Saturday, June 05, 2004

GREG DOUDNA has another essay on the Bible and Interpretation website, which I gather he presented at the Brown University conference:
Redating the Dead Sea Scroll Deposits at Qumran: the Legacy of an error in Archaeological Interpretation

Abstract: There was no actual basis for de Vaux�s confidence in 1952 (when he announced the first excavation findings from Qumran) that the scrolls of Cave 1 had been deposited as late as the first century CE, since the dating of a "scroll jar" found in locus 2 was uncertain. A distinct, earlier first-century BCE occupation at Qumran was discovered by de Vaux in the second excavation season in 1953. Yet the perception of certainty surrounding the First Revolt deposit date for the scroll deposits have remained to the present day. In fact it has never been soundly established that texts found in the Qumran caves were composed, copied, or deposited in the caves later than the time of Qumran�s Period Ib in the first century BCE. The dating of the Qumran text deposits is a classic example of an unfounded scholarly paradigm filtering subsequent perception of data (archaeological, palaeographic, and radiocarbon), creating illusions of independent corroboration.

In it, he cites my last comment here on his theory and says I missed the article "The Stabilization of the Biblical Text in the Light of Qumran and Masada: A Challenge for Conventional Qumran Chronology?" by Ian Young in Dead Sea Discoveries 9 (2002): 364-90 (the online version requires a personal or institutional paid subscription to access). As soon as I get time, which probably won't be as soon as I would like, I'll have a look at it.

UPDATE (7 June): More here.
THE DIRECTOR OF THE NEW LIBRARY OF ALEXANDRIA, Ismail Serageldin, gives his side of last December's story about the display of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in the Library:
Egyptian librarian pushes for 'tolerance, openness'
'The exercise of freedom among young people is the best investment against extremism'

By Ursula Lindsey
Special to The [Lebanon] Daily Star
Saturday, June 05, 2004


In the past year the library has also already weathered its first major controversy, one Serageldin sees as having ended in affirmation. In the winter of 2003, the library came under international criticism for displaying an ancient copy of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" in its rare books showcase.

A local newspaper reported incorrectly that the book was headlining an exhibit and that it was displayed next to the Torah. After the ensuing uproar, the book (which had been selected for exhibition by the director of the rare books museum) was removed and Serageldin issued an explanatory statement.

"It was a very innocent thing," he says. "It was the first edition of the fist Arabic translation of the protocols. It was kind of a curiosity."

Once the book was removed, elements of the Egyptian press accused Serageldin of bowing to foreign pressure and betraying the principle of freedom of expression.

Eventually a declaration was circulated, Serageldin recounts, that said, "enough of this. Attacking the library as anti-Semitic is nonsense and attacking it as ... knuckling down to pressure is equal nonsense."

Almost 600 signatures have been added to this statement by now, including everyone, Serageldin says, "from famous intellectuals to assistant professors of engineering in Assiut."

"It was beautiful to see hundreds of people rallying to the library," says Serageldin. "The library has become a rallying point for progressive opinion in Egypt."

I would feel happier with this explanation Dr. Serageldin had replied to the questions in my e-mail (see first link above).
Scribes restore sacred scrolls
Temple Beth-El will honor completion of yearlong Torah work


Jun 5, 2004

More than 5 million Hebrew letters in Temple Beth-El's 17 Torah scrolls are in perfect condition.

Rabbis Gedaliah and Moshe Druin know because they checked out the 304,805 letters in each of the congregation's 248-page Torah scrolls, the most sacred texts in Judaism.

The father and son team from South Florida are soferim, specially trained scribes who travel the world evaluating and repairing Torah scrolls.


Torah scrolls should be evaluated from time to time for proper care, said Rabbi Gary S. Creditor of Temple Beth-El.

"Over time the letters on the parchment deteriorate and need to be inspected and repaired," he said. No one can remember the last time the scrolls were inspected. They will be checked again in about seven years.


"The person doing the work has to be a real artist on parchment. The scrolls are handwritten by scribes, so the writing looks different from scroll to scroll. When a scribe comes to repair a Torah, he has to make his handwriting match the previous work," Creditor said.

Because the handwriting has to match, repairing a Torah scroll is harder than copying an entire scroll, he said. In addition, the scribe must be an observant and pious Jew, he added.

Gibson�s film inspires passionate interest in Aramaic (

Kochi (AsiaNews) - Mel Gibson�s blockbuster film �The Passion of The Christ� released across India May 7th, has sparked new interest in Aramaic - the language that Jesus Christ spoke. Kerala, a state on the West Coast of India, is perhaps one of the few places in the world where the study of the Syriac dialect has been kept alive, along with Sanskrit and Arabic, over the centuries.


Mar Aprem, Metropolitan of the Chaldean Syrian Church of the East, heads one of the smallest but most ancient Christian Communities in India. He is the author of the book, �Teach Yourself Aramaic�, and believes that the release of the film, �The Passion of the Christ� could be a reason for the increased demand for learning the language. Mar Aprem�s doctoral thesis, the �History of the Assyrian Church�, said there was a jump in the sale of his book after the release of the film.


Dr (Fr) Augustine Kanjamala, a native of Kerala and the Director of the Institute of Indian Culture in Mumbai, stated that according to tradition, St. Thomas the Apostle arrived in Kerala is 52 AD. Pro- Thomasin�s believe that St. Thomas initially came to evangelize the migrant Jewish population settled in Cochin, (a prosperous city even those days). Like any other migrant group, these Jewish settlers would have spoken Aramaic among themselves. Aramaic and its deriving dialects have been transmitted down the centuries through their descendants. Hence the Aramaic language in varied dialect still exists among the local Malayalam population today. Another tradition holds that the use of Aramaic-Syriac dialect could be the result of the migration of Christians from the Middle East to Kerala during the Roman persecution in 3rd to 4th centuries. Dr. Augustine said in his student days pre-1960�s mass in Kerala was in Syrian, which is the more developed form of Aramaic.


Friday, June 04, 2004

From the Director of the IJS [Institute of Jewish Studies, University College, London]:

Spies, Thieves and Cultural Heritage

Mark Geller

Last summer, I was surprised to receive a telephone call from a senior journalist from The Guardian newspaper, asking me if I knew that my name was mentioned in official correspondence in the Iraq Museum in Baghdad. I was sent a copy of the letter in Arabic, and there was my name, written in Latin characters, together with the name of Professor Shaul Shaked from the Hebrew University. The letter was written by Donny George, Director of Research at the Iraq Museum, and he accused Mark Geller, 'the Jew', of intending to come to Baghdad with the American army in order to steal antiquities, and Shaul Shaked 'the Jew' was accused of planning to come to the Museum to spy out their collections for objects that particularly interested him. . . .

I cannot explain why this letter was written or the background to the accusations, but the anti-Semitic character of this letter points to a darker side of the current debate about cultural heritage and the handling of stolen antiquities. The issue of stolen antiquities has recently come to a head after the recent debacle in Iraq when some 12,000 objects (mostly small cylinder seals) were pilfered from the Iraq Museum, during the confusion of the early days of the war. . . . the international outrage was understandable and the reaction of law-makers to the events has been swift. Antiquities which were recently exported from their country of origin, such as Iraq, cannot be bought, sold, handled, or studied.


. . . But there is another side to this story.

Had the Unesco agreement been enacted and scrupulously enforced in 1948, the Dead Sea Scrolls would not have been available as they are today and a valuable part of our cultural heritage might easily have been lost. . . .

The particular situation in Iraq, however, merits special attention. Many of the sites in Iraq have Jewish Aramaic incantation bowls as surface finds, and these magic bowls date from the period of the Babylonian Talmud, c. 400-700 CE. These bowls reveal a great deal of useful social history about the Jewish community of Babylonia in late antiquity. . . .

Within the past decade, hundreds of Aramaic incantation bowls have appeared on the antiquities market, collected from archaeological sites; there is no evidence that these objects have been stolen from a museum. As such, there is no identifiable owner. The Iraq Museum in Baghdad also houses a large collection of some 400 Aramaic incantation bowls, at last count, but few of these have ever been published. No Iraqi scholar has worked on them, nor has any Jewish or Israeli scholar been allowed to publish them. . . .

He notes that countries have the right to say who can study their antiquities. For example, only Turkish nationals are permitted to work on unpublished antiquities in the Istanbul museum.
Nevertheless, the situation in Iraq is not quite comparable. Any scholar of any nationality was permitted to work in the Iraqi museums, provided that he could show a baptismal certificate. Only Jews were prohibited from working there, and in effect were denied access to their own cultural heritage.

During this past summer, Dr. Donny George of the Iraq Museum appeared in London at an international conference, and one of my colleagues from the USA went up to him and asked him directly when Jews will be able to work in the Iraq Museum in Baghdad. He simply shrugged his shoulders and replied, 'it's not my decision'.

Via Arthur Houghton on the IraqCrisis list, who asks, "Would anyone be able to comment on the accuracy of the allegations that underlie this article, in particular a) whether the letter cited exists in fact and b) that Jewish scholars may not be permitted to work in Iraq?"

Do read the whole article.

My take: first, I'm not up enough on the UNESCO agreement or the new antiquities laws in various countries to comment on them intelligently. I will say that undesirable knock-on effects of legislation, especially legislation enacted in a hurry in response to a disaster, are always something to keep an eye on. I don't know what the exact fate of ancient incantation bowls now on the antiquities market is likely to be in, say, America, Britain, or Europe, but I would be interested in hearing an informed opinion.

Second, this business about the letter the Guardian recovered and the old anti-Semitic policy of scholarly access to antiquities housed in Iraq is a matter for considerable concern. I'm sure that the Iraqi scholars and authorities realize that the old policy is no longer acceptable and continuation of it would alienate the whole scholarly community, which has been very supportive up to now, and would also turn away Western funders. But now that the issue has been raised, some reassurance would be, well, reassuring. Naturally the Iraqis will want to work out their own criteria for access by outsiders, but it would be helpful if someone would make it clear now that not being a Jew will not be one of them.
ANNE CATHERINE EMMERICH, whose visions were a source for Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, is being beatified. (Via Bible and Interpretation News.)

Two thoughts. First, the timing is unfortunate. Although this seems to have been in the works for more than thirty years, by announcing it now the Catholic Church gives the impression that the decision to beatify her was influenced by the media attention to the movie and her influence on it. I don't think this is actually the case, but it would have looked better to put off the announcement a few years. Traditionally, the Church takes its time about such matters anyhow.

Second, however virtuous her life might have been, I have reservations about rewarding Emmerich in this way when her writings are so obviously anti-Semitic. Now there's ample precedent: John Chrysostom's sermons against the Jews (or, if you insist, "against the Judaizers," although "Jews" is accurate as well) are virulently anti-Semitic, but he's still a saint. Nevertheless, I think the Church should be more concerned about such issues, especially given the media spotlight that's been on the Emmerich visions recently.
THERE'S A BRIEF REPORT on the 2003 Bethsaida excavation on the Bible and Intepretation website.
I HAVEN'T BEEN FOLLOWING the recent discussion of open source scholarship on the biblical blogs, but I probably should be. Mark Goodacre has a roundup with comments.
THE LATE DR. SAMUEL IWRY is remembered by Ben Greenberg.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

UNLESS I'M MISTAKEN, Rebecca Lesses's blog began one year ago today. Happy birthday to Mystical Politics.
SORRY ABOUT THE DEAD LINKS-PAGE. I've sent three messages so far to the provider, none of which have received a reply. Grrr. I don't have time to do anything more about it now, but follow the link above for a link to the new, unasked-for and unwanted, URL.
MARK GOODACRE has more on good things about the new Blogger.
THERE'S A REVIEW by Richard S. Hess of Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament over at the Denver Journal. Mark Goodacre also has noted some new NT items and has more also on citing electronic resources.
Waqf expanding cemetery outside Temple Mount walls (Ha'aretz)
By Nadav Shragai and Arnon Regular

The Islamic Trust has been expanding the Muslim cemetery at the foot of the eastern wall of the Temple Mount south of Mercy Gate, and in recent months has stepped up the pace of preparing burial sites in the cemetery, including working at night.

The land is owned by the Waqf, but the area has been zoned as "green" not to be developed. Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski recently signed an administrative demolition order against the section of cemetery that has been expanded, but sources at City Hall said "the police refused to implement the order and prevented its execution."

Observers on the scene say the activities continue day and night, and that burials are taking place in the expanded cemetery area.


Doesn't sound like a good sign to me.
The Bible's most improbable book, Ecclesiastes, gets a new Jewish analysis

By: RICHARD OSTLING - Associated Press

What is the Book of Ecclesiastes doing in the Bible? This astonishing little masterwork from ancient Israel struggles with concepts found elsewhere in the Scriptures.

Ecclesiastes is greatly perplexed that evil people often prosper while good ones suffer, and says that life sometimes seems to lack meaning or makes no sense. It asks, how do things fit together?

The issues are sifted, if not exactly answered, in "Ecclesiastes," the latest of the Jewish Publication Society's commentaries on biblical books. The series is excellent in quality, but pricey (this 87-page book costs $34.95).

"Ecclesiastes" provides the Hebrew text, the JPS English translation, and an introduction and verse-by-verse comments from Michael V. Fox, professor of Hebrew at the University of Wisconsin, in Madison.


As in Fox's "A Time To Tear Down and a Time To Build Up" (Eerdmans, 1999), this commentary disputes scholars from the past century who've seen Koheleth as a modern-style skeptic, pessimist or fatalist who embraces pleasure and scorns the rest of Scripture.

By that theory, the traditional beliefs in Ecclesiastes were tacked on by later rabbis to offset the bleak original, for example the book's summation: "Revere God and observe his commandments! For this applies to all mankind."

But in Fox's view, Koheleth is no nihilist. The speaker says that many things are worthwhile in life: moderate work and pleasure, love and friendship, gaining and using our limited human wisdom, seeking to be righteous, and "fearing God and hoping for divine justice."

This complex biblical book says that such things are often fleeting, limited and uncertain, but they "are enough to make life worth living," Fox says.


Wednesday, June 02, 2004

THE PATRIARCH OF THE SYRIAC ORTHODOX CHURCH is interviewed in this article:
Keeper of The Word shares a few
Pope Zakka speaks on preserving the ancient language of Aramaic in a new, modern world

This is the fourth in a series of interviews with spritual leaders in the Middle East by cultural historian Yvonne Seng.
By Yvonne Seng
Special to The [Lebanon] Daily Star
Wednesday, June 02, 2004


DAMASCUS: With the recent release of the film, "The Passion of The Christ," Aramaic has likely been heard by more people in the past months than in it's entire history. Once the vernacular, it is now reduced to subtitles, spoken daily by a few. The man in front of me has a less brutal way of keeping the language alive.

Patriarch Zakka sits in a gold encrusted chair in a fading cathedral in the Old Quarter of Damascus, but the power of this holy man is not contained in a chair. Or in his extensive title: His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas. The power of Pope Zakka rests in words.

Pope Zakka is the Patriarch of Antioch and All the East and the Supreme Head of the Universal Syriac Orthodox Church, the planet's second oldest church, founded by the Apostles.

As intriguing as the longevity of the institution, is its charge to keep alive Aramaic, the language in which Christ spoke. That is, the words in which The Word spoke.

Words have consequence, but few take words as seriously as Pope Zakka.

We all know one phrase in Aramaic: Abracadabra. Childish magical gibberish to the rest of us, loosely translated from Aramaic it has a vastly more serious meaning: "Create what I speak, or, May my words be brought to life." These are not men who dangle their participles.


I've never heard this about "Abracadabra" and I doubt that it's correct. According to the American Heritage Dictionary it's a "cabalistic" word that probably goes back through late Latin and late Greek to the "Gnostic" magical name "Abrasax." The latter is not only Gnostic, but was found all over the place in ancient magic. Here's another attempt at an explanation.

Whether the Syriac Church was founded by the apostles depends on what to make of much later church traditions. We just don't know very much about what the apostles were up to in the first century, although certainly founding churches was high on their agenda.

"The most important thing is that Aramaic was spoken by Our Lord Jesus Christ," the Patriarch says. "That's why we love it. It has been the liturgical language of our church from the beginning of Christianity and, of course, it was the ancient language of Syria before Islam. That's also why we love it. And we feel it is our duty and responsibility to keep it alive because we can't imagine that, one day, the language spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ will be forgotten. It's something we can't imagine."

Monks and holy scholars have kept the flame alive for almost 2,000 years, but can they survive the tornado of Western culture?


The internet, with its disrespect for man-made borders, is his ally.

"Technology has always been with the human being," he states. " Those who believe the world was created by God, they will always be loving God through Our Lord Jesus Christ."

With the help of technology - and the savvy leadership of the Patriarch - Aramaic is undergoing revival among members of the Syriac Orthodox Church connected across the globe and scholars attracted to its cerebral mission.

"We have many scholars here and there," the Patriarch says with enthusiasm. "And they learn the language and they teach it and, of course, we are proud of those people, too. And grateful, too. Yes."

Although he admits he doesn't fully understand the new technology, Pope Zakka visited Los Angeles to bless it.

The Syriac-Orthodox Church of Antioch, formed in the time of the Apostles, has its own website, with libraries, chatrooms, youth groups and CDs of liturgical music for sale through

Pope Zakka has his own page where you can access copies of his encyclicals and writings. The Syriac-Aramaic language project has a worldwide center that the peripatetic Apostle Peter, first Bishop of the church, would definitely approve of.

For the Patriarch also, globalization and technology are positive developments.

UPDATE (25 August 2007): In retrospect I think my skepticism about the proposed etymology of Abracadabra was misplaced. The translation is a little loose, but the general idea is plausible. More here.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

THE "ST. JOHN'S BIBLE" carries on the medieval tradition of handwritten, illuminated biblical manuscripts:
Handwritten St. John's Bible uses both old techniques, modern images

By JEFF BAENEN Associated Press Writer
The Associated Press - Monday, May 31, 2004

As Donald Jackson and his scribes worked on a handwritten and "illuminated" Bible, they used an image unavailable to the monks of the Middle Ages: a view of Earth taken from outer space.

It's one of the many modern touches in The St. John's Bible, from using computers to lay out pages to using "virtual voice prints" of chanting monks, Buddhists and American Indians in several artworks.


Jackson and his team of artists in Monmouth, Wales, use quills cut from goose or swan feathers. Ancient inks are prepared using the yolks of eggs from free-range chickens near Jackson's scriptorium as a binder. The words are written on large sheets of prepared vellum, or calfskin, which are then illuminated or brought to light with gold, silver or platinum to form dazzling artwork.

"People just open a page and tears come into their eyes," Jackson says.

The eight-year, $4 million project funded by private donations has reached the halfway point. Jackson and his artists have completed three volumes and have four to go. About 70 percent of the text has been written, and 40 percent to 45 percent of the illustrations are done.

When the Bible is finished, expected in 2007, the massive work will total about 1,150 pages. When open, the facing pages measure about 3 feet wide by 2 feet tall. Each volume will be bound separately and have a cover of white oak from Wales.


St. John's Abbey, one of the largest Benedictine monasteries in the world with about 200 monks, and St. John's University, founded by the abbey in 1857, commissioned Jackson in 1998 to create The St. John's Bible to celebrate the new millennium and the 150th anniversary of the monks' arrival, Ternes says.


The seven volumes are being done out of order, but eventually will be arranged in the order of a Roman Catholic Bible. The finished version will include the Apocrypha, the books that Protestants don't view as divinely inspired Scripture.


The text of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, a modern English translation, is the version being used. . . .

If this site won't let you in, try this one.

Note also the St. John's Bible web page and other links at the bottom of the article in the first link above.
NEW-BLOGGER GRUMBLES: There's nothing more annoying than "upgrades" that are less flexible and useful than the previous version. These seem to be increasingly common � MacIntosh is certainly egregiously guilty of them. I'm sorry to say that Google/Blogger is now guilty as well. Consider the following disimprovements (if that isn't a word, it should be) in the new Blogger:

1. In an in-progress message you can no longer check your links under the "preview" option. Moving away to another link without saving the draft erases your message.

2. Saved drafts no longer reset their date and time when you change them and save them again. If you publish the draft, it is posted with the date and time you created it, even if that was many days ago.

3. Previews of messages now do not register paragraph divisions. All the paragraphs appear together in an undifferentiated lump.

In addition, the new Blogger forced me to upgrade both my browsers for no good reason, marking it as part of the Evil Upgrade Conspiracy that foists ever more unnecessary software and machine upgrades on users.

I don't see any marked improvements over the quality of the old Blogger which would outweigh these glitches (although, to be fair, I haven't wasted spent a lot of time looking through every feature of the new Blogger, so readers may want to point out any glorious improvements I've missed). The new layout is reasonably esthetically pleasing, but the old one was fine. There's no good reason for these glitches, which make the day-to-day use of Blogger less easy. Google can do better than this.

UPDATE: Rub�n G�mez e-mails:
I agree with you. However, notice that under point 1, you CAN check your
links if you press the Shift key while clicking. As for point 3, I do see
paragraphs (if I hit Return twice) when I use the preview option.

BTW, You may be interested in reading my last blog entry, where I elaborate
a little bit more on some of your concerns about "useless upgrades".

Thanks Rub�n. It appears that I was wrong about #1: if you move away from the post, the changes are not erased. But the the warning message to the effect that "you have unsaved changes" is misleading.

Regarding #3, I can't get the paragraphs to appear at all on my Mac IE 5.2.3, which the highest upgrade they make for the Mac. Hitting return doesn't help. However, I see that my Netscape 7.1 does show the paragraphs. But that's not good enough: I have my own reasons for preferring to blog with IE, and it did leave up the paragraphs under the old Blogger. Rub�n tells me that he is using different browsers from either of these, so that must be the difference.

Do have a look at his post on upgrades. The world would indeed be a better place if the Fuller Brush were the model for computing software.

UPDATE: Mark Goodacre comments:
On one of Jim's points, the date and time one, you can make an adjustment manually by clicking "More Post Options . . ." at the bottom of any given entry and then adjusting the time. I find this useful because I often write half a post, get disturbed and can't get back to it for some time, sometimes after I've published others in the mean time (e.g. now I have one pending on the Open Scholarship issue). In fact I tend to think of there being broadly two types of blog entry, the one notebook style entry which goes up quickly in five minutes or so and the other the mini-essay post, which takes a little longer and has more of one's own prose in it.

Yes, I know you can adjust the date and time manually. My point was that with the old Blogger you didn't have to do that: when you reopened the post and started making changes, the time would reset itself to the beginning of the new session. The current system is a disimprovement.
A couple of things I like about the new blogger: the archiving is greatly improved by separating off posts into single pages with single URLs, which means that when one searches for a given post you can go straight to it rather than getting to the page on which it appears.

I'm confused by this: for me the individual posts always came with their own URLs in the old Blogger. I had to configure the Atomz search engine to reflect this, but that only involved an extra line or two of code.
I've also noticed that other users of Blogger are now using its Comments function. I still have comments from Haloscan which date back to the time before Blogger provided their Comments system. Ideally I'd like to move to that too, but it will mean losing all the Haloscan comments.

That's a fair point. If people like to have a comments facility, it's more convenient to have it as part of the Blogger package. Me, I don't want to have to bother with policing them. Back when I ran e-mail lists for online courses, I had the problems with both overenthusiastic amateurs and people with agendas dominating the list discussion, and these became sufficiently trying that I gave up on running e-mail lists. Although I welcome comments on my blogging (e-mailed to me at the above address), and often I post them, especially if someone has a substantive disagreement with me, I want to maintain control of what goes up here.

For that reason, and this is as good a time as any to mention this, when I next do a course with an online component � to wit, in spring semester 2005, when I teach my honours course on the Dead Sea Scrolls again � I'm planning on opening up a new Dead Sea Scrolls blog, for the duration of the course only. More on this in due time. You can access my previous Dead Sea Scrolls course by following the link, and there are similar course materials on Divine Mediator Figures in the Biblical World and the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.
MO'ED � ANNUAL FOR JEWISH STUDIES, Volume 14 (2004), has just been published by the Center for Jewish Culture at Beit Berl College.
Mo'ed is a refereed annual devoted to all branches and periods of Jewish Studies, and welcomes original contributions in these fields in both Hebrew and English. Mo'ed publishes English abstracts of all the Hebrew articles, including review essays, and vice versa. Guidelines for Contributors appear at the beginning of each volume of Mo'ed. Referees are chosen from among scholars, both Israeli and foreign, specializing in the fields to which the articles pertain.

More information, including a table of contents, can be found in this H-Judaic list message.

Monday, May 31, 2004

THE CONNECTION TO MY LINKS PAGE IS DOWN, because Flyservers has once again changed the URL without telling anyone. I'll try to sort out why this keeps happening. Meanwhile, you can, for now, follow these links to find the Links Page and the About Page.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

TORREY SELAND is baffled by the "University of Alexandria" too.
ANOTHER PETRA TRAVELOGUE, this one in the Montreal Gazette. Excerpt:
Jordan's most impressive offering, however, is the ancient city of Petra, an archaeological marvel on par with the seven wonders of the world. A lost city for almost 700 years, Petra was rediscovered by a Swiss explorer in 1812, but it was not officially excavated by archeologists until 1924. Known as the "red rose city," this secret and sacred place was hewn out of pinkish-red mountains more than 2,000 years ago.

Just as a sculptor creates art from a slab of stone, the ancient Nabatean people moulded huge architecture out of colossal mountains. From sheer stone, they carved temples, tombs, stadiums, monasteries, homes, irrigation systems, cliff staircases and roads. Construction took three centuries and borrowed designs from Assyrian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman styles.

An eternal tribute to a lost civilization, Petra is the legacy of the industrious and ingenious Nabatean people. At the height of its power, the city housed 30,000 citizens and controlled most of the ancient Arabian trade routes. Eventually, Petra's increasing influence and prosperity began to concern the Roman Empire.

In 106 AD, the Romans overtook the city, shifted the trade routes and brought about Petra's economic downfall. In the centuries that followed, two major earthquakes wiped out the Nabataen culture and further diminished Petra's worth until it became a ghost town, concealed from the rest of the world.

In modern times, this ancient attraction has been made internationally famous as the exotic setting of the Hollywood blockbuster Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Indeed, exploring Petra goes a long way to fulfilling my childhood fantasies of being Indiana Jones and experiencing his adventures.
MASADA SYNAGOGUE UPDATE: Reader Todd Bolen in Israel points me to the following photograph of the synagogue, which shows how the interior looked a little over a week ago when he was last there (click on the image for the source).

This is how it looked when I was there, about twenty years ago. The Australian article referred to the synagogue as "partially renovated," which it is, but it also quoted Zaka as saying that "an active synagogue on the site was needed," which led me to think that the ruin was being rebuilt into a complete building for modern use. I would have serious reservations about that being done. But if people are just using the ruin for worship (restored, naturally, to the best condition possible considering what's left of it), that's different. I have no objection to that, as long as it's not used so intensively as to wear out what remains. Again, I'd like to know exactly what is going on.