Saturday, January 15, 2005

THE FROM THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS TO THE BIBLE IN AMERICA EXHIBITION is now on display in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Rich Trove of Islamic Tradition (Navhind Times)

An exhibition of 400-year-old Islamic manuscripts from Timbuktu that was originally mounted at the Library of Congress in 2003 will be featured in Jackson, Mississippi, in fall 2005 before circulating around the United States. ....

The manuscripts, written in Arabic, Hebrew and Greek, date from the 16th through the 18th centuries. They come from the Mamma Haidara Commemorative Library and the Library of Cheick Zayni Baye in Timbuktu, Mali. Timbuktu, a city celebrated in western verse for its exotic locale, was for centuries a significant religious, cultural and commercial outpost of Islam, and a center for Islamic book production. There, the written word, along with intricate calligraphy in bound sheaves, fostered an important industry in book selling, rivaling all other local trades.


The manuscripts presented in the exhibition are samples of scholarly treatises that explore such diverse topics as medicine, science, religion, history and commerce - topics central to the intellectual life of Islam and the era. Many of the manuscripts had remained in the hands of private collectors after being zealously guarded during the colonial period by Malian families to prevent pilfering by Europeans. ...

Hebrew and Greek, as well as Arabic. More and more interesting.
Plots sold to Muslims near Temple Mt. (Jerusalem Post)

The Arab chairman of a committee that serves as a go-between between police and east Jerusalem residents is selling burial plots to Muslims just outside the walls of the Temple Mount in an area classified by the state as an archeological site and national park, according to a petition filed Thursday with the High Court of Justice by a right-wing activist.

The committee chairman said he had helped police resolve disputes over a handful of graves at the site in the past but denied any involvement in the recent sales of plots there.


The claim is that a sting operation was involved. If the accusation is true, this isn't good.

Friday, January 14, 2005

THE SBL COUNCIL has posted a resolution that was circulated at the SBL meeting in San Antonio last November, although I didn't encounter it then. Members are asked to agree or disagree with it and to comment if they wish to. No explanation is given of what will happen if a majority agree or disagree. The full text is as follows:
The United States election of 2004 witnessed the emergence of "values," often referred to as "Christian values" or "biblical values," as key political issues. The "values" most commonly identified in public debates were the issues of gay marriage, abortion, and stem-cell research.

The Society of Biblical Literature, which is the largest international, professional association of teachers and scholars of the Bible, calls attention to the fact that the "values" so prominently and divisively raised in this 2004 U.S. election are not major concerns in the Bible, and in fact are not even directly addressed in the Bible. Rather, they tend to reflect the underlying problems of homophobia, misogyny, control of reproductive rights, and restraint of expression (including scientific research) in U.S. society today.

With over 7,000 members representing a broad range of political and religious leanings, the Society of Biblical Literature has fostered discussions of such fundamental problems against the background of biblical ethics and respect for all human beings. As many of our members have indicated in publications and lectures, the moral issues dominating the biblical texts focus instead on concerns such as the well-being of individuals, the integrity of community, care for the powerless and the vulnerable, economic justice, the establishment of peace, and the stewardship of the environment.

The Society of Biblical Literature urges citizens and political agencies to direct their energies toward securing these goals and values of well-being and responsibility.

I think a number of points need to be made here. First, am I the only one who finds it odd that we are given no information on who wrote this resolution? The e-mail from Matthew Collins reads:
This resolution circulated at the San Antonio Annual Meeting. It is related directly to the US context. Council determined that it would be beneficial to survey all members in this regard.

Please respond before 25 January 2005.

Here is a link to the survey:

Thanks for your participation,

Kent Harold Richards
Executive Director
Professor of Old Testament

The text of the resolution on the web page is unsigned. Why the ambiguous "circulated" in the message? Who circulated it? To whom? Who wrote it? Frankly, it makes me uncomfortable that the Society is requesting a response of its members to an anonymous resolution whose purpose is never explained. Evidently it was not composed by the Council. May we please have the name(s) of the writer(s) and a clearer explanation of what our vote means?

Second, there is the content of the resolution. I think it grants unnecessary ground to its fundamentalist opponents by implicitly accepting that the Bible is a unit that somehow addresses "major concerns" about "values" and political matters. The anonymous writer(s) also seem to grant the Bible authority in these matters. Presumably their view of authority is different from the fundamentalist view, but this is not spelled out or explained. In any case, it develops that "the moral issues dominating the biblical texts" are actually the values of the writer(s), not those of their opponents who hold the rejected political positions. (The views of the opponents have a much more sinister origin.) In fact, it turns out that the core values of the biblical texts happen to be pretty much identical to those of American academics in the humanities in the early twenty-first century.

This claim is not easy to maintain. True, the Bible doesn't address gay marriage directly, but Leviticus does call for the execution of homosexuals (20:13), which tends to imply that the writer opposed state ratification of their unions. It's a horrible passage, but it's there. And does the Bible really focus on the "well-being of individuals" (like the women and children supposedly slaughtered at Jericho by Joshua and his army at God's behest); "the integrity of community" (like the foreign women and children driven away from their husbands and fathers by Ezra and Nehemiah); "care for the powerless and the vulnerable" (see the two previous items), and so on? Sure, many places in the Bible support most of these values (although the business about "stewardship of the environment" is a stretch), but many don't. From a historical perspective this is a remarkably selective and, frankly, myopic list. The fundamentalists have as good a claim (maybe better) on the Bible for their agenda as the trendy-but-laudable laundry list of the anonymous writer(s) of this resolution.

For what it's worth, here's my view. Why start by granting so much ground to fundamentalist assumptions? Challenge these. The Bible is a collection, a library of Biblia expressing many different viewpoints; some lofty, some barbaric, and some merely human. It does not speak with one voice. This is not controversial: it's Bible 101 for undergraduates. It is up to us as critical and responsible readers to decide what we accept in it and what we don't. Sure, let's pick and choose; that's the rational thing to do. But let's be up front about doing so and not kid ourselves that we're discovering the Bible's true message and it happens to be congenial with everything we already thought anyway. Then a real discussion can start. (It may well be that the authors of the resolution would agree with me here, but if so, they need to express themselves more clearly and with some historical sophistication.)

Third, and to my mind most important, there is the question of whether the SBL has any business promoting this sort of political statement. I submit to you that the answer is no, absolutely not. I dare say that some people will ask, Shouldn't biblical scholars get out of their academic ivory towers and show concern with important social issues? The answer, of course, is yes - on an individual basis. Not just biblical scholars; everyone should take an active role in the politics of their society. We as individuals should all be active in promoting the political issues and views that we as individuals believe in. That's part of living in a pluralistic society and a democracy. But the Society of Biblical Literature is not a political society. It is an academic organization for scholars who specialize in biblical studies and related fields - whatever their political persuasion. Let me repeat that: whatever their political persuasion. The Society is not an organization for promoting political views. Its leadership has no reason to assume that all members agree with them on their political views and they have no right, let alone obligation, to speak for the members on political matters. (The fact that I agree broadly with the anonymous writer(s) on the three specific issues they mention - and let's face it, their basic positions aren't hard to guess - is neither here nor there.) I can and do pick my own political causes and activist groups. I don't need any help from the SBL.

As the resolution notes, the Society's membership has "a broad range of political and religious leanings." Some members disagree with the anonymous author(s) of the resolution (and with me) about gay marriage, abortion rights, and stem-cell research. Fine. I recognize that there are issue to discuss regarding each, some of them difficult, and my views are nuanced and open to development. I like to discuss political issues with those who disagree with me, in the hope of persuading them to my view, but also with the desire to learn from them. But meanwhile, even if a majority of the Society chose to vote in favor of this resolution, it would not speak for all members and would not be valid as a statement of the Society. It would be a form of tyranny by majority, because the SBL is not a political society.

Your job, SBL, is "to foster biblical scholarship," as it says on the masthead of the SBL web page. That means to support me in my academic role as a biblical scholar. Just as you would never assume that I belong to a particular religion and that you can speak for me about it, so you are in no position to assume anything about my political beliefs or to speak for me on political matters.

This resolution is inappropriate for many reasons and it goes without saying that I oppose it. I hope you do too, gentle reader. The SBL is an extraordinarily useful academic organization for biblical scholars and I appreciate their support immensely. In turn, they have my unwavering support for that purpose. While I commend the Council for seeking our view on the resolution, I don't think it should have gone even that far. Such statements amount to mission creep. Let's put them aside and get back to our scholarly work (and our individual political activism).

UPDATE: I see that Ed Cook has similar thoughts about the resolution and that most of his commenters agree. Eric Sowell too (later: also here). Danny Zacharias isn't so sure.

UPDATE: Jim West points out that the URL to the resolution asks not to be copied (the e-mail said nothing about this) so I have deleted it. But why wasn't the survey password-protected (with the members' SBL membership passwords)? Seems to me this whole thing could have been better thought out. As to whether the issues should be discussed in public, I assume that the writer(s) of the resolution wishes it to become a formal public statement of the SBL in due course. I think it's entirely appropriate that the discussion about it, and about the appropriateness of the SBL making political statements at all, take place in public.

UPDATE: Maxine Grossman e-mails:
I've been thinking a lot about your post on the SBL statement, and I had to write you with a few thoughts.

First, I agree with your view that the statement is a bad one. It follows the logic of the people it is trying to oppose, by arguing that the Bible is actually about the issues that it has been interpreted to address.

I agree that a better statement would talk about the diversity of biblical texts and their origins in history. I would also want to see something about the options for interpretation open to diverse faith communities in their reading. I'm sure you're (not) surprised about that last one.

But I have to disagree with your suggestion that the proper response is an individual one. I have two reasons for this.

1. The SBL doesn't have authority to make policy or determine social practice. But it does have the authority to talk about the Bible and its interpretation. It would not be mission creep for the Society to stand up and criticize the way other people are using the Bible. Not to do so cedes the floor unnecessarily.

2. The current presidential administration is famous for being "on message." The people who are finding sources for anti-abortion legislation (etc.) in the Bible are also remarkably good at presenting a single, clear, authoritative argument. The best answer to this kind of presentation is an equally authoritative collective message. Individual statements are good, but the message of a professional organization will be taken more seriously.

Public discourse this fall made the claim that "moral values" and "religion" required acceptance of a specific political agenda. This is a spurious claim and one that the SBL is within its rights to contradict.

One last thing: whether the message is collective or individual, it needs to be clear, concise, and to the point. I'm not arguing for being simplistic or dumbing down, and I know it's hard to be nuanced and brief at the same time. But it's important to recognize the discursive assumptions of the medium. Careful caveats sound either like you don't know what you're talking about or you don't believe it.

If there is a way for the Society to make your points without advancing a specific political agenda of its own, I might be sympathetic. Diversity of biblical texts, their origins in history, and options for interpretation open to diverse faith communities all seem pretty integral to the Society's mission. A scholarly statement on how to look at the Bible from a multifaith (or lack of faith) perspective could have some potential. Presumably it would have to allow for fundamentalist positions while undercutting their claim to sole authority. I worry that people who attempted to put it together would be unbearably tempted to build their own political agenda into it, as happened with this resolution. But there's a way to prove me wrong. How about a draft proposal?

UPDATE (15 January): Tim Bulkeley weighs in: "So, I'll join the chorus of bibli*bloggers, and pray that good sense causes such a backlash of Biblical Scholars for Academic Freedom that SBL will pull back from the brink of the abyss of totalitarian 'liberalism'!" And Stephen Carlson: "I doubt John Locke would have been in favor of the proposed resolution being circulation among SBL members."

UPDATE (16 January): Maxine Grossman publishes an alternative (and much better) statement here.

UPDATE: More comments from (non-SBL members, I think) Apikorsos (thanks, Elf) and Razors Kiss. The latter will not be including me on his Evangelical apologists blogroll, for which I take no offense. Meanwhile, Steven I. Weiss, former Elder of the now-defunct Protocols blog, is, uh, not taking the survey very seriously. And illustrating my point that it should have been password protected.

UPDATE (18 January): Mark Goodacre comments at length, covering many of the same points Ed Cook and I made. He sums up, "I propose that this survey is voided as a well-meaning but ultimately not very well thought through experiment."

UPDATE (19 January): Is "fundamentalist" the right term? Maybe not.

UPDATE 19 February): More here (another security hole), here (the results and a response from Ed Cook), and here (again on the security issues - looks as though the survey was secure after all).

Thursday, January 13, 2005

OXYRHYNCHUS ONLINE has a new URL: Be sure and update your bookmark. (Via Wieland Willker on the Textual Criticism list.)
Ancient seal corroborates Bistun Inscription text (MehrNews)
TEHRAN, Jan. 12 (MNA) -- An ancient seal has been discovered by chance which confirms the information recorded in the text of the Bistun Inscription in Kermanshah Province, an expert of the Hamedan Cultural Heritage and Tourism Department announced on Wednesday.

Fariba Sharifian explained that the Iranian police recently confiscated the seal from smugglers in the town of Asadabad in Hamedan Province, adding, �It is not clear when and where the seal was unearthed, but the information and reliefs carved on it narrate significant and interesting material.�

The seal is made of green jasper, she said.

A cuneiform inscription in ancient Persian on one side of the cylindrical seal reads �Dadar Shish, Satrap of Bactria�.


The Behistun Inscription is an account by Darius I (who also is mentioned in the Bible) of his own great deeds. It mentions two people with the name D�darshi (see here and here for details), the second of whom was Satrap of Bactria. If the seal is genuine, this is an interesting confirmation of a detail in the inscription.

If it is genuine. In its favor, it was not on the antiquities market, but was seized by the authorities from smugglers. But against its authenticity, it is unprovenance; it was seized from smugglers who presumably intended to sell it; and given the enormous interest of modern Iranians in their own history, it's the sort of exciting item that a forger would have every reason to produce in the hope of making lots of money. In light of the emerging forgery scandal in Israel, I'm skeptical.

(Via Mirabilis.)
THERE'S A CONFERENCE ON HEROD AND AUGUSTUS at University College London in June. Helenann Hartley has details.
AKMA has started a New Testament Resources Blog.
In this blog, I�ll post some links to recommended resources for the study of the New Testament. I�ll keep a bibliographic list of links to commentaries, monographs, and articles at the top of a page. That list will change over time, as I learn more or encounter problems with one or another source.

It will also include open but moderated comments.

(Via The Stuff of Earth.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

IN ANSWER TO DANNY ZACHARIAS, I have already given my opinion on the James ossuary in this post:
On the one hand, at least a few scholars like Witherington still seem to think that the James Ossuary inscription is probably fully genuine. On the other, the case that the IAA makes for it being partially faked seems overwhelming: (1) the fake patina and (2) the forgery lab, complete with forgeries in progress, in Golan's house. If Witherington and those like-minded want to defend the authenticity of the full inscription, those are the big charges they need to refute. I've not put the work into the inscription to form a strong opinion about it, but I am pretty skeptical. As I keep saying, I hope this comes to trial and, if so, I will be watching closely.
BLOGGER FIRED FROM WATERSTONE'S BOOKSTORE: This has nothing to do with ancient Judaism, but quite a bit to do with blogging and bloggers. Also, it's a local story about a place with which I am somewhat familiar. The Guardian has the most detailed account I could find, although I heard about it first from the Biblioblog Blog and lots of newspapers and (of course) bloggers are taking an interest:
Blogger sacked for sounding off

Waterstone's says bookseller brought firm into disrepute

Patrick Barkham
Wednesday January 12, 2005
The Guardian

A bookseller has become the first blogger in Britain to be sacked from his job because he kept an online diary in which he occasionally mentioned bad days at work and satirised his "sandal-wearing" boss.

Joe Gordon, 37, worked for Waterstone's in Edinburgh for 11 years but says he was dismissed without warning for "gross misconduct" and "bringing the company into disrepute" through the comments he posted on his weblog.

Published authors and some of the 5 million self-published bloggers around the globe said it was extraordinary that a company advertising itself as a bastion of freedom of speech had acted so swiftly to sack Mr Gordon, who mentions everything from the US elections to his home city of Edinburgh in the satirical blog he writes in his spare time.


The Guardian Newsblog has more here

For those of you outside Britain, Waterstone's is a major bookseller here, something like Barnes & Noble in the USA. I buy (or at least have bought) countless books from them.

Two thoughts. If there were an award for stupidity, I would give Mr. Gordon the second prize. You won't find many people who support free speech more than I do, but even I see a difference between grumbling about your employer in the pub with your cronies after work hours and doing so in an interview with a national or international newspaper. Blogging is rather more like the latter than the former. It's a pretty-much-permanent international medium easily available to any reader who wants to consult it. It's not quite the same as a mainstream-media interview, in that such interviews are dependably widely read while a blog's readership is generally small. But if a blog story or post catches attention, its readership can swell enormously overnight. It strikes me as very imprudent to post profanely critical comments about one's boss and workplace in such a medium, while telling us the name of the company and the more-or-less specific location. It may not be illegal or actionable, but it is in very poor taste and likely to create bad feelings.

Thoughtful and constructive criticisms of the company's actions and policies may be another matter, although usually (not quite always) they are best dealt with privately within the company. But the comments at issue were clearly just venting.

First prize for stupidity, however, definitely would go to Waterstone's for the way they have handled this. The sensible thing, as Mr. Gordon observes, would have been to approach him privately, tell him the posts were offensive, and ask him to delete them and not to do it again. Problem solved. If he wanted to make a civil rights case out of it then, that would have been his decision and his problem. But I doubt he would have.

Instead, they chose the course guaranteed to draw the world's attention to Mr. Gordon, his blog, his comments, and the company who fired him. Perhaps they thought they needed to make an example of him. Guess what? Boy have they! He is now an example of a little guy oppressed by the Evil Big Corporate Goliath, and the case is generating orders of magnitude more bad publicity for Waterstone's than they would have gotten from just ignoring him. SF writer Richard Morgan (who, incidentally, is one of my favorite authors) oversimplifies a little in his letter to Waterstone's, but in this part he gets it exactly right:
Waterstones is, after all, a bookseller, whose stock in trade is the purveying of opinion, not all of it palatable to those concerned. You sell books which offer serious critique of the corporate environment and government, but do not expect to suffer punitive action from government or corporate quarters as a result. You sell books which criticise and satirise religious and political groups, but you do not expect to be firebombed by extremists as a result. Surely Joe has the right to let off steam in his free time without having to fear for his livelihood as a result. The action that has been taken so far bears more resemblance to the behaviour of an American fast food chain than a company who deal in intellectual freedoms and the concerns of a pluralist liberal society.

In a word, Waterstone's can dish it out but can't take it.

I don't know whether Waterstone's has the legal right to fire Mr. Gordon in this case (and I do respect the right to free association as well as the right to free speech). I am not a lawyer. But I do know that they have overreacted appallingly and in about the least constructive and most self-damaging way imaginable. They have presented themselves as oversensitive, heavy-handed hypocrites, fully worthy of a Dilbert cartoon. Another SF author, Charles Stross, spells out the details of their folly here and also has some constructive suggestions for a resolution.

In the past, whenever I've gone to Dundee or Edinburgh I have invariably stopped at Waterstone's to buy a book or two (or three or four, etc.), or some coffee, or often both. But as long as they continue this absurd course with Mr. Gordon, I think I can attend to my reading and caffeine needs elsewhere. I encourage my British readers, and any overseas readers who come to Britain for a conference or a holiday, to do likewise. Try Ottakar's instead for books. I hope that Science Fiction authors will also refrain from any Waterstone's book signing affairs until there is a satisfactory resolution. And if you'd like to register an opinion with Waterstone's, you can reach them at Judging from the picture in the Guardian article, this seems to be the branch where Mr. Gordon worked.
But even if not, I dare say your message will be forwarded to the relevant person.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming.

UPDATE (13 January): In response to my e-mail drawing the attention of the Waterstone's management to this post, I received the following from their Customer Services:
Dear James R. Davila,

Thank you for your email.
Unfortunately we cannot comment on this matter as it is confidential between the company and the employee.
I would like to thank you for taking the time to contact me, all comments are getting forwarded to the appropriate department.
THE "MONARCHISTS" SPEAK from their new Sanhedrin:
Hear ye, hear ye: Sanhedrin seeks David's scion as king (Jerusalem Post)

Will Jews begin proclaiming "Long live the king" in the near future?

According to a group of 71 Jewish scholars who met this week in the Old City of Jerusalem in the form of a modern-day Sanhedrin � a duplicate of the religious tribunal which convened during the time of the Second Temple � a coronation day is growing closer.


The group composed largely of Kahane sympathizers that gave itself the name Sanhedrin in October, however, met Sunday to discuss the creation of a Jewish monarchy in the State of Israel.

For the past several years a group called the Monarchists has conducted extensive research into the lineage of several families in an effort to discover who has the closest bloodline to the biblical King David � a requirement for any future Jewish king.

Rabbi Yosef Dayan from Psagot, known for his recent threats to place a death curse on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, is said to be a leading candidate to become the "king of Israel."

For more on Dayan and the "death curse" story, see here and here.


The only question now is how to establish the Jewish monarchy in spite of the presiding democratic government.

"There are two possibilities," Dayan explained. "The first is that the nation or a majority from within will want the monarchy and will uproot the presiding democratic government."

The second, more realistic option, he said, is "the one cited by Maimonides � and that is that no one will know how it will be until it happens."


I think we can safely rule out the first possibility.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

HEBRAIC POLITICAL STUDIES is a new journal. Jack Sasson reports on the ANE list:
Hebraic Political Studies will publish articles by scholars in the fields of political science, philosophy, history, law, and religious studies that explore the political concepts of the Hebrew Bible and rabbinic literature, the significance of reflections on the Hebrew Bible and Judaic sources in the history of ideas, and the role of Jewish sources in the history of the West. The journal aims to evaluate the place of the Jewish textual tradition, alongside the traditions of Greece and Rome, in political history and the history of political thought.

There is more info in the full ANE posting.
BE SURE AND READ THE UPDATES to posts from Sunday and Monday.
Dead Sea Scrolls Forum

I'd like to announce the "opening" of a web-based forum for Dead Sea Scrolls scholars at

and any scholar with a solid foundation in Qumran studies is welcome to register at the site.

A web forum is functionally quite different from a mailing list. In fact members receive no mail whatsoever. A member visits the internet site using a web browser to access any messages that might be of interest. Web forums have proven to be a successful medium of communication in various technical and non-specialist fields, and I believe this format can be successful in the contacts of scholarly pursuit as well.

Forums invariably present members with an index of topics, allowing members to follow only those topics which they are interested in. The topics I have made available include:

* Texts (technical aspects)
* Biblical Scrolls
* Parabiblical Texts
* Community related texts
* Cult and Practice
* Language Matters
* Contexts
* Archaeology

If you are only interested in one of these topics you never need to look at any of the others.

As this is an internet based structure, I have had to take security into consideration. Only members can read the forum material and to do so, a member must log in. Every member will have a password to access the site.

There are two types of membership: general and scholarly. A general member will be able to read most forum topics, but won't be able to write to them. There will be specific general forums. To register as a general member all you need do is visit the site and follow the indication on the top right, which says "Register". This will give reading access to the site. To become a scholarly member, do the same, ie register as a general member, then announce yourself by sending an email to

The information you supply at registration should be sufficient to verify eligibility. It will only be a matter of a day or perhaps less before you have full access to the site.

Before registering it is strongly advised that you check the forum topic called "Start Here". You will find a message there aptly entitled "Please read before registering!"

At the beginning of proceedings I will be acting as moderator.

The aims of the Scrolls Forum are simple:

1) put scholars in contact with others about matters that concern them; and

2) analyse scrolls issues in a non-adversarial manner, fostering new, and improving on old, ideas.

If the idea appeals to you, or if you know of someone who might be interested, please spread the word around. There are a lot of scholars working in Qumran related fields around the world, mostly left to their own devices, but, given the opportunity to share their knowledge and expertise, so much can be achieved. I think that the more scholars talk to one another the better off we all will be. Please think about joining this enterprise, if the Dead Sea Scrolls and Qumran archaeology are important to your interests. Your ideas can help others, as theirs can help you.
I HAVE TO READ BLOGS to find out what's going on in my own back yard. Helenann Hartley writes:
Bible syndrome exhibition

Ekklesia reports on a new exhibition in Dundee, Scotland, about 'Jerusalem syndrome'.

For more on "Jerusalem Syndrome," go here.
A HIDDEN CAMERA visits the London Kabbalah Centre. The Telegraph has the story and it isn't pretty. Excerpt:
Having paid �860, I was next offered a trip to celebrate a Kabbalah religious festival in Israel. Rabbi Philip Berg, the leader of the Kabbalah Centre movement, would be present. I was presented with an invoice for $6,232 (�3,331); flights were to be extra.

Then I had a session with Rabbi Eliyahu Yardeni, a Kabbalah Centre teacher. He told me about the meaning of life and the secrets of the universe, and volunteered a staggering piece of information: "Just to tell you another thing about the six million Jews that were killed in the Holocaust. The question was that the Light was blocked. They didn't use Kabbalah."

It sounded as though he was blaming the Holocaust on its victims. Then he made a vitriolic attack on mainstream rabbis, labelling them the enemy of the Kabbalah Centre. I'm not Jewish, but his unprovoked rantings about Hitler's victims left me questioning his sanity.

My encounter with the Kabbalah people still makes me angry. On the one hand, I have experienced first-class surgery and care at the Royal Marsden Hospital which has, at the very least, extended my life. Yet that hospital is struggling to raise money for essential equipment that saves lives.

On the other hand, you've got the Kabbalah Centre, this wacky outfit, where, for �860, I bought a few bottles of water and some books I can't read. The Kabbalah Centre is attracting the weak and those who are most vulnerable. I know, because I've been through cancer.

And here's the Aramaic angle, which comes earlier in the article:
We talked about my cancer. [senior figure Chagai] Shouster was very careful to stress that he wasn't promising miracles, but he said there were tools that could help, including the water and the Zohar - the Kabbalah books in Aramaic and Hebrew.


"No, nothing is a gift, the water is not a gift, the Zohar is not a gift, as you know� There is the water cost. A case of 12 boxes costs �45 and the Zohar is �289. And the Shabbat meal is �26."

Shouster explained the importance of the Zohar books. No matter that they were written in Aramaic and, to me, indecipherable, I was told that I only had to run my fingers over the pages and scan the words for the "tools" to start working. Their tools, however, weren't cheap - the bill was �860, including dinner that night.

Whatever you make of the rest of the bill, the charge for the Aramaic Zohar is a rip-off, considering that you can download a good chunk of Matt's critical text for free. And you can get the whole Soncino Zohar in Aramaic and English for only $179.
THE JEWISH KINGDOM OF KHAZARIA is the subject of a "teleseminar" run by Rabbi Moshe Rudner, starting tomorrow (Wednesday).

Monday, January 10, 2005

CULTURAL ICON WATCH: Danny Zacharias has noted a, shall we say, bloated media simile involving the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Incidentally, in the new Qumranica blog (to open in early February) one of the things I want to do is to pay more attention to things like this; ways that the Dead Sea Scrolls are used as a cultural icon. Danny has come up with some good examples. I notice a lot of these things but have rarely commented on them up to now. We'll see what we come up with. Stay tuned.
REBECCA LESSES is blogging the Orion Centre's Dead Sea Scrolls symposium in Jerusalem.
"THE LORD OF THE RINGS: A Source-Critical Analysis," is a fairly weak attempt at parody by someone named Mark P. Shea (via ricoblog). Weak because it isn't source-critical at at all. It's a kind of Frazerian analysis of the LOTR using Victorian, by-the-seat-of-the-pants anthropology to find "sources" used differently in the "T" ("Tolkien") redaction and the "PJ" ("Peter Jackson") redaction. Source criticism is certainly fair game for a send-up - especially some of the sillier multisources-in-a-verse applications to the Pentateuch - but this attempt is disappointing. The concept is good and the LOTR is fertile ground, but the execution needs work.

That said, it's a shock to many doctoral students in biblical studies when they have the epiphany that basic source-critical methods actually work pretty well. (See Jeffrey Tigay's [ed.] Empirical Models for Biblical Criticism for some classic treatments of the issue.) I was one of them.

Incidentally, if you want to do source criticism of Tolkien, have a look at "Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age," published in The Silmarillion. Clearly it is by a different hand than the writer of the LOTR, since it says:
For Frodo the Halfling, it is said, at the bidding of Mithrandir took on himself the burden, and alone with his servant he passed through peril and darkness and came at last in Sauron's despite even to Mount Doom; and there into the Fire where it was wrought he cast the Great Ring of Power, and so at last it was unmade and its evil consumed.

My emphasis. This account of the destruction of the Ring leaves out a central character (Gollum) and presents Frodo's action in a rather more glorious light than the LOTR, which has the Ring destroyed essentially by a clumsy accident. I don't know whether the version quoted above is an "H" ("Hobbit") source that eliminates Gollum's part in order to make the achievement of Frodo look better, or whether the LOTR has added anti-Hobbit legendary accretions to the original story, but that they are by two different authors can scarcely be doubted.

UPDATE (11 January): That was a joke, folks! There seems to be some confusion on this point. I know that Tolkien wrote both. My serious point is that a single author can be self-contradictory, especially in a large work or corpus. Contradictions are not in themselves proof of multiple authorship. You need a consistent pattern of contradictions, different viewpoints, different styles, etc., to establish sources, and even then the results usually are fuzzy and can't be pushed very far. For example, I have a hard time denying that the Pentateuch contains sources conventionally called P and D, along with a lot of other sticky goo whose origins can't be reconstructed, at least by me.

Also, reader Jon Mackenzie points to another, more entertaining and better executed parody of source criticism and other biblical-critical methods:
New Directions in Pooh Studies:
�berlieferungs- und religionsgeschichtliche Studien zum Pu-Buch

UPDATE: Jan-Wim Wesselius e-mails:
In several recent articles I tried to explain why, as you put it in a recent post, "basic source-critical methods actually work pretty well", proposing that they give a diachronical explanation of some synchronic literary features of Genesis and the entire Primary History. Most readily available is my "Towards a New History of Israel", JHS ( 3 (2000-2001), see for example paragraph 3.5: "We suddenly realize that what once used to be taken for proof of the Documentary Hypothesis is in reality the literary expression of two versions of the description of God himself. Both the supposed Elohist and the supposed Jahwist are literary personae in the text." The striking duplications in Genesis are, in my opinion, mainly meant to draw the readers' attention to this dual characterization. And of course, as long as one does not recognize this, ascription to different sources is a reasonable approach.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

MORE DA VINCI CODE REFUTATION from New Testament Scholar Bart Ehrman and author Sharan Newman. The latter has a new book out called The Real History Behind The Da Vinci Code.

One error in Ehrman's comments, at least as presented in the article:
Brown's plot involves Jesus marrying Mary Magdalene, so the novel says it was unthinkable for a Jewish man to remain unmarried. But Ehrman says historians agree the Dead Sea Scrolls disprove Brown's claim.

Not so. The Dead Sea Scrolls never refer explicitly to celibacy. Josephus, Philo, and Pliny tell us that the Essenes, or some of them at any rate, lived lives of celibacy. A connection with the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls, however plausible, is inferential. If we had the Scrolls but not the authors who comment on the Essenes, I doubt that it would have occurred to us to think that the Qumran group was celibate.

Ehrman's point remains: there is first-century C.E. evidence for celibate Jewish men. But it doesn't come from the Dead Sea Scrolls. I've written on this in greater detail here.

UPDATE: Speaking of the Da Vinci Code, here's a Scottish angle:
Da Vinci Code crush threat to Scots chapel (The Times)
Karin Goodwin

DA VINCI CODE fever is threatening the fabric of Rosslyn Chapel, the Scottish church reputed to be the resting place of the holy grail and featured in the bestselling book.

Fears that the building and its unique stone carvings are being put at risk by an influx of visitors will lead to tourists being banned from making unsupervised visits to the medieval chapel.

Since The Da Vinci Code was published in 2003, visitor numbers at the 15th-century chapel have risen by 56%. Last year almost 70,000 visited the building in Midlothian, making it one of the country�s most popular tourist attractions.


UPDATE (11 January): Ken Penner e-mails
BTW, about your comment on the Qumran celibacy issue, "If we had the Scrolls but not the authors who comment on the Essenes, I doubt that it would have occurred to us to think that the Qumran group was celibate," there are still the cemeteries, the demographics of which are unquestionably skewed toward adult males, extremely so if one examines the standard N-S oriented graves in the cemetery east of the site. It is the absence of children that most surprises me; other cemeteries show 50% children (Tal Ilan, "'Bone of my Bones' (Genesis 2:23): Skeletal Remains, Gender and Social History" [Pages 195-214 in _Integrating Women into Second Temple History_; Peabody, Mass.: Hendricksen, 2001]). My best guess is that the women and men at Qumran abstained from procreation. Do you know of a good explanation for the cemetery demographics?

No, I don't, and you may well be right. But I am not an archaeologist and I would feel more sure about this if, first, the whole cemetery had been excavated and, second, if the archaeologists agreed on what the evidence we have from the site of Qumran means. The first won't happen any time soon: it's politically impossible now and may not come about until we can do it non-intrusively with molecular technology. And it doesn't sound to me as if the second is going to happen any time soon either.

Anyhow, in this case I was responding to Ehrman, who referred only to the Scrolls. I stand by my statement that if we only had them, it probably wouldn't occur to us to think of the group that collected them as celibate.

UPDATE (16 January): As I hinted above, perhaps not strongly enough, the error seems to have been the reporter's, not Ehrman's.
British Museum expert called to give evidence in trial over 'ossuary of Jesus's brother fraud' (The Telegraph)
By Inigo Gilmore
(Filed: 09/01/2005)

A wealthy Israeli art collector and an Egyptologist who works for the British Museum have been named as key prosecution witnesses in the trial of five men accused of running the world's biggest ring of dealers in bogus religious artefacts.


Shlomo Moussaieff, 82, who owns Moussaieff Jewellers at the London Hilton and is considered the world's leading private collector of biblical antiquities, confirmed that he would give evidence against the five alleged forgers: Oded Golan, a major Israeli collector and dealer; Robert Deutsch; Shlomo Cohen and Rafi Brown, who are all Israelis; and Faiz al-Amaleh, a West Bank Palestinian. All deny the charges against them.


Mr Moussaieff says that he bought about �2.67 million-worth of antiquities, including bullae, or seals of ancient Jewish kings, but he rejected claims by the Israeli police that the artefacts were bogus.

"Every dealer experiences a common battle against the faker: sometimes they win, sometimes you win," he said from his home in Tel Aviv, where many works from his collection are displayed.


Dr Nigel Strudwick, an Egyptologist at the British Museum, has also been listed as an expert witness, although the museum said last week that he had not been informed.


There are some interesting new details in the article, including references to forged gold objects, one of which supposedly was actually displayed in the British Museum.

UPDATE: Ed Cook has more on one of the gold items.