Saturday, October 16, 2004

CALVIN COLLEGE will be hosting the Petra: Lost City in Stone exhibition next year:
Calvin to show Petra exhibit
Friday, October 15, 2004
By Matt Vandebunte
The Grand Rapids Press

In the movies, it is the dramatic cliffside temple where Indiana Jones went in search of the Holy Grail. In history, Petra was the crossroads of international commerce in what is now southern Jordan during the rise of Christianity.

This spring, relics of Petra will come to Calvin College, as the school mounts its first museum-scale exhibit.

"It's a pretty major undertaking," said Gaylen Byker, president of the 4,186-student school.

"Petra: Lost City of Stone" will be displayed from April 4 to Aug. 15. It will be the third American stop following its opening in New York and current stop in Cincinnati.


Friday, October 15, 2004

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: No Ramadan restrictions on the number of worshipers:
90,000 worshippers attend Ramadan prayers on Temple Mt.
By Yair Ettinger, Haaretz Correspondent


On Thursday, Israel lifted a threat to limit the number of worshipers at the Temple Mount.

Israeli authorities had warned they may clamp restrictions for Friday's prayers at Jerusalem's most sensitive shrine, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), after Israeli antiquities experts said the underground chambers called Solomon's Stables were at risk of collapse.

Karadi's announced the decision to lift restrictions, after inspecting the Temple Mount yesterday and seeing that sufficient measures had been taken to build scaffolding and cordon off the dangerous areas.

Jordanian experts also came to Jerusalem Thursday to evaluate areas in need of future repair. Prime Minister Sharon told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee today that the government had clarified to the Jordanians, the king of Morocco and the Europeans the unequivocal need for repairs. The Waqf Muslim religious trust has taken the warnings seriously, Sharon said.


Okay. I hope they know what they're doing.

I just came from the memorial service for Paddy Best (Ernest Best), held at St. Leonard's Church in St. Andrews, officiated by Rev. Alan McDonald, and with a tribute by Professor John Riches of Glasgow University. For biographical details about Paddy, go to this obituary. I'll concentrate here on some personal reminiscences from the service. Paddy started out as an Ulster Protestant minister in Northern Ireland. He never joined the Orange Lodge, even though he served for 15 years a parish with strong links to them. He wrote his doctoral dissertation in a manse that had no electricity or running water. He took his first academic post here at the Divinity School of the University of St. Andrews in 1963 at the age of 46, then moved to Glasgow University in 1974. John Riches reports that when Paddy came to Glasgow, he was described to John as a cross between a dynamo and a leprechaun. He was well-known for his sense of humor. He liked golf jokes, preachers jokes, political jokes, and academic put-downs. Professor Riches quoted from a lecture Paddy gave to the Irish Biblical Association on the purpose of the Gospel of Mark in which he quoted another scholar, he said, not because his view was accepted � it was almost universally rejected � but "because it permits me to stress the opposite." Alan McDonald also related that in 1965, when Paddy's book The Temptation and the Passion was published, he was known to say that it would sell well in train stations if put in a plain cover.

I did not know Paddy Best well, but I did encounter him now and again in my early years here. Once when Professor Robert Carroll came from Glasgow to lecture at our postgraduate seminar, I took the two of them to lunch, during which Paddy told a disrespectful joke about two prominent Irish politicians. I won't repeat the joke here. (Alas, Paddy and Bob Carroll are both gone now.) Paddy also once commented to me that it was great to be a Professor in his day, because "we didn't have to do any work." Anyone who knows his story or his bibliography will know how seriously to take that one.

Requiescat in pace.
CHALDOASSYRIAN WATCH: The Assyrian International News Agency has an essay by Nina Shea on the current situation of Aramaic-speaking Christians in Iraq: "Iraq's Chaldo-Assyrians: Canary in a Coal Mine.". It arises from a meeting in Washington D.C. of Middle Eastern-American Christians earlier this month. Excerpt:
Christianity in Iraq dates from the first century and the ChaldoAssyrians are the world's last remaining community to speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus. The Assyrians are an ethnic group, the Chaldeans a religious designation; both groups indigenous to the Iraq region, their presence there predating Christianity. It was their ancestors who built the tower of Babel and some people in Mosul, ancient Nineveh, continue to fast each year in repentance as the Prophet Jonah exhorted them to do.

Most relevant for U.S. foreign-policy considerations, the ChaldoAssyrians form one of the most politically modern, skilled, and educated communities in Iraq today. An exodus of these Christians would substantially reduce Iraq's prospects of developing as a pluralistic and democratic society. Their leaving would be not only a "brain drain" but a "sane drain" as well. Without a sizeable non-Muslim minority, moderate Muslims who want to keep religion out of government -- Iraq's silent majority -- will encounter far greater intimidation in raising their voices against the imposition of medieval Islamic law, favored by Iranian-backed parties and clerics.

The ChaldoAssyrians are the canaries in the coal mine for the greater Middle East as well. The extent to which they are tolerated in the new Iraq is being watched closely by the Maronites of Lebanon, the Copts of Egypt, and other non-Muslim populations of the region.

Keeping the ChaldoAssyrians secure in Iraq should be a paramount concern for the United States. One way to help them can be found in the interim constitution. The Bush administration had the foresight to insist on including article 53D in the basic law -- an overlooked provision that establishes the legal basis for creating an administrative unit explicitly for the ChaldoAssyrians, which could serve as a safe haven. The community needs U.S. help to create such a district, which should encompass the traditional community villages located near Mosul, in the Nineveh Plains. They believe that thousands of their members who have fled to other countries in the Middle East over the decades but are not permanently resettled could be persuaded to return to such a secure place.

The State Department should make the implementation of article 53D an urgent priority. It also must start providing directly to the ChaldoAssyrians the congressionally authorized funds needed to rebuild their destroyed villages, roads, schools, and clinics as well as to undertake start-up economic-development projects. Because State's funding practices favor Arab and Kurd groups, the ChaldoAssyrians have been shut out of U.S. reconstruction aid.

UPDATE: The essay was published originally in National Review online.
MORE 1 ENOCH FROM THE QUMRAN LIBRARY! Gabriele Boccaccini e-mails:
A New Fragment of Enoch found at Qumran

In March 2004 Esther and Hanan Eshel received for publication a photograph of a fragmentary papyrus preserving five lines identifiable as the end of Enoch 8 and the beginning of Enoch 9 (8:4-9:3). The new fragment can be dated approximately to the Hasmonean or the early Herodian era (50-25 BCE) and was undoubtedly found at Qumran. As we cannot identify the cave, we suggest this fragment be labeled XQpapEnoch. Because the only Enochic book written on papyrus is the Book of Giants from Cave 6, 6QpapGiant (=6Q8), which is written in a different semi-cursive later hand, it appears that this fragment is the first to be published from an additional copy of Enoch. The verses in question describe how the angels heard the cries of the people killed as a result of Asa'el's teaching humans to make weaponry. The publication of this new fragment of Enoch is important not only as a witness to an additional manuscript of Enoch found at Qumran, but also because of its contribution to the reconstruction of two Cave 4 manuscripts (4QEna and 4QEnb). Despite their poor preservation, it is possible to read and reconstruct in the three witnesses to the Aramaic a similar, if not identical, text. This version differs from the Greek translation found at Gizeh, which has scribal errors and various omissions. Even though Syncellus' versions also contain corruptions, it appears that the Greek cited by Syncellus is the closest to the Aramaic source. The article which includes the new fragment was submitted for publication in DSD [the journal Dead Sea Discoveries] in the beginning of May 2004. On Oct 11, 2004, the fragment was discussed at the University of Michigan by a panel composed by Profs. Gabriele Boccaccini, James C. VanderKam, Esti Eshel and Hanan Eshel, and will be presented again at Camaldoli during the Third Meeting of the Enoch Seminar (6-10 June 2005).

Quoted with the permission of Boccaccini and the Eshels. There have been rumors for many years of the existences of another Qumran Aramaic manuscript of 1 Enoch. I wonder if this is it and if there's any more of it out there somewhere.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: more on the danger of a collapse during Ramadan:
New Battle Looms Over Jerusalem Holy Site

Thursday October 14, 2004 6:46 AM

AP Photo JRL115


Associated Press Writer

JERUSALEM (AP) - Israel said Wednesday it would severely limit the access of Muslim worshippers to Jerusalem's most volatile holy site during the holy month of Ramadan, claiming it could collapse. . . .

Israel's police minister, Gideon Ezra, said he wants the Islamic Trust, or Waqf, to declare the southeastern corner of the holy site compound off-limits.

If the Waqf does not agree, ``we will view this as a real and immediate threat and we can't let this happen ... we will have to limit the number of worshippers to 50,000 or 60,000,'' Ezra told Israel Army Radio. The compound holds about 250,000 people and is often filled to capacity during the main Ramadan prayers.

The chief Muslim cleric, or mufti, of Jerusalem, said he would not go along with the Israeli request. Egyptian and Jordanian engineers who inspected the walls after the earthquake said that ``there is no real danger,'' the mufti, Ikrema Sabri, told The Associated Press.


As I've said before, I don't trust the Grand Mufti's opinion on this. Better safe than sorry.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

THERE'S AN OBITUARY FOR PROFESSOR PADDY BEST in today's Glasgow Herald (heads-up, Jim West).
REGULAR READERS may have noticed that I have not been posting new reviews from the Review of Biblical Literature. I assume that if you're interested in these, you will subscribe to the site's newsletter. At present I would rather spend my very limited blogging time either on things I personally find interesting (e.g., anything to do with the OT pseudepigrapha) or on information and stories that either are not receiving much attention elsewhere and/or on which I have something to say. Also, I assume you are reading some of the other biblioblogs and I've become more inclined to ignore stories they are already covering - again, unless I have something to say about them.
High Court rejects bid to block new Temple Mount mosque (via Bible and Interpretation News)
By Yuval Yoaz, Haaretz Correspondent

The High Court of Justice on Tuesday rejected a petition by the Temple Mount Faithful group demanding a ban on the government and Jerusalem municipality from authorizing the construction of another mosque on the Temple Mount.


The petitioners said that in recent weeks there have been public announcements stating that initial steps have been taken in the building of a fourth mosque in the eastern section of the Mount, which today is an open space.


Regular readers will not be surprised to hear that I think any new construction on the Temple Mount would be a very bad idea.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

SOME ANCIENT MOSAICS are to go on exhibit at Ben Gurion Airport:
Ancient mosaic to greet airport arrivals (Ha'aretz)
By Zohar Blumenkrantz

Ancient mosaics that have been discovered across the country in archaeological digs are to appear as artistic pieces in the new terminal of Ben-Gurion International Airport. The Airports Authority is to pay NIS 460,000 to the Israel Antiquities Authority for the pleasure.


One of the exhibits will be a mosaic from the 5th or 6th century, unearthed in Bet Shean, with an inscription in Greek, "Blessed are you in your arriving, and blessed are you in your leaving."

Bowers Museum Unveils 'Queen of Sheba: Legend and Reality' on October 17, 2004 (PRNewswire)
Monday October 11, 12:00 pm ET
For Centuries, the Myths Surrounding Queen of Sheba Have Been Among History's Most Intriguing Mysteries. Just Who Was This Captivating Queen and Leading Lady in the Bible? The Bowers' Newest Exhibition Seeks to Find Out in the Queen of Sheba's First-Time and Only U.S. Appearance

Monday, October 11, 2004

MORE ON THE MAQDALA (MAGDALA) MANUSCRIPTS FROM ETHIOPIA: The BBC has a recent article about a request from the Commission of Africa to the British Government for the return of the manuscripts:
Blair urged to return treasures

Ethiopian campaigners have asked UK Prime Minister Tony Blair to return hundreds of rare manuscripts and religious artefacts.

The treasures were looted from the palace of an Ethiopian emperor, after his defeat by a British force in 1868.

A letter was handed to one of Mr Blair's aides while he was in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa for a meeting of his Commission for Africa.

The treasures, which include a gold crown, are worth $3bn, campaigners say.

But the most valuable item is one of two copies of the Kebra Negast - or Glory of Kings - Ethiopia's holy book which is held in the British Library in London.


Incidentally, at the moment I'm working with an undergraduate who is writing an honours dissertation on the Kebra Negast, which is a retelling of the stories of Genesis, Exodus, and Solomon.

The Art Newspaper also has a long article on the looted artifacts and manuscripts from Maqdala: "UK museums face controversial Ethiopian legacy." One set of objects is not permitted to be viewed by anyone but senior clergy in the Ethiopic Orthodox Church. There's also a bit more on the manuscripts:
The British Library holds a large collection of manuscripts, around 350 of which came from Maqdala. One, an 18th-century Book of Isiah, is currently on show in the �treasures� display and the rest can be consulted on application. A spokesman explained: �There is no change in our policy. The manuscripts are freely available for study. We do not believe that the originals should be returned to Ethiopia, but any question of restitution is ultimately a responsibility for government�. The British Library, like most national museums, is not permitted to deaccession.

The Royal Collection also has important Maqdala material, including a small number of illuminated manuscripts in the Royal Library at Windsor. In 1965, during the Queen�s visit to Addis Ababa, she returned a royal cap and silver seal.

The University of Edinburgh library is currently considering the status of its 11 Ethiopian manuscripts, four of which were definitely acquired at Maqdala. A panel has been established to examine the question, but so far the university has taken the position that they should not be returned.

I wish someone would take the time to list the contents of all these manuscripts. (And what's this "Isiah"? How lame.)

But here's some excellent news from
AAU to Introduce Master's Degree Program in Philology

Addis Tribune (Addis Ababa)

October 8, 2004
Posted to the web October 8, 2004

The Addis Ababa university (AAU) will, as of this academic year introduce a masters degree program in philology.

To mark the introduction of the new graduate program the department of linguistic of the university will hold an international symposium under the theme. " Ethiopian Philology in the 21st century" next Friday at the main campus where some 16 papers will be presented by international philologists and local academics.

In an exclusive interview with Addis Tribune ,Dr, Moges Yigezu chairman of the department of linguistic said that the program aims at producing scholars who will be stydying manuscripts written both in Geez and Arabic languages.

It's not often that philology makes it into a media headline. Strength to their arm!

Sunday, October 10, 2004

JACQUES DERRIDA is dead at age 74:
Jacques Derrida Dies; Deconstructionist Philosopher

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 10, 2004; Page C11

Jacques Derrida, 74, originator of the diabolically difficult school of philosophy known as deconstructionism, died Oct. 9, the office of French President Jacques Chirac announced. French media reports said that the cause was pancreatic cancer and that he died at a Paris hospital.

Mr. Derrida (pronounced "deh-ree-DAH") inspired and infuriated a generation of intellectuals and students with his argument that the meaning of a collection of words is not fixed and unchanging, an argument he most famously capsulized as "there is nothing outside the text."


Language, he said, is inadequate to provide a clear and unambiguous view of reality. In other words, the fixed meaning of an essay, a book, a personal letter, a scientific treatise or a recipe dissolves when hidden ambiguities and contradictions are revealed. These contradictions, inevitable in every piece of writing, he said, reveal deep fissures in the foundation of the Western world's civilizations, cultures and creations.

Supporters said this insight into the layered meanings and incompleteness of language subverts reason and rationality, stripping centuries of assumptions from words and allowing fresh ideas to emerge.

Critics called it nihilism (the denial of the meaning of existence, or denial of the existence of any basis for knowledge and truth), a charge he vehemently denied.


Jacques Derrida's work has been very influential in some sectors of biblical studies. My own take on him, as those who know me have heard me say, is that on average about a third of any given work of his was showing off, another third was deliberate obfuscation, and the rest was brilliant critical theory. Sorting out that last third from the rest is the challenge. Much of the work by "deconstructionists" who mean to follow the Master has been accused of partaking too much of the first two-thirds and too little of the last third, and sometimes not unjustly. But deconstruction has its uses and some of what has been published makes important contributions to literary theory. My own research in The Book is influenced by Derrida's ideas, especially in chapter three (shorter versions of which you can read here and here).

I never met Derrida, but I did hear him speak at the SBL meeting a couple of years ago in Toronto, when Yvonne Sherwood of Glasgow University arranged a extremely well-attended session with him as speaker.

What a fascinating, controversial, brilliant, infuriating man. May his memory be for a blessing.
THE ARAMAIC-SPEAKING VILLAGE OF MAALOULA (MA'ALOULA) in Syria has been featured in Arabic News twice in recent weeks:

"British Sky News report on Ma'alula" (8 October)

"Foundation stone for Aramaic Language Learning Institute" (14 September)
The foundation stone of the institute for learning Aramaic language in Maaloula was laid yesterday.


And, interestingly, when I did a search for the town on PaleoJudaica's Atomz search engine, the sponsored link came up with an advertisement for Maaloula Vacations.
JEWISH ANTIQUITIES, inter alia, in France and Italy are described in two new travel books.
A WORKSHOP ON SYRIAC APOCRYPHA is being held in Paris next month by the Societe d'etudes syriaques.