewish temple deniers" and the Zayed Centre.

Some other interesting stories include the "James Ossuary", the "Jehoash Inscription", the Absalom's Tomb inscription, and the first-century burial shroud from Jerusalem.

I've learned a great many things from blogging. I'll just mention a few of them that stick in my mind. First, I've made a rule for myself that when I disagree with someone, I always try to imagine that I'm in the same room with the person, speaking to them face to face, when I compose the entry. That helps me keep to the point, stick to the facts, and avoid personal attacks. Second, I've learned that even that first rule doesn't necessarily work when it comes to sarcasm. Talking to someone in real life is different from making a blog entry. One can (and I'm afraid I do) make sarcastic comments that generally simply evaporate in normal conversation. They're accompanied by a context of expression, tone, day-to-day interaction, etc. that generally keep them in perspective. They don't evaporate in the Blogosphere, they get archived, and that context isn't there either. So sarcasm comes across much more harshly in blogging and I've had to learn to watch myself and ratchet it back.

The other main thing I've learned is that the mainstream media is generally pretty uninformed about our field and they tend to make a lot of errors. This is no doubt an occupational hazard of journalism: journalists have to cover a lot of things they don't know about and do it in a hurry. I would be more sympathetic about this if they would do two things. First, journalists and newspapers should make corrections when informed of errors and do it promptly at the bottom of the online version of the article in question. This used not to be possible and so corrections ended up in a small box on page 25 a week later, but technology has changed things and the mainstream media needs to catch up, at least to the standards of the Blogosphere. Happily, Daniel Okrent, the public editor of the New York Times has recently noted the problem too. (I'm talking here about substantive corrections; there's no need to flag spelling corrections, but they should be corrected!) Second, journalists should stop pushing their own political and other agendas outside the editorial pages and stop kidding themselves that we don't notice them doing it. The carelessness has been treated in any number of postings (see, for example, the Book of Revelations and the Magi and this and this and this). For examples of media bias (aside from the "Cry Wolf" and "More on Mel" posts noted above) see Time Magazine's pandering to the Jewish-temple deniers and follow the link in that post for an unattributed, historically inaccurate, and blatantly political insertion by the BBC into an article on Hezekiah's Tunnel.

Movies are, of course, often grossly irresponsibly inaccurate on historical matters. See my review of Stigmata and this posting on errors in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Novels frequently are as bad. See this posting on The Da Vinci Code. Despite all this, I rather enjoyed the film version of The Last Temptation of Christ.

All this is not to imply that I never make mistakes. No matter how careful I try to be, I still do sometimes. But every mistake I'm aware of has been corrected as soon as I found out about it.

At the moment PaleoJudaica has 67 incoming links from 57 other blogs. The counter stands at 42609 individual hits over the last year, during which time I have posted 332,691 words, apart from this posting. There have been more than 1100 individual hits and more than 2100 page views in the last week. That's close to a tenfold increase since the first month or so of PaleoJudaica. Will we see another tenfold increase in the next year? Well, no, I don't suppose so. But I hope you will keep on telling friends about the site. I'm still enjoying blogging and I'll keep doing it as long as it's fun.

That's enough introspection. Thanks for reading PaleoJudaica. Please keep coming back, keep sending me things, and keep telling me when you think I'm wrong. Onward!

UPDATE: Regarding newspaper corrections, reader David Mackinder points me to the Guardian's correction page and "homophone corner" at,3604,1176288,00.html. I say good for them, but they still should post individual corrections online at the bottom of the original piece in which the error occurred. As far as I know, no major newspaper does this, but it's standard in the Blogosphere.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Researchers say Tiberias basilica may have housed Sanhedrin (Ha'aretz, via Archaeologica News)
By Eli Ashkenazi

Antiquities Authority excavations in Tiberias may have uncovered the site of a structure used by the Sanhedrin, researchers believe. The excavations began in March in the central part of the city and in recent days have moved eastward toward route 90. The main finding in the new excavation area is a basilica structure.

Excavation director Prof. Yizhar Hirschfeld from Hebrew University of Jerusalem says the basilica, which was built during the third century C.E., could have been used by the Sanhedrin, which at the time was called Beit Hava'ad. Identical structures, such as one at Beit Sha'arim, were also used for judicial purposes. In Tiberias the site could have also be used for writing the Jerusalem Talmud, researchers believe.


The excavators have also found a mosaic at the entrance to the bath house.
A PANEL OF EXPERTS will be convened tomorrow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to discuss the historical accuracy of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Here's the news release. The panelists are:
* Ronald Troxel, a senior lecturer in the UW-Madison Religious Studies Program and Department of Hebrew and Semitic Studies. He has developed a three-course sequence on Christian scripture and will discuss how Gibson's film treats the Gospels.

* Judith Wimmer, vice president for academic affairs and professor of religious studies at Edgewood College. A historian of American Catholicism, she will explain the place of Gibson's sect within the contemporary Roman Catholic Church.

* Leonard Kaplan, Mortimer M. Kaplan Professor of Law, and professor of religious studies and Jewish studies at UW-Madison. He will comment on the film's theology from the Jewish perspective.
PROFESSOR JAMES KUGEL, one of my teachers, gave a lecture earlier this month at the University of Utah:
Professor from Tel Aviv delivers Divine Lecture (Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Steve Gehrke
Published: Friday, March 12, 2004

James L. Kugel, a former professor of Hebrew Literature at Harvard University and current professor of the Bible at Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv, spoke at the U yesterday about perceptions about God across religious bounds Thursday afternoon.

While at Harvard, Kugel's course, "The Bible and Its Interpreters," frequently attracted more than 900 students.

"His research on various interpretations of the Bible, including Jewish and Christian, has expanded centuries-old views and understandings of the Bible," said U professor of Hebrew Harris Lenowitz.


The lecture was a summary of Kugel's book, The God of Old: Inside the Lost World of the Bible, which was published last year.

Kugel's main topic of focus revolved around the biblical passage that reads, "A person cannot see me and go on living."

"That's why, when he does come down to Mount Sinai or elsewhere, he's surrounded by a protective protect us from dying," Kugel said. "Very often he'll send angels or messengers."

Kugel centered the remainder of the lecture on divine messengers.


I was a teaching assistant for "The Bible and It's Interpreters" back in the old days when it only had about 250 students.
THERE'S A REVIEW of Simi Peters, Learning to Read Midrash (Urim, 2004) in the Jerusalem Post. Excerpts:
Maimonides exhorted readers not to take midrash literally, but was also forceful in advising people to read carefully between the lines, to find the meaning and allegorical intent.

His brief recommendations have been significantly expanded in Simi Peters's book, Learning to Read Midrash.

Peters's book comes after years of teaching the Hebrew Bible and trying to make sense of rabbinic literature that often defies explication. She bemoans the fact that it was difficult to offer students the tools to study midrash independently. This book seems to be a corrective for that problem.


Unlike more academic guides, Peters's book is pedagogically grounded. A teacher may find him- or herself using the chapters as classroom units to study various types of midrash - from analyzing biblical dialogue to resolving textual discrepancies.


Monday, March 22, 2004

DELAYED PASSION: Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ opens in Britain on Friday and I had planned to take a group from St. Mary's College to see it. Alas, it develops that the cinema in St. Andrews won't be getting the movie until at least a couple of weeks after the premier. I still hope to take the group, but it won't be until after our spring break, which means in mid-April. So no review from me anytime soon. Not that the world is short of them.
ARAMAIC WATCH: A new translation of the Syriac Bible (the Peshitta) is in the works at the Peshitta Institute in Leiden. It's called The New English Annotated Translation of the Syriac Bible. There's an abstract of an article on it in Aramaic Studies 2.1: "The New English Annotated Translation of the Syriac Bible (NEATSB): Retrospect and Prospect". A conference was held on it in Leiden in 1999 and there is a conference report on the Hugoye website. And there will be a seminar on the translation ("The Bible of Edessa") at the eighteenth congress of the International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament in Leiden this August. Bas ter Haar Romeny has details in a post on the Hugoye list.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

President Arafat: Passion of the Christ 'Impressive' (International Press Center - Palestine)

RAMALLAH , March21 , 2004 (IPC + Agencies)-- The Palestinian President Yasser Arafat watched Mel Gibson's �The Passion of the Christ� on Saturday in his office in Ramallah City, after a his key advisor compared Jesus' pain during crucifixion to the suffering of Palestinians in the conflict with Israel.

Nabil Abu Rudeneh, one of Arafat's closest advisors, watched the film along with the Palestinian President and a group of American and European men of cloth and Palestinian Muslim clerics.

"The Palestinians are still being daily exposed to the kind of pain Jesus was exposed to during his crucifixion," Abu Rudeneh said in a statement after he watched the movie.

President Arafat, who watched the film on a small TV set in his Ramallah office, said the movie was "historic and impressive."


Does that mean there was a Jewish temple on the Temple Mount in first-century Jerusalem after all?
IN DEFENSE OF LATIN: Here's a Scotsman editorial decrying the barbaric decision to eliminate the one remaining vocational course for classics teachers in Scotland and explaining why the decision is, well, barbaric. Lege totum et lacrima.

Latin joins procession to the cultural graveyard

Gerald Warner

EHEU! O me miserum! And all that sort of thing. The announcement that Strathclyde University is to abolish its vocational course for classics teachers has been greeted with an outbreak of lamentations of the kind that the Scottish establishment does so well, whenever some cultural asset that it has sedulously neglected for decades is finally pronounced to be in a terminal condition. For centuries, Latin and Greek were the mainstays of Scottish education; if they are lost to the schools curriculum (NB Latin noun, neuter, second declension), that will not be a sign of modernisation, but of grave intellectual decline.

This crisis is hardly unexpected. Greek became a fatality in Scottish state schools decades ago; now Latin is on the danger list. Yet the complacency with which the educational establishment has watched this decline is matched only by the fatuity of the comments with which it has responded to the announcement by Strathclyde. While rightly deploring the demise of classics, Judith Gillespie, of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, claimed: "These subjects are not seen as having market value. This is the market economy in action."

La Gillespie is talking nonsense (so, no change there). There is no free market in Scottish state education, which is where the collapse in classics is taking place. It is in the free-market sector of the independent schools that Latin and Greek are relatively flourishing. In the academic year 2000- 2001, official figures show that, of pupils presenting for examinations at SCQF Levels 3, 4 and 5, although only 3.8% came from independent schools, they supplied 37.2% of entries for Latin. The market is no enemy of the classics; it is in the state school sector, manipulated by social engineers, Utopians and fanatics for �inclusion�, that rigorous disciplines such as Latin and Greek are sidelined as ��litist�.


Today, millions are flocking to see Mel Gibson�s Passion, whose dialogue is in Latin and Aramaic. Perhaps that will help. At the most trivial level, it is alleged that the Harry Potter phenomenon, with its many Latin allusions, has caused the 80% increase in American school pupils taking Latin for college credits over the past six years. The publication, in Latin, of Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis may intensify this trend. In Scotland, however, the growing lack of provision makes pupils� interest irrelevant. O tempora, O mores!