Saturday, March 26, 2005

HAVEIL HAVELIM #15, THE PURIM CARNIVAL, is now available at Soccer Dad's.
HERE'S MORE ON NICOLE KIDMAN'S BIBLICAL STUDIES in the Sydney Morning Herald (requires free registration to access). She would like to do some archaeology in the Middle East:
"I love the Middle East; I love the smells and the sensations. I'd love to go on an archaeological dig. And I'd like to get my degree in philosophy. At the moment I'm doing a course in the Old Testament, but linking it to the Middle East, to Israel and Palestine. I have a tutor who teaches at UCLA and Pepperdine [University] who's wonderful; he comes to the set for two hours twice a week, and then I do a weekend class as well," she tells InStyle.

The story is picked up in various places by someone ignorant enough to think that UCLA stands for "University College Los Angeles."
MORE OVERDETERMINATION: Today is both Holy Saturday and the traditional birth date of the Persian prophet Zoroaster.
BOOK REVIEW ALERT: The following is in today's New York Times:
'Whose Bible Is It?': God Speaks; Man Translates

Published: March 27, 2005

Most books about the Bible are principally concerned with how it came to be and what it meant in its historical context. But -- as readers of Jaroslav Pelikan's ''Whose Bible Is It?'' will find -- that is really only the beginning of the Bible's story. Even before the last chapters of the Hebrew Bible itself had been written, an ancient school of biblical interpreters had come upon the scene -- the earliest of them going back to the third century B.C. or so -- and they changed forever the way the Bible would be read. They (mostly anonymous) were decidedly not interested in what the stories, laws or prophecies had meant in their original context. They believed the Bible was a divinely given guidebook, eternally relevant. What interested them was what it had to teach people in their own day, and often this meant ignoring history and digging deeper, trying to find some hidden lesson in the Bible's words. Sometimes this process involved a great deal of imagination -- reinterpreting a common word or phrase to mean something quite different from its usual meaning, or even ''deducing'' the existence of conversations or whole episodes unreported in the Bible itself. They claimed it was full of teachings only hinted at in its actual words.


James Kugel, by the way, is a Harvard professor and one of my teachers. He is one of the foremost experts on ancient interpreters of the Bible and I am constantly shoving his work into the hands of my students (twice last week, for example).
THE BOOK OF GENESIS is reviewed by E. L. Doctorow in the Guardian. Really.
THE KETEF HINNOM SILVER AMULETS and the recent confirmation of their date (about 2600 years old) are the subject of a CBS News story.
PROFESSOR P. KYLE MCCARTER of Johns Hopkins University will be speaking at York College in Pennsylvania on the James Ossuary. The York Daily Record has an e-mail interview with him. He says that in his view "the jury is still out" regarding the inscription's authenticity.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Far right barred from Temple Mount (Ynetnews)

Leading activists denied permission to enter holy site; meanwhile, police to investigate �Rabin is waiting for Sharon� sticker

JERUSALEM - Far right activists Baruch Marzel, Baruch Ben Yossef, and Itamar Ben Gvir have been denied permission to enter the Temple Mount by Jerusalem Police.


The article also has this to say about the proposed Revava protest:
Police say they have received no formal request for such a march, and say any such request would be debated on its own merits. They add than any approval would only be within the context of the current rules governing such visits. Current regulations provide for visits on specific days and times, and only in small groups.

This makes the police sound rather more open to the idea than previously reported (follow the link above).
PLINY GOES WIRELESS: The Independent reports that some of the original Latin of Pliny the Elder's Natural History will be broadcast in Britain on Radio 3 tomorrow night.
The programme, Between The Ears - Pliny's Naturalis Historia, was prompted by Mel Gibson's successful film, The Passion of The Christ, last year, which told the story of Jesus in Aramaic and Latin.
THE KETEF HINNOM SILVER AMULETS are on display in Holland. It sounds as though the exhibition also includes some Elephantine papyri:
Ancient Torah texts on display (Ynetnews)

Fragments from Torah texts dating back to the 7th century BCE are on display as part of an exhibition of biblical artifacts in The Netherlands
The Invention Of Racism In Classical Antiquity
Posted 3/24/2005
By Ralph Amelan (the Jewish Press)

Title: The Invention Of Racism In
Classical Antiquity
Author: Benjamin Isaac
Publisher: Princeton University Press
563 pp., $45
Reviewed by Ralph Amelan

In the world of Athens and Rome, all men were brothers. The Persians? "Impetuous, truculent, devious, and insolent." The Syrians? "Drenched in perfume." The Egyptians? "Intolerable in their wantonness." The Phoenicians? "Skilled in deceiving, and ever ready to prepare stratagems in the dark." And the Jews? "Malodorous and unmanageable."

Yes, in classical times, every week was National Brotherhood Week.


And were the Jews also victims of racism, then as now? No, claims the author, surprisingly. There was certainly considerable animus against Jews, and Isaac reproduces a torrent of abuse that classical authors directed at them. But this abuse had limits. The greedy moneylender motif was unknown. The blood libel, a Christian invention, was also absent.


Looks interesting.
OVERDETERMINED: Today is Purim, Good Friday, the date that the One Ring was cast into the Crack of Doom, and my wife's and my sixteenth wedding anniversary. Carla Sulzbach points me to this article on the first two and she comments "Solar eclipses are less rare!" Now if you take only the times that Purim and Good Friday coincide on March 25th, you've got something really rare! Doubtless this confluence has vast cosmic implications, but I don't know what they are.

UPDATE: Ed Cook reflects on two of these. Reader Michael Peterson e-mails to point out that today is also the Feast of the Annunciation. The next edition of Haveil Havelim (this Sunday) will be devoted to Purim. And here are a lot of other things that happened on March 25th.

UPDATE (26 March): And here are some reflections on Purim and Good Friday by a Jewish writer. Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ makes an appearance.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

THE CODEX SINATICUS DIGITIZATION PROJECT is covered in the current issue of the Economist. Looks like a good article, despite the cutsey title ("And the word was made flash"). Excerpt:
The hyperspectral imaging technique that will be used to scan the Bible was originally designed for medical purposes, by Costas Balas at the Technical University of Crete. It works by looking at each image in very narrow bands of wavelength�specific shades of red, green and so on. However, the imaging spans more than just the visible part of the spectrum of light, going from the ultra-violet (light that has shorter wavelength than violet) to the infra-red (light with wavelength longer than red). Because both the ink used to write on the vellum and the vellum itself are transparent at various wavelengths, this technique will allow scholars to see all the layers of the manuscript in at least some wavelengths, and thus perceive the various rewrites it has gone through.

Dr McKendrick says that it is one of the first projects of its kind, and one the library hopes to emulate with other manuscripts. It is only now, he says, that the technology has advanced to the point where digital copies can be as good, if not better, than the original. And the democratisation of access to the text will have a big impact on biblical scholars. Dr [Scott] McKendrick [of the British Library] points out that even the privileged few who had access to the original could spend only a short time examining it. Once the scanning is completed, the many will be able to examine it for as long as they like.

This is the most detailed account I've seen of the process of recording the information from the manuscript.

As for the rest of the article, I'm skeptical that the new information will tell us much about the process of canonization in fourth century which we don't already know. But we'll see. Certainly we'll be able to learn lots of interesting details about the making of codices, scribal conventions, the transmission of this particular manuscript, etc., and some of this may ultimately help us understand better the social context of the manuscript when it was copied.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO PALEOJUDAICA! Today is this blog's second anniversary. This was its very first post and this is my first anniversary post a year ago.

The post with the most hits in the last year was an announcement of plans for the publication of the rumor-shrouded Coptic Gospel of Judas, kindly relayed by Pierluigi Piovanelli. Thanks to a link from Instapundit a week later, the post received several thousand hits in one day.

I think my favorite post in the last year is one from December on "Philo or the Pseudepigrapha?", in which I ranked our ancient Jewish sources for their importance as NT background and summarized some of the issues treated in the book I was finishing on the methodology of studying the Old Testament pseudepigrapha. For more favorite posts of the last two years, follow the Memorable PaleoJudaica Posts link. One major innovation this year has been the opening of my temporary blog Qumranica for my course on the Dead Sea Scrolls.

I recently submitted an article to the SBL Forum for a thematic issue on biblioblogging, tentatively scheduled for publication in April. Much of the material for that article covers major PaleoJudaica posts in the last year, so I won't anticipate myself by giving the sort of detailed review I did last year. When the piece comes out, I'll put in a link in an update to this post.

It's been a good but exhausting year and blogging has helped keep it fun. And as long as the blogging stays fun, I imagine I'll keep doing it. A couple of times I have caught myself sitting down wearily to write a post out of a sense of duty rather than because I felt like it. I trashed those posts as soon as I realized what I was doing. PaleoJudaica doesn't aim to cover everything, but I do try to keep track of many of the things that look interesting to me and to comment when I have something to say and time to say it. I hope some of it has been fun and interesting for readers too.

It's worth remarking on how blogging, including biblical studies blogging (or "biblioblogging," if you must) continues to expand. This time last year there were not many blogs in this area: PaleoJudaica; Mark Goodacre's New Testament Gateway blog; AKMA's Random Thoughts; Stephen Carlson's Hypotyposeis; Torrey Seland's Philo of Alexandria blog; Ruben Gomez's Bible Software Review blog; and Tim Bulkeley SansBlogue. The Bible and Interpretation News website functioned much like a blog. David Meadows's Rogue Classicism, David Nishimura's Cronaca, Christine's Mirabilis, and Rebecca Lesses's Mystical Politics also sometimes had (and have) related material.

But in the last year quite a few other biblioblogs have started up. I can't keep track of them all, but some of the ones I try to keep an eye on include Ed Cook's Ralph the Sacred River; Jim West's Biblical Theology blog; Eric Sowell's The Coding Humanist; Seth Sanders's Serving the Word; Michael Homan's blog; Helenann Hartley's blog; Peter Kirby's Christian Origins blog; Michael Pahl's The Stuff of Earth; Joe Weak's Macintosh Biblioblog; Zeth's Biblioblog blog; Rick Brannan's ricoblog; Zhubert's blog; Dr Cathey's blog. Michael Turton's The Sword; Joel Ng's Ebla Logs; Justin Dombrowski's Midrash Le-Justin; and Daniel Driver's Figured Out. Gee, that was hard to stop once I'd started (and apologies to those I've missed). My point is made: this looks like geometric growth to me. Blogging is becoming ever more popular and people are starting blogs by the million. Many won't last but some will, and a few of those will be very good. For reasons explained in the promised SBL article, I do not think that blogging is a passing fad, and I look forward to ever more sophisticated forms of democratized media as time goes on.

According to Technorati, PaleoJudaica currently has 164 links from 126 other blogs. The counter stands at 110,852 individual hits, 68,243 of them in the last year. In the last two years, 1,074,454 words, apart from this entry, have posted on PaleoJudaica, 741,763 of them in the last year. (I hasten to add that most of them were quotations from other people!) There have been over 1700 individual hits and over 2300 page views in the last week. So in the last year links from other blogs have increased by a factor of almost 2.5 and individual hits have increased by a factor of over 1.5. Weekly individual hits are up too, although this may be partly a blip due to a link from a popular Portuguese blog about a week ago. None of these statistics are at all reliable, but they do at least indicate positive trends.

Once again, please keep visiting PaleoJudaica, keep telling your friends about it, keep sending me items, and keep letting me know when you think I've gotten something wrong. And maybe think about starting a blog yourself.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

ANOTHER TYNDALE TECH E-MAIL has been published by David Instone-Brewer, this one on Theology Periodicals Online. As usual, it looks astoundingly useful.

Meanwhile, Mark Goodacre points to his own Journals page, which has additional info, and he also calls for David's assimilation to the Blogosphere. Tim Bulkeley is cautiously supportive of the idea. Now far be it from me to discourage anyone from starting a blog, but I think that the infrastructure for Tyndale Tech is pretty good as it is. I like to be able to click on one link to get a themed collection of websites and I think that a blog that just posted random websites as David found them would be less useful. Of course, maybe there's a middle way that would combine the benefits of blogging with the benefits of the current system to make something better. But David's system isn't broken, so I hope he'll be cautious about fixing it.
ISRAEL FORGERY SCANDAL WATCH: Macleans has the most comprehensive article that I've seen up to now ("Cashbox"). The author, Jonathon Gatehouse, interviewed many of the major participants in the story including Oden Golan, Shlomo Moussaieff, Joe Zias, Yuval Goren, Hershel Shanks, and the CEO of the Royal Ontario Museum, and the article has lots of interesting information I'd not heard before. Here are just a few excerpts, but read it all.

When the case goes to trial, perhaps as early as this spring, the prosecution may call as many as 124 witnesses, and enter hundreds of exhibits -- seized antiquities, tools, blueprints, documents, surveillance tapes -- that it claims will prove the existence of a concerted effort to change history. Last week, Golan was being held by police, charged with obstruction for attempting to interfere with his own case; authorities were seeking a court order to keep him jailed until the end of his trial. On the original charges, he and his co-accused have said they will plead innocent, and that they are victims of bad science and a witch hunt by overzealous bureaucrats who want to end the legal but highly controversial trade in the Holy Land's archaeological heritage. The debate that has raged in scholarly circles about the authenticity of the James ossuary will spill into the public spotlight. If Golan and the others were to be found guilty, it would expose some of the biggest names in archaeology as being naive, perhaps greedy, or possibly worse. Reputations will suffer. And the Royal Ontario Museum's looks to be at the head of the line.


Shanks hasn't been shy about firing back at the ossuary's more vocal critics. The package he sends me helpfully includes a scathing review of a book by Rochelle Altman, a specialist in writing systems who has frequently asserted that the inscription is full of errors and was written by two different hands. In the May/June 2004 edition of the Review, he launched a sharp attack on Meyers and Zias under the headline "Lying Scholars." He dismissed Zias's claim that he had seen the unaltered ossuary in a Jerusalem shop, quoting the dealer as saying he "had never heard" of the former curator. Next to the story, Shanks published an old photo of the man standing in the door of his shop chatting with an unidentified man. Unfortunately for Shanks, the other figure was Zias (whom Shanks has known for decades).


Publicly available documents of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service show that the Biblical Archaeology Society generated just under US$5 million in revenue in 2003. Shanks, whose job is described as a weekly "20-hour" position, received $162,000 in salary, while the organization paid a further $66,000 in rent to a company he owns. The charity, which lists grants to "worthwhile projects in the field of archaeology and the Bible" as one of its principal activities, handed out just $7,109 to such projects in 2003. In 2002, when Shanks made $150,000 in salary and $67,000 in rent, it gave away $8,500. One of the biggest beneficiaries was Lemaire, who received a $1,000 "travel scholarship for James ossuary work."


What he's [that is, Golan] most excited about, however, is a fax that has just arrived from a religious studies professor in France. The scholar writes that two decades ago, his brother-in-law, a former French diplomat in Israel, told him about an ossuary inscribed "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus," that was in the possession of a Tel Aviv collector. Golan's eyes are shining. He breaks away at one point to take a call from Shanks and fill him in on the latest development.

It's not until I'm well down the highway back to Jerusalem that the tumblers click into place. If Golan never recognized the significance of the inscription until just a few years ago, how would anyone else come to know that he owned such a box? And wouldn't a scholar be interested in following up such a story? Later on, I look up the professor on the Internet. He teaches at the Sorbonne, and once wrote a book with Andr� Lemaire.

(Via Joe Zias on the ANE list.)
TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: The plan by the Revava group to swarm the Temple Mount on April 10th has been vetoed by the Israeli police:
Police to bar masses from Temple Mt.
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (Jerusalem Post

Acting to defuse renewed tension at Israel's most sensitive site, Jerusalem police announced Tuesday that they would bar a massive Jewish pilgrimage to the Temple Mount by a group of ultra-nationalists opposed to the planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

A SABEAN MANDEAN PSYCHOPOMPIC RITUAL is described in an AFP article in the Peninsula (Qatar):
Sabean-Mandeans trying to preserve their traditions
Web posted at: 3/23/2005 3:9:4
Source ::: AFP

BAGHDAD: �I cannot speak because I am dead,� scribbles Salem Daoud on a piece of paper as he stands on the banks of the Tigris.

The 55-year-old priest looks like the biblical Moses with his thick white beard, rosy cheeks and white tunics. His headgear resembles that of a Jewish Rabbi.

He is impersonating one of 100 members of his tiny Sabean-Mandean community who died in violent incidents in Iraq over the past few months, during the US-led invasion two years ago or in the wars of ousted leader Saddam Hussein.

According to the ancient religion, which combines Babylonian, pre-Islamic, Persian and Christian beliefs, those who die of unnatural causes must have their last baptism and be honoured with a feast, otherwise their spirits would remain stuck on earth and never make it up to the �world of light.�

Tuesday is the climax of the �five white days,� one of the holiest periods in the Mandean-Sabean calendar.


Other rites are described as well.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

THE MINIMALIST-MAXIMALIST DEBATE CONTINUES: Here's an encouragingly irenic essay by V. Philip Long on the Bible and Interpretation website. It is in response to an earlier essay by Niels Peter Lemche published in the same place.
Conservative Scholarship-
Critical Scholarship: Can We Talk?

At the end of the day, I believe that just as there are no "bad questions," provided that they are sincerely and respectfully posed, there are no "bogus conversations," provided they are sincerely and respectfully joined. Lemche is quite correct to decry situations in which scholars of other viewpoints are simply labeled and dismissed. This should not be done to today�s minimalist scholars, nor indeed to today�s more conservative scholars.

One small criticism: why isn't there a link to Lemche's essay in the first paragraph of this one? I wish online essayists would think like bloggers more often and link to everything in sight -- especially online pieces of immediate relevance.

Monday, March 21, 2005

YOU'VE HEARD OF THE LORD'S PRAYER IN ARAMAIC, but how about the Lord's Prayer in Elvish? Translated by Tolkien himself:
�taremme i �a han �a
na aire esselya
aranielya na tuluva
na care ind�melya
cemende tambe Erumande :
�men anta sira ilaur�a massamma
ar �men apsene �caremmar
s�v� emme apsenet tien i �carer emmen.
�lame tulya �saht�enna
mal �me etelehta ulcullo
: n�sie :

(Via Mirabilis.)
PHYSIOGNOMY -- AND HOW! It is often quite illuminating to find out what students are getting from my classes.
MEL GIBSON'S THE PASSION RECUT is a flop so far in the USA. This review suggests some reasons why. (Satire alert!)
CHRISTIAN PILGRIMS had their annual procession from the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem yesterday to celebrate Palm Sunday. This AP article has an aside I'd never heard about before:
A discovery of Jewish graves in 1954 has caused biblical scholars to reconsider the route Jesus would have followed into Jerusalem as a "ruler of peace." Jewish tradition holds that Jesus would not have brought his followers through a Jewish cemetery. However, since 330, the ritual procession has passed within 100 feet of a Jewish burial site archaeologists and scholars believe existed before the time of Jesus, said archaeologist Joe Zias.

This doesn't seem to be written very clearly and I'm not sure what's at stake. True, Jesus probably would not have gone through a Jewish cemetery, but I don't see the problem with him going past one 100 feet away. Cemeteries had to be at least 50 cubits away from inhabited areas (m. Baba Bathra 2.9), which is less than 75 feet. Can someone explain to me what the issue is here?

Sunday, March 20, 2005

A CARNIVAL OF BIBLICAL STUDIES is in preparation over at the Ebla Logs blog. If you are an academic Bible blogger (biblioblogger if you insist), send Joel Ng what you regard to be your finest post ever, or the one you want most to be read. The deadline for submission is 3 April.
TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Ha'aretz editorializes against the plan to bring in Diaspora Jews to help swarm the Temple Mount in protest of Sharon's disengagement plan. It also says that the event is scheduled for July, which seems to fit in with's comment that the April event is just a "dress rehersal. Excerpt from the Ha'aretz piece:
Moreover, as the Jews of the world object to Israeli interference in their struggles inside their states, even during outbreaks of anti-Semitic incidents, Israel will not tolerate having a foreign Jewish force flood its streets to take part in demonstrations against the disengagement plan. The displays of Jewish solidarity with Israel have so far focused on consensual situations - defense wars, economic plight, political siege. Now the extreme right wing is enlisting Jewish backup forces to help one camp, the minority, which is at odds with the majority.

Summoning Jews who are foreign citizens to Israel for a limited period of time, to participate actively in events involving the violation of state laws and confrontation with the Israeli security forces, is testimony to the distorted concept of the radical right-wing leaders. They ignore the fact that they are a minority and wish to impose their will on the majority by force - whether with the demand to count "all the generations of the Israeli nation" in the vote on the future of the territories, or by urging Diaspora Jews to come and take an active part in the resistance to the disengagement plan.
TODAY is Palm Sunday, the vernal equinox, and the Persian New Year. Best wishes to everyone celebrating any of these.
GEZA VERMES'S THE PASSION is reviewed by the London Times ("Religion: The Passion by Geza Vermes"). It concludes:
The central tension that Vermes highlights is that between history and faith. How can a historical document also be the basis of a religion? The Gospels try to square the circle by both recording events and shaping them to determine readers� response. While absolute objectivity may be impossible, this biased approach has left them increasingly scorned in our secular age. Which, Vermes states, is a loss.

To get into this beguiling book, you will need first to overlook a rather clumsy play by the publisher for the same audience who saw Mel Gibson�s The Passion of the Christ. The subtitle of the book and its glossy jacket ape the feel of �book of the film� editions. But once you are inside the pages, you realise it is the polar opposite of Gibson�s muddled literalism and gore. This is subtle, teasing and erudite stuff. It may be ultimately inconclusive, as of course it has to be, but it will give Easter a whole new dimension for all but the most closed of minds.

Vermes always has an interesting perspective, built both upon critical sifting of the material in the Gospels and on placing the sifted material in its ancient historical, philological, and geographic context.

If you're in Britain, you can get the book at a discount through the Times. See the bottom of the article.