Saturday, July 17, 2004

PHLUZEIN is "no longer operational." Even the archive is gone. What happened?
THE ST. CATHERINE'S MONASTERY LIBRARY in the Sinai, an ancient repository for precious biblical manuscripts and other historical treasures, is to be the subject of a major $4.9 million conservation effort:
Conservation of legendary library planned��
Big News (via Bible and Interpretation News) Friday 16th July, 2004��
A major conservation project has begun at St. Catherine's Monastery near Mount Sinai to preserve its library of manuscripts for future generations of scholars.

TWO NEW BOOKS (via Mimas Zetoc alerts):

Sarah Dille, Mixing Metaphors: God As Mother And Father In Deutero-isaiah (Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement series)

Esther de Boer, Gospel Of Mary: Beyond A Gnostic And A Biblical Mary Magdalene (Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement series)

It's interesting that Mary Magdalene is getting a lot of media attention lately. I suppose that's partly because there have been a lot of books published about her recently. And, of course, having Monica Bellucci play her in The Passion of the Christ can't have hurt any. Here are some articles on her that came up today on a Google search.

Mary Magdalene veiled in mystery (

Questions, misconceptions follow Mary Magdalene (

Mary Magdalene interest intense (The Advocate)

Incidentally, her feast day is coming up on 22 July.

Friday, July 16, 2004


I am trying to track down information on a collection of citations pertaining to Jeremiah from a Greek biblical commentary attributed to "Iosippos." The collection of citations appears in a single Greek manuscript: Barberinus Gr. 549, and the Josephus Greek version or commentary appears to be cited occasionally elsewhere.

This work in Barb. Gr. 549 is mentioned by Robert Devreesse in Introduction � l'�tude des manuscrits grecs (Paris: Klincksieck, 1954) p. 130 and he quotes some lines from it in Greek. He thinks it could be as late as the fifth century.

Feldman's Josephus and Modern Scholarship (1937-1980) also gives the following reference on pp. 389 and 390-91, which I have not yet seen:

Balduino Kipper, "Josipo (ou Josefo), traducto Grego Quase Desconhecido," Revista de Cultura Biblica (S�o Paulo) 5 (1961), 298-307, 387-395, 446-456.

I'm not anxious to plow through three Portuguese articles (or to burn the three interlibrary loan points), but I suppose I shall have to.

But meanwhile, does anyone out there know anything about this text or know on any more recent literature on it?

Many thanks for any help any of you can give me.

(Cross-posted to Ioudaios-L.)
A CAVE USED DURING THE BAR KOKHBA REVOLT, as well as other interesting ancient sights of the Judean Plains, are the subject of a travelogue in the Jerusalem Post. Excerpts:
Playing hide and seek

Take a trip through history in the Judean plains

Sixty-two years had passed since the destruction of the Second Temple and the end of the Great Revolt. The Romans had overcome the zealots at Masada, and quashed a few small Jewish uprisings in the intervening decades. Yet somehow, those stubborn Jews refused to admit defeat. When Emperor Hadrian banned circumcision and decided to erect a pagan temple on the Temple Mount, they knew it was time to take a stand yet again.

Fortuitously, or so it seemed at the time, a charismatic new figure appeared in Judea. We know him as Shimon Bar-Kochba, a soldier of outstanding courage. Wild tales and fantastic legends sprang up about the heroic warrior. It was said that Bar-Kochba breathed fire, could throw catapult stones back at his aggressors, and tested the mettle of his volunteers by having them cut off a finger.

Before going into battle in 132 CE, Bar-Kochba apparently gave orders for the construction of hundreds of underground hideouts in the Judean plains. Quite similar both in structure and in the security measures they contained, they were built throughout the plains that would soon become a bloody battleground.

Only one of these historic hiding caves is wholly safe for visitors - the cave at Hirbet Midras (Madras) in the Adullam Region Nature Reserve. A thrilling experience way off the beaten track, the cave is part of a terrific two-hour route full of enchanting sites. Your walk is through a wilderness of natural foliage, always a delight. And, best of all, it doesn't cost a penny.


Your first stop on the blue-marked trail is a tour of the hiding caves. A large tree sunk in a hole covers the opening; you walk down steps to view the entrance. I have to warn you: it isn't easy! And it is one-way only (you exit through the bell-shaped cave that is on your right). Note: you must bring one flashlight per person to enter the hiding caves, as the tunnels are pitch black. (The best kind to bring are the ones you wear on your forehead.)

Most of the tunnels connecting the living quarters are quite narrow - and some are very low (40 to 60 centimeters)! Not only did we crawl on all fours, but at one point we lay on our stomachs and pulled ourselves forward with our arms. Every once in a while, we came out into a large chamber, where we were able to stand upright. One room even had wedge-shaped alcoves in the wall where, apparently, the inhabitants raised doves. Those rooms would have been, if not comfortable, at least cool in the summer.


AT THE beginning of the Bar-Kochba Revolt, it looked as if the Jews actually had a chance of winning - especially after Jewish troops captured Jerusalem along with fortresses and settlements all over Judea in hand-to-hand combat. Hadrian finally became alarmed enough by Jewish success to call in seasoned commander General Julius Severus, who refrained from frontal battle and decided to steadily crumble Jewish resistance.

As the Romans began to get the upper hand, retaking villages, cities and forts, the Jews took shelter underground. Caves structured as these were, with a tiny opening and narrow tunnels, were excellent defensive positions: Soldiers wearing unwieldy coats of armor could only enter one by one.

But the Romans defeated the Jews nevertheless. They discovered the caves, stuffed wet brush into ventilation holes, and set them on fire. Once the men, women and children living in the caves had been smoked out, they were systematically massacred.

The revolt ended in 135 and the toll it had taken was devastating. Whole areas of Judea were devastated, dozens of villages were wiped off the map, and Jewish multitudes had been enslaved.
THE INDIANAPOLIS DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBIT is the subject of a brief article on the WISHTV website:
Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit Takes You Back 5,000 Years

By Pam Elliot

Would you like to step back 5,000 years in time? There are actually fragments of history that date back that far and are temporarily on display in Indianapolis. The Dead Sea scrolls are in town.

Lee Biondi says his life changed two years ago because of the Dead Sea scrolls: words from Psalms and Genesis discovered in the 1940's but thousands of years old. He calls it the earliest scripture in the world. �It absolutely changed my life. I reassessed what I was doing professionally," he said.


Unfortunately, both the headline and the opening paragraph give the false impression that the Scrolls are 5000 years old, and the rest of the article does nothing to correct this misapprehension. For the record, they are about 2000 years old. I don't see why this sort of thing should be so hard to get right. The piece does have some nice Scroll images though.

By the way, Blogger is suffering from some malfunctions this morning, such at the Preview button being missing. Apologies if this causes any problems with the postings.

UPDATE: WTHR, another Indiana TV station, gives a clearer account:
Indianapolis, July 15 - It is a collection that brings to life 5,000 years of history. Co-curator Lee Biondi calls it "an entire history of Scripture that goes way back to the very earliest writings."

The exhibit featuring the Dead Sea Scrolls captures the origins of the Bible with fragile pieces of the Old Testament, the earliest known to man, ancient manuscripts and time-worn treasures.


Along with the Dead Sea Scrolls, the collection offers pictographic clay tablets from 3,000 BC, early Biblical manuscripts in Hebrew, Coptic, Greek and Latin and every major Bible printed in English.


That is, the exhibit has some Dead Sea Scrolls in it (which are about 2000 years old, although neither article says this), plus there are some cuneiform tablets that, evidently are about 5000 years old (which is pretty old, even for cuneiform tablets).
THE NEW JPS COMMENTARY ON ECCLESIATES, by Michael V. Fox, is reviewed in this AP article:
Trying to make sense of Ecclesiastes

By Richard N. Ostling
The Associated Press
Posted July 16 2004

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.

The writer of 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.


The book's speaker, known as Koheleth or "the Preacher," struggles with the shortness of life, the futility of effort, the triviality of material goods, the vulnerability of wisdom and the apparent violations of justice. But "the irrationality of the world is the fundamental grievance," Fox writes.


Thursday, July 15, 2004

PHILOLOGOS has a column this week in the Forward on the din rodef. Excerpts:
Pursuing the 'Rodef'
July 16, 2004

The rabbinic concept of din rodef is � unfortunately � back in the news. It last made the front pages at the time of the Yitzhak Rabin assassination. Two weeks ago it resurfaced � this time, in connection with the declaration of Avigdor Nebenzahl, the learned and respected rabbi of the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City: "Anyone ceding parts of the Land of Israel to gentiles is, from a halakhic point of view, subject to din rodef." Although Rabbi Nebenzahl then qualified this statement with the assurance that by his reading of Halakha or rabbinic law, din rodef is not applicable in the state of Israel today, his words set alarm bells ringing. It was din rodef, after all, that Yigal Amir and his sympathizers cited as a religious justification for the murder of Rabin.


This is no doubt about why Nebenzahl, albeit convolutedly, ruled that din rodef was not applicable to Israeli politics, just as it is not applicable to many other things. Although "the right of self-defense" is a valid principle, the minute this principle escapes the bounds of clear and immediately life-threatening situations, it becomes a license for general mayhem. When rabbinic law cannot possibly lead to workable conclusions, even those who seek to live by it should acknowledge that other standards are preferable, such as those of the democratic political process. Whether or not Israel withdraws from part or all of the "territories" should be decided by a majority vote of the Knesset, not by the imperatives of rabbinic law. Those who should be saying this most loudly are Israel's rabbis themselves.
THE HEAD PRIEST OF THE IRAQI SABEAN MANDEANS is interviewed about his religion:
Iraq: Old Sabaean-Mandean Community Is Proud of Its Ancient Faith

By Valentinas Mite, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Iraq's Sabaean-Mandean religious community is one of the smallest and most peaceful in Iraq. Sabaeans insist their religion is one of the oldest in the world and consider themselves to be the followers of the message given to Adam, whom the Bible says is the first man created on Earth.

Baghdad, 14 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Many in Iraq know Sabaean-Mandeans as a peaceful though strange religious community, more known for silver and gold craftsmanship than their religious beliefs.

Satar Jabar Helo is the head priest and spiritual leader of the Sabaeans in Iraq, a small community of some 75,000 believers.

Sabaeans also live in neighboring Iran. There are a total of 150,000 members worldwide.

Sabaeans are a lonely and reclusive community. Helo says they have not proselytized since 70 years after the death of Jesus Christ, when 365 Sabaean priest were killed in a single day in Babylon.

There is only one way to become a Sabaean, according to Helo: to be born to parents who both belong to the faith.

Helo, dressed in a white robe, with a long beard and flowing hair, speaks about darkness and light, good and evil, life and death, and the role of human beings in these unfolding cosmic events.

He says Sabaeans pray three times a day to God in Aramaic, a language close to the one spoken by Jesus Christ: "In the name of the living Great, in the name of the One and the Only One who is the world of pure light who gives a soul, gives health, peace and peace of heart and forgiveness of sins with the force of the explosions of light."


"We suffered from [the Saddam Hussein] regime but our main grievance is that we suffer as a nation which is [always] treated as third-rate,� says Helo. �Not only Sabaeans [suffer] but also our Christian brothers [in Iraq]. This is a complex [of this society]. They consider those of us who are not Muslims to be atheists. And it is permissible to kill or rob an atheist.

Helo says that some radical Shi'a Muslim clerics have delivered fatwas, or religious orders, condemning Sabaeans.

PHILO OF ALEXANDRIA IN THE MEDIA: Michael B. Poliakoff has an essay on Olympic combat sports in Humanities Magazine. He cites Philo as one of his authorities:
The death-scorning perseverance of athletes in combat sport became a byword. Philo the Jewish philosopher wrote, "I know wrestlers and pankratiasts often persevere out of love for honor and zeal for victory to the point of death, when their bodies are giving up and they keep drawing breath and struggling on spirit alone, a spirit which they have accustomed to reject fear scornfully. . . . Among those competitors, death for the sake of an olive or celery crown is glorious."

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

THE JOURNAL FOR THE STUDY OF THE OLD TESTAMENT has a new issue out (28.4, June 2004). Here's the table of contents:
Recent Evidence from Assyrian Sources for Judaean History from Uzziah to Manasseh
Stephanie Dalley

The Widow of Our Discontent: Levirate Marriage in the Bible and Ancient Israel 403
Dvora E. Weisberg

'Knock, Knock, Knockin' on Sodom's Door': The Function of dlt/pth in Genesis 18-19 431
Brian Doyle

'You Meant Evil Against Me': Dialogic Truth and the Character of Jacob in Joseph's Story 449
Carleen Mandolfo

'Then Israel Bowed Himself...' (Genesis 47.31) 467
Raymond de Hoop

Echoes from the Past: Israel's Ancient Traditions and the Destiny of the Nations in Isaiah 40-55 481
Rikk E. Watts

Also, the 2004 edition of the SOTS Booklist is out and online.

Both require a paid personal or institutional subscription to access.
ANOTHER PASSION REVIEW: Jacques and Carol Krie have a new one up on the Bible and Interpretation website:
History is Beside the Point:
Deconstructing Mel Gibson�s "The Passion of the Christ"

"The film has nothing to do with historical debates; it is a passion play, both successful and abysmal in representing that genre�Mr Gibson has fashioned a blunt instrument of propaganda, edged with artistry, whose visceral power gives it the potential to become his most lethal weapon of all.... And, as in the case of any passion play, the artistry consists of what is invented, not in fidelity to the Gospels, and history is beside the point."
�Bruce Chilton

One brief excerpt:
This master narrative, or theory, as constructed by the Church Fathers in the 4th century, has become the basis of Christian fundamentalism. Scientific research as embodied in modern biblical and literary scholarship is a much greater challenge to Fundamentalist Christian theology than the traditional conflict between "science" and "religion." We believe that, to be a Christian in the modern world, cognizance must be taken of that debate, and its full implications must be confronted.23 If we do not do so, we are living a religious lie.24 And that is our biggest problem with this film. It presents a picture of the foundational event of Christianity that is now being challenged by well founded biblical and historical research. The Church is hiding this challenge from its members and from non-Christians alike. It is as if Gibson made a historical film showing how God made man out of mud, as depicted in Genesis 2, ignoring all scientific evidence for evolution.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

ABSTRACTS FOR THE PAPERS at the annual meeting of the International Organization for Qumran Studies later this month in Groningen are now avaible as a PDF file on the Orion website (via Ken Penner on the g-Megillot list).
THE SABEA(N) MANDEANS are in danger from the polluted water of the Tigris river:
Languid Tigris Waters Mask Iraq's Pollution Menace (Reuters)
Sun Jul 11, 2004 11:02 AM ET

By Matthew Green

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Plunging under the olive green surface of the Tigris, worshippers from an obscure sect emerge spurting water from their mouths.

A little way downstream, a torrent of sewage gushes into the river as it flows through the Iraqi capital Baghdad. A stench like rotten eggs wafts through the air.

Described in legend as flowing from a source near the Garden of Eden, the Tigris is now choking with modern-day pollution that researchers say puts millions of Iraqis at risk.


Shrugging off concerns of environmentalists, white-robed worshippers of the Sabea Mandean Nation, a relic of the ancient Gnostic religions, took their weekly dip in the Tigris to purify their souls.

Environmentalists say Iraq's interim government must clean up a river that provides drinking water for Baghdad and much of southern Iraq, saying risks should not be overlooked even though the leadership is focused on crushing insurgents.


"We need the help of the government, we need the help of the world," said Tahrir al-Jawahiri, an engineering consultant who used to design Iraqi sewage works.

To members of the Sabea Mandean Nation, the river's contents are of little concern.

"These little pieces of rubbish don't hurt a big river like the Tigris," said Salem Khazal, 37, waiting to be immersed.

"You should drink some -- you'll like it," he said.

There's more on the Mandeans here.

Bautch, Richard J.
Developments in Genre between Post-Exilic Penitential Prayers and the Psalms of Communal Lament
Reviewed by Jacob Wright

Brueggemann, Walter
An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination
Reviewed by Thomas Hieke

Mandolfo, Carleen
God in the Dock: Dialogic Tension in the Psalms of Lament
Reviewed by Kathleen Mary O'Connor

Sweeney, Marvin A. and Ehud Ben Zvi, eds.
The Changing Face of Form-Criticism for the Twenty-First Century
Reviewed by Yair Hoffman

Van Seters, John
A Law Book for the Diaspora: Revision in the Study of the Covenant Code
Reviewed by Eckart Otto

Carter, Warren
Pontius Pilate: Portraits of a Roman Governor
Reviewed by Lance Richey

Maccoby, Hyam
Jesus the Pharisee
Reviewed by Michele Murray

De Troyer, Kristin
Rewriting the Sacred Text: What the Old Greek Texts Tell Us about the Literary Growth of the Bible
Reviewed by A. Graeme Auld

Charlesworth, James H.
The Pesharim and Qumran History: Chaos or Consensus?
Reviewed by Shani Berrin

Horbury, William
Messianism among Jews and Christians: Biblical and Historical Studies
Reviewed by Tobias Nicklas

Jefferies, Daryl F.
Wisdom at Qumran: A Form-Critical Analysis of the Admonitions in 4QInstruction
Reviewed by Robert A Kugler

Monday, July 12, 2004

THE ANTIQUITIES AND ARCHAEOLOGY JOBS that were under threat in Israel due to IAA budget cuts have been funded for another year:
Olmert, Netanyahu budget NIS 10m to prevent firing of 260 (Ha'aretz via Deinde)
By Ruth Sinai, Haaretz Correspondent

Minister of Industry and Trade Ehud Olmert and Minister of Finance Benjamin Netanyahu decided Tuesday to budget NIS 10 million to prevent the firing of 260 workers in the Antiquities Authority, Nature and Parks Authority and the Society for the Restoration and Preservation of Historic Sites in Israel. Each of the ministries will allocate NIS 5 million to employ the workers through the end of the year.

EDINBURGH UNIVERSITY has some of the Ethiopic manuscripts that were taken away after the battle of Magdala in 1868. Now the government of Ethiopia is asking for them back:
University may return looted texts to Ethiopia (The Glasgow Herald, via Explorator)
AN African government's plea for the return of looted religious manuscripts held by Edinburgh University is to be determined by a special panel of experts.
A committee is to be set up to decide if the request by Ethiopian ministers meets guidelines approved yesterday at a meeting of the university's court to deal with repatriation of items from its collections.
Helen Hayes, university vice-principal and librarian, said last night it might be necessary to ask for more information from those behind the call to return the texts plundered by British troops about 130 years ago.


The parchments include two copies of the Book of Psalms, one portion of the gospels, and two texts detailing the acts of St George.

Other manuscripts from the same episode have been kept in Winsor Castle, as noted here earlier. At least the Herald article tells what is in these manuscripts!

On Monday we'll be away in Dunfermline most of the day visiting friends. Additional blogging will come late in the day, if at all.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

THERE'S RENEWED INTEREST IN ARAMAIC IN INDIA, thanks to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ:
Mel Gibson's film spurs interest in the ancient Aramaic language, from countryside to classrooms across India

Saturday, July 10, 2004
By Joshua Newton
Religion News Service

KOCHI, India -- Every Saturday night, six old men crowd together on a wooden bench in a damp church foyer with pens and notebooks. Some are small-time traders, some retired clerks. Two of them are over 60 years old. Some take notes while others toss questions to the Rev. Raphael Rappai, a 63-year-old priest tutoring them.

Topic of study: Aramaic, the language many believe Jesus Christ used.

The motley language class in Thrissur district in Kerala state in southern India has proved a new lease on life for Jesus' language there ever since the release of Mel Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ" in May.


Kerala has the largest number of Christians in the country. Scholars believe the use of Aramaic-Syriac dialect there began with migration of Christians from the Middle East to Kerala during the third and fourth centuries.

In the following centuries, colonialists led by the Portuguese began to translate the liturgy into Latin, which gradually led to the demise of Aramaic. The situation is now being slowly reversed by Gibson's film, albeit on a modest scale.


In recent years, proponents of the language found it difficult to propagate Aramaic. But they got a boost when Mahatma Gandhi University, one of India's prominent academic centers, launched an Aramaic wing for its language department.

"Several people called up here asking for crash courses on Aramaic," said the Rev. Jacob Thekkeparambil, director of St. Ephrem Ecumenical Research Institute at Kottayam. "Once we get a quorum of 20 students, we launch such quick courses. Yes, I guess Gibson's film is bringing in fresh students for us."

The institute, the only one of its kind teaching Aramaic in the country, has about 15 students attending its two-year postgraduate course. Since its inception in 1985, as many as 500 graduates learned to read and converse in simple Aramaic.

HERE'S AN INTERVIEW with the authors of The Rule of Four, Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason (Voice of America News). Excerpts (Caldwell speaking in the first):
"A Renaissance history professor suggested I write my final paper on a book called the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, which I'd never heard of, and neither of us could spell," he said. "So I went to the library to look it up, and it turns out to be one of the most valuable books in the history of Western printing. Nobody knows who wrote it, and yet there's a code inside the book that seems to suggest the identity of the author. It's written in about half a dozen ancient languages, everything from Italian and Latin and Greek to Hebrew and Arabic and Egyptian hieroglyphics. The material in the book is also very peculiar. There's a lot of sexual imagery, a lot of violence that makes it surprisingly un-Christian considering the Christian time period, the Renaissance and the culture it came out of. So all the way around it's something that scholars have been puzzled by."

If there are Egyptian hieroglyphics in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, they must be either gibberish or copied from an ancient text without the author knowing what they said: no one could read them in the time the book was written.
Ian and Dustin turned that real life mystery into a fictional story set at Princeton University, where a group of students race to unravel the secrets of the Hypnerotomachia. When things turn violent, the students realize there's more at stake than intellectual curiosity. Dustin Thomason says they drew inspiration from their own college experiences and from the Hypnerotomachia .

"Neither one of us had any professors who were as evil as the ones that are represented in The Rule of Four," he said. "But we tried as best we could to recreate the feeling of being a senior in college and the feeling of working on something your senior thesisthat is incredibly important to you.

Let's hear it for evil professors.
Ian and Dustin were aided in their research by the first English translation of the Hypnerotomachia , which was published while they were working on their novel. They divided up the writing duties, working on separate chapters, then reviewing them together. Over time, Ian Caldwell says they developed a single voice for their main character, a Princeton senior named Tom Sullivan.

If this means that Caldwell read the book in the original when he was an undergraduate, well, I'm impressed. But I suppose it's more likely that he just used secondary sources.

From the little I've heard so far, The Rule of Four sounds a lot more worthwhile than the idiotic Da Vinci Code.
MORE ON THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS TO THE BIBLE IN AMERICA EXHIBITION (two posts down) from the Louisville Courier Journal, KY:
� An exhibition that traces the evolution of the Bible from ancient origins to American texts opens Friday at Adam's Mark Hotel, 120 W. Market St., Indianapolis. "The Dead Sea Scrolls to the Bible in America" begins with ancient Hebrew Scriptures, including fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and follows the development of the Bible in English from the 14th century to the 17th century.

Highlights of the 100 artifacts include 5,000-year-old picture-writing on clay tablets from ancient Mesopotamia, fragments of the earliest Bible in Greek and some of the earliest Christian writings. Also on view are St. Jerome's Vulgate Bible in Latin from the 13th century, various private, illuminated devotionals (books of hours) and first and early editions of Reformation Bibles, Catholic Bibles in English and the first printing of the 1611 King James Bible. The chronology ends with the Lunar Bible, a microfiche Bible that went to the moon.