Saturday, May 07, 2005

THE MIT TIME TRAVELER CONVENTION starts tonight at 8:00 pm EST. The Associated Press has finally taken it up and the story is being widely covered. It will be most interesting to hear what happens. I wish I could go. Maybe someday I will!
TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: The archaeological salvage operation on the Temple Mount rubble dumped into the Kidron Valley by the WAQF is covered by Cybercast News Service:
Temple Mount Antiquities Destroyed In 'Cultural Intifadah'

There is not a great deal that is new in the piece, but this comment by the director of the project, archaeologist Gabriel Barkay, is worth noting:
Barkay said it was a tragedy that the Western world was not more concerned about the destruction of the antiquities on the Temple Mount.

The world community was outraged when the Taliban blew up two 165-foot nearly 2,000-year-old statues of Buddha in Afghanistan in 2001. But the destruction of "the heartland of [Jewish and Christian] faith did not create an effect as it should have done," said Barkay.

"Very clearly parallel to the armed [Palestinian] intifadah is also the cultural intifadah, more serious than the armed intifadah, Palestinians claiming Jews never had a right to this country, Jews were never here," Barkay added.

I wouldn't say "more serious than," but it's very serious nonetheless.

There's a nice summary of the finds to date:
By the door stands that largest piece -- a three-foot-high section of a marble pillar with purple veins running through it. The marble would have been imported from Asia Minor, Barkay said. They know it came from the Temple Mount because there are others like it there, Barkay said.

They have found pottery shards - 15 percent of which date back to the First Jewish Temple period - the days of Biblical King Solomon. But workers will never be able to put together a complete vessel because of the way things were mixed up, he said.

There are pieces of early Christian oil lamps, figurines, pottery fragments with Hebrew inscriptions. Hundreds of coins have been discovered dating from the Second Jewish Temple period all the way up to the time of Napoleon.

They found a silver charm of St. Christopher, which would have been used by Europeans during the 16th and 17th centuries to ward off evil.

Arrowheads of various shapes attest to the battles fought by generations of conquerors over the Mount.

There are beads from an Islamic era, jewelry, ivory objects -- including a fine-toothed comb -- which Barkay said he is sure will prove to contain lice eggs when it is thoroughly examined.

And there's one quite important bit of new information tucked quietly into the end of the article:
Barkay said the workers won't be able to finish sifting all of the material they have but will get a good sampling. The project, which is funded by private donors, is scheduled to continue until summer, he said. All of the artifacts as well as the remaining material from the Temple Mount belong to the Antiquities Authority by law.

The last information we had, from the middle of April, indicated that the project was about to stop for lack of funding. It appears that an angel has come through and funded it until the summer. Let's hope someone continues to provide the money to see the entire project through.

While we're on this subject, has new (?) heavily illustrated articles posted on the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, as noted yesterday by Bible and Interpretation News.

UPDATE (9 May): Greetings, readers from The Corner. You can read some more about this blog and about the historical politics of the Temple Mount and related matters in my brief article "Assimilated to the Blogosphere: Blogging Ancient Judaism."
Second time round for boycott debate

As the Association of University Teachers prepares to reopen its debate on a boycott of Israeli universities, Polly Curtis looks at the politics behind the move

Thursday May 5, 2005

Hindsight is a precious thing, and something that members of the Association of University Teachers have been granted. Last night the union announced that an emergency conference would be held on May 26 to reopen the debate about the boycott of two Israeli universities.

The union voted to boycott Bar Ilans and Haifa universities at its annual conference in Eastbourne two weeks ago, putting it in the eye of an international storm.

This time round, though, when the issue is debated every member of the AUT's council will know exactly how strong international opinion is against the boycott. Despite a solid support base in favour of the boycott, the union has been under sustained attacked for the decision.


It's a pity it took sustained international outrage to make them have a real debate about the boycott, but better late than never.

Friday, May 06, 2005

THE MIT TIME TRAVELER CONVENTION, scheduled for tomorrow night, has now received coverage by the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Boston Globe.
I'M SO BUSY TODAY that I'm not even sure what to panic about first. And the weekend is not looking much better. But have a look at this San Franciso Chronicle article about Egyptian Karaite Jews in San Francisco:
Jewish sect from Egypt keeps it all in the family
Karaites' exodus began after the Suez Crisis in the '50s

Loolwa Khazzoom, Special to The Chronicle

Friday, May 6, 2005

When asked to name a traditional Passover dish, most Bay Area Jews wouldn't come up with "barbecued lamb." But for the local Karaite Jews from Egypt -- an ancient community that follows biblical Jewish law and rejects the rabbinic interpretation of Judaism -- an outdoor barbecue kicks off the seder celebration, with the meat symbolizing the paschal sacrifice.

Sara and Elie Moussa of San Carlos were sure to barbecue enough lamb to serve the 32 guests gathered in their home for the festivities. In addition to the four generations of family seated at the U-shaped table in the living room, there were several out-of-town Karaite guests who had no families with whom to celebrate the holiday.

The largest community of Karaites in the United States -- 200 families in all -- resides in the Bay Area, with 50 families in the South Bay. The Karaites began moving here from Egypt in the '50s when Egypt and the newly created state of Israel went to war, a conflict referred to in the West as the Suez Crisis.


Thursday, May 05, 2005

PULSA DE NURA AND MEGILLAT HASHOAH: This miscellany in Ha'aretz discusses two newsworthy innovations in Judaism, both of which draw on ancient themes. First, there is the Pulsa de Nura cursing ceremony that, as has been noted here before seems to have been created in the early twentieth century.
The two researchers reached the conclusion that the pulsa denura invoked today is merely a new and particularly frightening version of an excommunication edict, a ceremony that also incorporates extinguishing candles, blowing shofars in synagogue and reciting a curse. Excommunication does not really frighten secular Jews. In the final analysis, what do they care if the Haredim ostracize them? After Israel's establishment, the term pulsa denura replaced excommunication.

The researchers did not identify who gave excommunication its new name. But so as not to hold the reader in suspense, we will note that use of the curse in the early days of the state was usually attributed to religious struggles in Jerusalem that involved the leader of the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta movement, Amram Blau.

"Pulsa denura is not a kabbalistic ceremony," they concluded. "Kabbalists do not take part in it, it is not done at midnight but rather at midday - not after a fast of three days, not to the light of black candles, the text is not read seven times, and the persons do not necessarily stand facing the east."

The second (last item in the article) is a new Conservative liturgy for Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah, which starts today at sundown [but is observed a day early this year because of proximity to Shabbat -- I think I have this straight now!]).
One group that has adopted Holocaust Day and is proposing a unique liturgical text is the Conservative movement, which this year published Megillat Hashoah (the Shoah Scroll), composed by literature professor Avigdor Shinan. The scroll completes the Conservative initiative to formulate an order of unique prayers for Holocaust Day. The introduction to the Shoah Scroll states, in the spirit of the Passover Haggada, that, "The new commandment of Jewish life is that each of us must see himself as if he has witnessed the Shoah with his own flesh."
NEW DISCOVERIES AT MERON indicate that the site was occupied long before the Second Temple period:
Meron - an old story may be getting older
By Ran Shapira (Ha'aretz)

The synagogue and the splendid buildings uncovered in the many excavations carried out during the last century at Meron in the upper Galilee, near the eponymous moshav at the foot of Mt. Meron, have left scholars with little doubt: This was the site of an important Jewish settlement during the Roman period, from the late first century BCE until the fourth century CE.


A series of discoveries at Meron over the past decade have changed the picture. Last year, for example, Stepansky excavated a small area north of the center of the ancient site of Meron. Under the layer containing stones and remains of a wall from the Roman period, three Bronze Age layers were uncovered: remains of a round installation and pottery shards from the Middle Bronze Age IIA (about 4,000 years ago), a floor of ash and remains of pottery vessels imported from Syria during the Intermediate Bronze Age (between the Middle and Early Bronze Ages, 4,000-4,200 years ago) and an earlier layer containing flint implements and pottery, also from the Intermediate Bronze Age.

In the course of two inspection digs conducted within the grounds of the Bar Yochai Yeshiva in Meron, Stepansky unearthed pottery from the Chalcolithic period (about 5,700 years ago), the Iron Age (about 3,200 years ago) and even the Persian and Hellenistic periods.


Meron has lots of other interesting associations, such as the cave of R. Shimon bar Yohai (where much later legend says he composed the Zohar) and a synagogue gate whose fall is supposed to presage the coming of the Messiah. And it may (or may not) be the Merom of Joshua 11:5, 7.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

VERY BUSY TODAY, plus not much seems to be happening in the news, at least with regard to ancient Judaism. So to keep you amused, here are some noteworthy search engine referrals I've been saving up, which have sent people to PaleoJudaica in the first several months of 2005:
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How to make a model scale of Basalt Stele?
looking for free 100% site datings online in europe 2005
Intertextuality in Monty Python's Life of Brian
pollen culture movie

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: Here's an odd story involving Jewish-Temple denial. The article has appeared only in two Chinese media outlets, the People's Daily and Xinhua. (The latter is listed in Google but seems to have gone dead.)
Turkish PM says Aqsa Masque belongs to Moslems only

Visiting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stressed Monday that al Aqsa Masque in East Jerusalem only belongs to the Moslems and not to anybody else.

Erdogan, who arrived in Israel on Sunday, made the statements after he visited al Aqsa Mosque and prayed there with his wife and the delegation that accompanied him.

Al Aqsa Mosque is considered for all the world's Moslems as their first shrine and their third mosque. It is located at al Haram al Sharif area, a place that Jews are calling "the Temple Mount."

Moslems, mainly Palestinians are afraid that some Jewish extremists, who believe that the Jewish temple is built under the al Aqsa Mosque, would carry out an action to demolish the mosque.

"Al Masjed (mosque) al Aqsa is belonging to the Moslems only, and [no] one has the right to interfere into its affairs or try to administrate it," said Erdogan.

Sheikh Ekrema Sabri, Mufti of Jerusalem and the holy land, and Sheikh Mohamed Hussein, director of the mosque, received Erdogan and accompanied him in the tour of the mosque.


I have put the most interesting bits in italics. Two things to note. First, the Jewish-Temple denial: it's not just only Jews, but some Jewish extremists who think there was a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount.

Second, there is the italicized quotation in rather poor English attributed to Prime Minister Erdogan. (In fact, the whole article is in rather poor English and the quote has an obvious mistake in it which I have corrected.) The story of the Turkish PM's visit, including his visit to the Temple Mount, has been widely reported in an A.P. article and elsewhere (e.g., Ha'aretz, Kavkaz Center, the Turkish Weekly, and Zaman). This particular quote, however, is not found in any other report, with one exception: an article by the Palestine Media Center. It's not the same article as the People's Daily, but some of the material overlaps, including this quotation, which is given correctly (i.e., including the "no" that is missing in the other article).

Did the Turkish Prime Minister really make this statement? I'm skeptical. It doesn't seem very likely to me that the A.P. and the other sources would not have thought it newsworthy if he had. Let's see who else, if anyone, picks up the report.

UPDATE (4 May): Reader Menachem Brody e-mails:
There is a problem here that keeps repeating, and you should be aware of it.

This should be publicized, since it is used to intentionally destabilize things here.

Briefly and simply:

The Temple Mount described in the Mishna and Talmud is 500 Amot (cubits?) square.

The present day compound is much larger, including a large section added to the Southern edge by Herod, divided by a clearly visible seam seen in the Eastern wall (photo on request). On this addition is built the Al-Aksa Mosque.

Almost all responsible historians and archaeologists place the site of the Temple over the Even Shtia, under the Dome of the Rock, in the center of the compound (far from Al-Aksa).

In other words:

The Islamic demand is for control of Al-Aksa, built on a site adjacent to the location of the Temple. The Jewish demand is for the rebuilding of the Temple on it's location in the center of the Mount. THERE IS NO INHERENT CONTRADICTION BETWEEN THESE TWO DEMANDS.

If something here is unclear, I will be glad to explain further.

Thanks for that point. But even if we read the article that way, the intention still seems to be Jewish-Temple denial, since it refers to the Mount as "a place that Jews are calling 'the Temple Mount'" (that is, others would not call it such). This seems to be a comment about the nature of the site, not just the name, although, granted, the English is not very clear.

As for the rebuilding of the Temple, I doubt very much that Muslims would see no problem with the project, even if it could be fitted around the Dome of the Rock. I would oppose it too: I want no more digging on the Mount apart from scientific archaeological excavation.

I still would like to know whether the Turkish PM really said the quote attributed to him. It hasn't been mentioned anywhere else.
IRAQI JEWISH MANUSCRIPTS RECYCLED: Strangely, the Cincinnait Post has recycled an old A.P. article on the Iraqi Jewish archives currently in deep freeze in the National Archives in Washington D.C. The article, "Rare Jewish artifacts remain in soggy limbo," was obviously written before the transfer of sovereignty on 30 June of 2004. The elections are also mentioned as an event still in the future. No effort seems to have been made to update anything in it.
The materials are in moderate to poor condition - they remained wet for several weeks after being salvaged, which allowed mold to grow, and some records became detached from their bindings and were lost, according to the Iraqi Jewish Archive Preservation Report. The study was prepared for the Coalition Provisional Authority, which is overseeing Iraq until a June 30 transfer of some sovereignty to the Iraqis.

There are questions about who now owns the documents, where they should be housed and whether money will be available to restore them. It's likely those questions won't be answered until after June 30, or months later, after Iraqis hold elections.

How astoundingly careless.

The most recent information I've been able to find on the Iraqi Jewish archives is here. Follow the links backwards to get the whole story.

Monday, May 02, 2005

The Time Traveler Convention
May 7, 2005, 10:00pm EDT (08 May 2005 02:00:00 UTC)
East Campus Courtyard, MIT
42:21:36.025�N, 71:05:16.332�W
(42.360007,-071.087870 in decimal degrees)

What is it?

Technically, you would only need one time traveler convention. Time travelers from all eras could meet at a specific place at a specific time, and they could make as many repeat visits as they wanted. We are hosting the first and only Time Traveler Convention at MIT in one week, and WE NEED YOUR HELP!

Why do you need my help?

We need you to help PUBLICIZE the event so that future time travelers will know about the convention and attend. This web page is insufficient; in less than a year it will be taken down when I graduate, and futhermore, the World Wide Web is unlikely to remain in its present form permanently. We need volunteers to publish the details of the convention in enduring forms, so that the time travelers of future millennia will be aware of the convention. This convention can never be forgotten! We need publicity in MAJOR outlets, not just Internet news. Think New York Times, Washington Post, books, that sort of thing. If you have any strings, please pull them.

Great idea, I'd love to help! What should I do?

Write the details down on a piece of acid-free paper, and slip them into obscure books in academic libraries! Carve them into a clay tablet! If you write for a newspaper, insert a few details about the convention! Tell your friends, so that word of the convention will be preserved in our oral history! A note: Time travel is a hard problem, and it may not be invented until long after MIT has faded into oblivion. Thus, we ask that you include the latitude/longitude information when you publicize the convention.


(Via Instapundit.)

In what is surely a related development, on Saturday Professor Ronald Mallett was the featured speaker for this year's National Gallery For Young Inventors in Akron Ohio:
Young inventors honored in Akron

Cancer-weakening spice, method to grow bone among teens' inventions

By Paula Schleis

[Akron] Beacon Journal staff writer


This year marked the 10th anniversary for the National Gallery for America's Young Inventors, one of the affairs that make Akron the ``City of Invention.''


The program began with a lively physics lesson by Ronald Mallett, a theoretical physicist at the University of Connecticut, who believes he's on the verge of building the world's first time machine.

With a slide show, laser pointer and a handful of props, Mallett turned the hall into his classroom. He talked about the Albert Einstein equations that suggest time travel is possible, and how the untimely death of Mallett's own father inspired him to prove Einstein was right.

Then, step by step, Mallett walked his captivated audience through his plan for creating a wormhole in a laboratory setting so he can send a neutron into a time warp.


A coincidence? Do you really think so?

Memo to superbeings of the distant future: If you've located an ancient time machine bequeathed to us by friendly aliens and will be bringing ancient celebrities to the party (Ezra, Plato, Julius Caesar, Jesus, Paul, etc.) and you need an interpreter -- well, look me up.

UPDATE (3 May): Joe Cathey comments. The wormhole method sounds promising, but let's not neglect the Tipler cylinder either. And Professor Mallett seems to be following an entirely different approach. I'm not picky; whatever works is fine with me.

Incidentally, National Public Radio is now covering the Time Traveler Convention.

UPDATE (4 May): Helenann Hartley comments. Also the Time Traveler Convention has now been covered by Yahoo!news. Sure makes me wish I still lived in Cambridge.

UPDATE (7 May): More here.

UPDATE (9 May): More here.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

MORE ON THE OXYRHYNCHUS PAPYRI: The Independent has revived the old story of the variant reading 616 for the Number of the Beast in a Revelation manuscript from Oxyrhynchus, presenting it as a new discovery. The variant has been know for a long time, although the Oxyryhnchus papyrus was only published in 2000. The treatment in the Independent is lame: it neglects to explain why there are two readings (gematria variant-spellings of "Nero Caesar" -- not Caligula -- in Hebrew letters) and tries to be cute by interviewing a satanist high priest about the variant. But at least the got the title "Revelation" right.

(Via Rogue Classicism.)

I wish the Oxford people would publish a press release that corrects all the inaccurate information being spread around by the news media. "Further information" is now being promised "shortly" on their website.

UPDATE: Mark Goodacre comments.
ANGELS IN THE NEWS. While we're on New Age subjects, according to the London Times it seems that Metatron and his archangel colleagues are "co-ordinating" a "World Angel Day" in Kensington:
What is it about angels? [Diana] Cooper, 64, says that she first encountered her supernatural saviours in 1982 when she hit a black period of divorce and depression. She called out for help, waited, and found herself in the company of a �being of light� who showed her how her new future would map out. �I started off as a healer and worked with spirit guides, which operate on a lower frequency than angels. Then, years later, the angels asked me to help to introduce them to the people of the world.�

Guided by higher spirits (naturally), Cooper wrote her first book, A Little Light on Angels (Findhorn Press, �6.95), detailing people�s angelic encounters, which was published in 1996. �The response started building quite quickly,� she says. �When I first put a chat room on my website, 100 people visited. Now it is thousands a day. Her work continues to diversify: she is co-hosting a World Angel Day in October at Kensington�s Great Hall (price �69 a ticket; 020-7361 2220), though she is only an earthly organiser. It is co-ordinated by the archangels Metatron, Michael, Raphael, Gabriel and Uriel, and the symphonies of all angels, she says.

For the story of Metatron (the former patriarch Enoch, now promoted to the status of the "Little YHWH"), go here.
THE GODDESS RETURNS: The Jerusalem Post has a long article on the revival of goddess worship in modern Israel.
The feminine divine

The scent of sage fills the air as a light breeze blows through the leaves of nearby palm trees. Somewhere in the distance, a tractor is plowing a field. The chirp of an occasional bird breaks the calm hush for a moment. A bag of instruments is passed around, and a shrine with Neolithic goddess figurines, babushkas, photographs of goddess statues, and a ceramic plate painted with a spiral design is quietly constructed.

Thirteen Israeli men and women are seated in a circle around the artifacts. The earth below is the archeological site of a civilization over 8,000 years old. A few hundred meters away, one of the oldest known wells, now-covered, marks the spot where the people of the Yarmukian society once came to fill buckets of fresh water for pottery, drinking and bathing.

We are in Kibbutz Sha'ar Hagolan, south of Lake Kinneret, but the modern blessing ceremony some Israeli women have invented might have origins much older than was previously imagined.

They have chosen this place to conduct their ritual because of the goddess figurines recently found in this area. Iris Yotvat, one of the leaders of the goddess spirituality movement in Israel and a former movie star, leads the group in songs and prayers. As a chalice filled with water passes from hand to hand, each person places a few drops on their skin and thanks Mother Earth for her blessings. Some of the women remind everyone that we were not here first, and we will not be here last. A thin bundle of smoking sage, tightly bound with white string, is passed around for meditation and cleansing.