Saturday, April 30, 2005

TALMUD QUOTATION? In a ceremony honoring Paul Wolfowitz as he left the Pentagon to become president of the World Bank, Donald Rumsfeld is reported by the A.P. to have said the following:
"The threatened, the oppressed and the persecuted around the world must know in their hearts that they had a friend in Paul Wolfowitz," Rumsfeld said. "You are one of those rare people who, as the Talmud puts it, would rather light candles than curse the darkness."

Is this really in the Talmud? According to this Phrase Finder webside, it's an old Chinese proverb. The entry notes a use by Adlai Stevenson in 1962, with reference to Eleanor Roosevelt. The first time I recall seeing it was in a Peanuts cartoon featuring Linus walking around outside at night with a candle and Lucy standing there shouting "You stupid darkness!"
Construction halted on Highway 6

Construction work on Road 6 in the north will be stopped for the duration of next week after the Orthodox community protested the route of a section they claim will damage an ancient gravesite.


As noted earlier, archaeologists deny that the construction is any threat to the ancient graves.
Professor acts out drama in ancient, religious studies

By Christine Cole | Special to the [Orlando] Sentinel
Posted April 29, 2005

MOUNT DORA -- For Kenneth Hanson, history is as full of adventure as any Indiana Jones movie.

That is the way he teaches the subject at the University of Central Florida, where he is assistant professor of Judaic studies.

To turn scholarship into accessible drama, he recently created a theatrical work, Jerusalem Jones: Mystery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, in which he plays a swashbuckling character reminiscent of the part made famous by Harrison Ford.

He and a four-piece band will perform the originally scored production at 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Gematria 888 Center.

Hanson also plays a cast of colorful characters, including the Bedouin shepherd boy who in 1947 went into a cave in the cliffs near the Dead Sea and found the first of what would become known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.


Here is Kenneth Jones's faculty entry on the University of Central Florida website and here is one of his web pages, which mentions this show. And it seems there actually is a Gematria 888 Center.

The world is full of surprises.

Friday, April 29, 2005

AUT ISRAEL-BOYCOTT UPDATE: The New York Academy of Sciences has condemned the boycott and called for it to be canceled:
New York Academy of Sciences Issues Statement on Boycott of Israeli Universities by British Group

NEW YORK, April 28 (AScribe Newswire) -- The Committee on Human Rights of Scientists of the New York Academy of Sciences has released the text of a letter to the Association of University Teachers (AUT) of the United Kingdom calling upon the organization to "rescind and withdraw its call for a boycott of Israeli universities, passed by AUT delegates on April 20, 2005."

The letter, from Joseph Birman, the chair of the Academy's committee, notes that the call for boycott "contradicts the most basic tenets of academic life which have been repeatedly reaffirmed by international bodies, including those to which the United Kingdom adheres." The letter is addressed to Angela Roger, president of AUT, and Sally Hunt, the association's general secretary.

The full text of the Academy letter follows.

- - - -

April 26, 2005

Dear President Roger:

The Committee on Human Rights of Scientists of the New York Academy of Sciences urgently calls upon the Association of University Teachers (AUT) of the United Kingdom to rescind and withdraw its call for a boycott of Israeli universities, passed by the delegates on 20 April 2005. This call for boycott contradicts the most basic tenets of academic life which have been repeatedly reaffirmed by international bodies including those to which the United Kingdom adheres.


Too true, and how embarrassing that this even needs to be said.

Also, Israel's Diaspora Affairs Minister Natan Sharansky has written to the British Government asking them to dissociate themselves from the boycott. I certain hope they do.
Who're you calling naive?
Apr 28th 2005
From The Economist print edition

The Archbishop of Canterbury takes on Adam Smith

Get article background

THIS week Gordon Brown, the chancellor of the exchequer, called for a challenge to the Church of England's teaching on the sufficiency of the scriptures for salvation in the light of new evidence from non-canonical texts. His audience of economists and business leaders responded enthusiastically.

No, of course he didn't. But he ought to, if he is to follow the example of the nation's top spiritual leader, the Archbishop of Canterbury. ...

Yeah, it had me going for a minute too. Oh well. Read it all for the full context.
"ANCIENT HEBREW POETRY" is a new blog by John F. Hobbins.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

MY ARTICLE "ASSIMILATED TO THE BLOGOSPHERE: Blogging Ancient Judaism" has been published again on the SBL Forum site, this time with links intact. My thanks again to Sharon Johnson and her colleagues for solving the technical problems that were preventing the links from working the first time around. And a warm welcome to visitors from the SBL site!
OVER AT QUMRANICA I have posted this week's essay abstracts and seminar summaries for seminars on scriptural exegesis in the Damascus Document and on the Essene hypothesis.
FRANCIS DEBLAUWE'S 2003-IRAQ WAR & ARCHAEOLOGY SITE has a new home in Austria. The new URL is:

Be sure to update your bookmark.
AUT ISRAEL-BOYCOTT UPDATE: A few new items. Encouragingly, there is an attempt within the AUT to get the boycott decision overturned before it does them any more damage. The Guardian reports:
Academics opposed to Israeli boycott try to overturn ban

Matthew Taylor and Polly Curtis
Thursday April 28, 2005
The Guardian

Academics opposed to the controversial boycott of two Israeli universities are trying to overturn the decision before it has time to make an impact.

Members of the Association of University Teachers narrowly voted last week to sever links with Israeli academia which it claimed was complicit in the abuse of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

The decision led to an angry backlash from both Israeli and non-Israeli groups in the UK and around the world.

Union members who opposed the decision are calling for a special AUT council in the next month to overturn the decision. The campaign is being run by Jon Pike, a philosopher at the Open University, who needs 25 signatures to invoke union rules and secure a fresh debate.


I bet they'll get a lot more than 25 signatures.

[UPDATE: It's 25 signatures of council members they need. Nevertheless, I doubt there will be any trouble getting them.]

Alan Dershowitz, law professor at Harvard University, has a scathing editorial in the National Post (Canada):
From Britain, with bigotry

Alan M. Dershowitz

National Post

The British Association of University Teachers has now created a blacklist against Jewish Israeli academics -- really a blue and white list -- reminiscent of the worst abuses of McCarthyism. And just as McCarthyism was a barrier to peace between the U.S. and the Soviet Union - by contributing to a dangerous atmosphere in which each side vilified and threatened the other - so too does the British lecturers' boycott endanger the progress now being made toward peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. ...

Open University professor Marc Eisenstat e-mails to alert us to his blog post "Boycott Facts," which collects much of the relevant information in one place. [UPDATE: He now has another post comparing the line the AUT took toward South Africa in 1965 to the boycott of Israeli institutions today.]

I should note also that biblioblogger Helenann Hartley has commented briefly on the boycott here.

UPDATE: And Torrey Seland comments on his Philo of Alexandria blog.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

HEBREW BIBLE JOB: The University of Exeter is advertising a permanent lectureship in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible in the Department of Theology. Follow the link for further particulars.
OXYRHYNCHUS WATCH: National Geographic has an article (via Bible and Interpretation News) on the use of the imaging techniques reported by the Independent:
Papyrus Reveals New Clues to Ancient World
James Owen
for National Geographic News
April 25, 2005

Classical Greek and Roman literature is being read for the first time in 2,000 years thanks to new technology. The previously illegible texts are among a hoard of papyrus manuscripts. Scholars say the rediscovered writings will provide a fascinating new window into the ancient world.


They appear to have interviewed Dirk Obbink:
Obbink says the research should add to the body of known work of standard classical authors such as Homer and Sophocles, as well as that of lesser known writers "who didn't survive either through accident of time or because they weren't as popular."

Sophocles wrote 120 plays, but only seven survived, among them Oedipus Rex and Antigone. "We have samples of all the rest in these papyrus fragments," Obbink said. "We're filling in the gaps incrementally. You're never going to get each and every word of 120 plays, but you will get a slice of what was available during the centuries when these rubbish mounds built up."

The fragments may also shed new light on texts that have survived only by being repeatedly copied over thousands of years. "These older [papyrus] texts can be more accurate, or preserve completely new readings," Obbink said.

The claims are not as striking as in the Independent article, but they still indicate that some interesting things have been turning up. And it looks as though my hopes regarding the Old Testament pseudepigrapha are not entirely without basis:
Similarly, Biblical scholars can expect valuable new material to emerge as some gospels that weren't included in the New Testament didn't survive. "The texts that are in the Bible were selected out of a much larger body of work that once circulated," Obbink said. "We have samples of that material here."

However, even National Geographic can't publish an article on biblical studies without including an embarrassing error:
The latest volume includes details of fragments showing third- and fourth-century versions of the Book of Revelations. Intriguingly, the number assigned to "the Beast" of Revelations isn't the usual 666, but 616.

The Book of "Revelations." Sigh. Makes you wonder how many other mistakes we don't know about are in the article, doesn't it?

UPDATE: David Meadows notes an article in the New York Sun ("A 'Second Renaissance'? Well, Maybe a Little One") by Gary Shapiro which puts the whole story in perspective and seems to clear up much of the confusion. It has some overlap with the National Geographic article and even includes the Book of "Revelations" mistake. I'm not sure if this means one is using the other or both are relying on e-mails or a press release from Dr. Obbink. But I doubt he would have made the error.

UPDATE: Over at Ralph, Ed Cook discusses the number 616 in the Oxyrhynchus manuscript of Revelation mentioned above.

UPDATE: Mark Goodacre has more.
Haredim scuffle with J'lem police in grave protest
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (Jerusalem Post)

Several hundred haredi demonstrators blocked a central Jerusalem thoroughfare Tuesday evening in the city's Mea Shearim neighborhood and then clashed with police in protest over what they believe is the desecration of ancient graves during the construction of a national highway, police said.


And in answer to my earlier question:
Israeli archaeologists say that the graves in question near 'Road Six' are not being disturbed during the work on the highway.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

SETH SANDERS is back and he's Serving the Word. He's getting started on some conference blogging and promises more this week. Welcome back, Seth.
AUT ISRAEL-BOYCOTT UPDATE: The Guardian has two pieces of interest today: "Legal warnings over Israeli boycott" and "Union losing members over Israeli boycott." These are pretty obvious consequences of the decision to boycott and the AUT should have seen them coming.

An outfit called "Open Democracy" has an interesting article by someone named Stephen Howe, which aims to give the historical context of the accusations that led to the two boycotts that passed.
Boycotting Israel: the uses of history
Stephen Howe
25 - 4 - 2005
Britain�s Association of University Teachers has voted to boycott Israel. Stephen Howe scrupulously maps the background to a bitter controversy over historical truth and academic freedom.


On 22 April 2005, the annual council meeting of Britain�s Association of University Teachers (AUT) voted - against the advice of the AUT executive - for an academic boycott of Israel. Specifically, British academics are urged to boycott two Israeli universities, Bar-Ilan and Haifa. Even before the vote, the proposal aroused bitter contention, not only within the United Kingdom or Israel but worldwide. With last week�s decision that will only spread and intensify. The AUT move is the start, not the end, of a ferocious battle going far beyond academia.


Regarding Bar Ilan University he says:
From the mid-1990s, small numbers of �Judea & Samaria� students took degree courses validated by Bar-Ilan: thus involving the university, as pro-boycott campaigners argue, in direct collaboration with Israel�s occupation of the land where the college operates. The Bar-Ilan authorities have responded that their agreement with the Ariel college is being phased out and is set to end in 2005 anyway. This appears to be true: certainly I cannot find such courses listed on either the Bar-Ilan or the �Judea & Samaria� websites, nor any reference to them more recent than 2002.

If anyone working at Bar Ilan University would like to comment, I would be interested in hearing what you have to say.

Howe discusses the complexities of the situation of Dr. Ilan Pappe at Haifa University at length. He concludes:
There is much that remains unclear in this saga, and some starkly contrasting versions of events. I have read many hundreds of articles, interviews and documents relating to the controversy; I have talked in detail to many of those most closely involved at Haifa; I have even written a little about it myself. Even now, I don�t feel I know for sure what happened � either at Tantura in 1948 or at Haifa University in 2000-2005. How can the members of the Association of University Teachers after just a few minutes� hasty and apparently one-sided debate, seem so confident that they do know?
MAQDALA MANUSCRIPTS TO STAY IN EDINBURGH. The Art Newspaper reports that the University of Edinburgh has declined to return five Ethiopic manuscripts to Ethiopia:
Meanwhile, the University of Edinburgh has rejected a request for the return of five manuscripts which were seized at the battle of Maqdala. The claim was made by Afromet, based at the University of Addis Ababa. However, the Court of the University of Edinburgh decided that Afromet did not represent the original owner, Emperor Tewodros (Theodorus). Edinburgh agreed to continue the dialogue and provide Addis Ababa with microfilm and digital images of the manuscripts. Afromet has condemned the Edinburgh refusal, quoting an Ethiopian embassy in London spokesman as expressing the hope that the manuscripts will return.

(Via Cronaca.) I noted this story here in October of last year. At that time the Art Newspaper mentioned eleven Ethiopic manuscripts held by Edinburgh University, four of them definitely from Maqdala. No word so far on the other seven.

Monday, April 25, 2005

"A REAL 'PAGE TURNER'": Archaeology Magazine interviews Stephen Mitchell about his new rendition of the Epic of Gilgamesh.
EGYPTIAN JUDAISM is the subject of an article ("Judaism in Egypt - The End of the Exodus from Egypt") in Egypt Election Daily News. Evidently it is reprinted from Ha'aretz, but I seem to have missed it when it came out. It describes some of the ancient synagogues in Egypt, including the Maimonides Synagogue, the Karaite Synagogue, and the Ben Ezra Synagogue (which housed the famous Cairo Geniza), all three in Cairo. Of the last it says:
The Ezra synagogue in Fostat, the quarter from which Cairo began to develop in the seventh century CE, is the only synagogue in Cairo that has been fortunate. Originally, the synagogue was a Coptic church, which was sold to the Jews in 882 CE. The synagogue was rebuilt a number of times, the last time in 1890. During that construction work, the Cairo Geniza was discovered in the attic, containing hundreds of thousands of documents written by the Jews of Cairo over a period of almost 1,000 years.

The Ezra synagogue also suffered from neglect for many years, but in 1980, in the wake of the peace agreement, it was chosen as a project that would serve as a symbol of historical coexistence among Jews, Christians and Muslims. The Egyptian foreign minister at the time, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and the president of the World Jewish Congress, Edgar Bronfman, agreed to preserve the synagogue. The preservation work, which was done under the supervision of Bronfman's sister, Canadian architect Phyllis Lambert, was concluded in the early 1990s, and today the synagogue enjoys a large number of visitors, most of them non-Jewish tourists.

In recent years, the Egyptians have even evacuated the residents from the entire area, in an attempt to turn it into a tourist compound in which the visitors can view the oldest synagogues, churches and mosques in Cairo. Dr. Meital says that with all due respect to the preservation work, he is disturbed by the fact that the place will never again be a synagogue, but will remain as "a kind of interreligious monument."

Most of the others are in disrepair, some direly so, after the exodus of nearly all Egyptian Jews in the twentieth century. Many Jewish books have also been lost in this process.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

MORE ON THE AUT'S ISRAEL BOYCOTT: The London Times notes, "Lecturers condemned for vote to boycott Israeli universities". Indeed. At least it sounds as though the vote was close. Not that that's an excuse.

Having made this idiotic decision, they now have some problems with how they're going to implement it:
There was confusion last night over how the boycott would operate and whether it would breach equal opportunities regulations.

Gosh, you think so? Maybe they should look into that.
Hugh Mason, of the AUT executive, said he feared that the vote would cause the AUT difficulties in dealing with academics in the Middle East, but "in practice it won�t have much of an impact. People will make their own decisions."

As I said before, I think the main effect will be seriously to undermine the AUT's moral authority and credibility everywhere.

By the way, I did a Technorati search with the key words "AUT Israel boycott." It came up with 76 results, all of them condemning the boycotts. If the Blogosphere is any indicator, the AUT's decision has not been well received.

Then there's the press. As a blogger (I forget which one) pointed out, judging by the scare quotes in this article, the BBC isn't particularly sympathetic either. The Telegraph notes:
The AUT was accused of fuelling anti-Semitism after delegates at its annual conference voted on Friday to boycott all academic links with Bar Ilan and Haifa universities. The revelation that Prof Mina Telcher, a leading mathematician, was denied the opportunity to put the Israelis' side of the story before the vote will heighten criticism of the AUT, which was already under fire for cutting short the debate on the controversial motion because of time constraints.

And an editorial by David Aaronovich in the Observer (the Sunday Guardian) is highly critical.

But some AUT members will be happy to see that the Electronic Intifada is pleased.

UPDATE (25 April): Today's London Times editorializes:
The decision by the Association of University Teachers (AUT) to boycott two universities in Israel is a mockery of academic freedom, a biased and blinkered move that is as ill-timed as it is perverse. The vote at the AUT annual conference to forbid its 40,000 members to visit Haifa and Bar Ilan universities in protest at the alleged ill-treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories not only comes at the very moment when official Israeli-Palestinian relations are improving, but it also targets the very institutions in Israel that have been havens of political and racial tolerance and beacons of academic freedom.

The piece nicely sums up the arguments that many others, myself included, have been making against the boycott.
ALTMAN AND CROWDER MENDACITY UPDATE: In June of last year I evaluated a Kansas City Star article about Neil Altman's ridiculous idea that the Dead Sea Scrolls are medieval. I established at the time that Altman misrepresented the views of Qumran scholar James VanderKam. In the first post I quoted the following from the article:
�If it is true that these scrolls display writing techniques that are from a later period, then they become historically interesting.�
Erik Heen of the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia

I commented:
Also, I hope very much that Erik Heen was misquoted or quoted out of context in the header above. But just to clarify, here's a news flash: these scrolls are already historically interesting.

My guess was spot on. Erik Heen ran across this post and e-mailed me yesterday. I quote his letter with his permission:
I notice on your blog that there has been some discussion on the very unfortunate article, "Casting doubt upon the Dead Sea Scrolls" (Kansas City Star):Appearance of Western letters and numbers raises eyebrows" By Neil Altman and David Crowder. I am quoted in this article as saying: "If it is true that these scrolls display writing techniques that are from a later period, then they become historically interesting." Let me set the record straight. Altman approached me (via fax) with some photographs and material he had gathered from different sources about the scrolls. I begged off from comment because, I told him, I was not an expert in this area and my comments or opinion would mean nothing. I also told him I thought the late dating of the Scrolls was unfounded. He kept after me through repeated calls. Finally I gave him something similar to what was quoted (the original article was for an in-house Lutheran publication). What is missing, of course, is the exactness of careful wording and my expressed intent behind the statement. First of all, I put it into a conditional statement ("If...then."). More exactly, my comment is placed in a "contrary to fact" conditional statement. That is, "the truth" of the claims of a later dating of the script is assumed for the sake of an argument. The intent of my comment (expressed to Altman at the time), was to indicate the opposite of how the comment was used in his article. My intent was to suggest that if (a) peer-reviewed recognized experts in the field were to agree that some of the handwriting in the scrolls seems to stem from periods that have been traditionally dated as originating at a later time, then (b) the received tradition of the dating of the various "hands" might have to be revised. That is, it may be that the dating of the script types might not be as "set" as he (Altman) assumed. If so, this new data (re the dating of script types not the dating of the scrolls) becomes "historically" interesting. Again, I told Altman that the issue lies outside of my field of knowledge. Altman, of course, disregarded all of this and quoted me as an another "expert" who cast doubt on the pre 70 CE dating of the Scrolls. For the record, I do not. Altman simply quoted me out of context for his own purposes.

In other words, what Heen said was, if it were true that scholars found the scripts of the scrolls to be much later than originally thought (and they don't), that fact (which actually isn't true) would be of interest to historians. Hardly the impression give by Altman's quotation in the Kansas City Star article.
AN EXODUS TO THE PROMISED LAND seems to be coming for the Bnei Menashe:
End of 2,700-year exodus for India's lost tribe of Jews
Sun Apr 24, 2005 01:47 AM ET

By Simon Denyer

AIZAWL, India (Reuters) - In unison they dip their middle fingers into their plastic cups of grape juice, calling out in Hebrew the names of the 10 plagues they believe their God sent to curse the ancient Egyptians.

Plastic Israeli flags and photographs of Jerusalem adorn the chipboard walls. Saturday's feast could have been a celebration of Passover anywhere in the Jewish world, but this is no ordinary celebration and these are no ordinary Jews.

In India's remote hill states of Mizoram and Manipur, thousands of people who believe they belong to one of the Biblical 10 "lost tribes" of Israel are celebrating what they hope is their last Passover before ending a 2,700-year exodus.

Three weeks ago, reports came from Israel that Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar had accepted the B'nei Menashe as one of the fabled lost tribes, and would send a team of rabbis to formally convert them and bring them back to Israel.


I have commented on the story already here.