Saturday, December 10, 2005

A NEW ARAMAIC FRAGMENT OF TOBIT has surfaced in the Schøyen Collection. Ed Cook has an analysis over at Ralph. He says he's confident it's genuine.
REGARDING PAUL MIRECKI: I've been following this situation closely, but haven't said anything about it yet, partly because I've been busy, partly because it's tangential to my usual topics, and partly because the situation has been changing so fast and I've been taking notes and thinking about it. But here are my thoughts at present.

The basic story is that Paul Mirecki, Professor of Religion at the University of Kansas, has been heavily criticized for insulting e-mail comments he made about creationists and fundamentalists in connection with a course on creationism and "intelligent design." It seems that this was a private e-mail that someone then circulated approvingly. He also made intemperate comments about Catholics, Fundamentalist Zionists, etc. on a discussion board for the KU Society of Open-Minded Atheists and Agnostics. He ended up withdrawing the course, then earlier this week he reported that he was stopped on the road and beaten up by two men driving a pickup truck who specifically mentioned the controversy. Then, late in the week, he resigned as chair of the Department of Religion. Now he has hired a lawyer. There's also summary article from today here.

To start with, I think what he wrote (and he has acknowledged that he wrote it and has apologized) was unpleasant, unconstructive, and unfair. But, frankly, I've heard worse from some Democrats about President Bush and some Republicans about President Clinton, and in both cases the comments have been made in public and with no thought that anyone could be offended. Free speech includes free speech that other people don't like, or it's not worth much. Whether he should have canceled the course (and I'm sorry that, for whatever reason, it isn't going forward) or resigned as department chair are things best sorted out between him and his department.

It looks as though he spoke (i.e., wrote) too freely because he was under the impression that he was writing something in private, although he posted his e-mail comments on an archived list that seems to have been accessible to the public. One private message -- the one that started the controversy -- was also circulated by someone else. But however they were made public, this reinforces the principle that you should never put something in an e-mail if you don't want it to be read by pretty much everyone in the world.

The beating, of course, is appalling, and I can't say I'm encouraged to hear a number of people just saying they don't believe it happened. This article has a picture of the bruises, which look to me to have been administered with considerable enthusiasm. Are we really supposed to believe that he battered himself and then involved the media and the police just to get media sympathy? If that were true it would be quite reprehensible -- and also weird -- but people who make the claim had better back it up with some serious evidence or they could end up looking pretty bad themselves. I'm taking Mirecki at his word unless someone offers me strong evidence to do otherwise.

As for the wider issues that started the whole controversy, rude comments aside, Mirecki is right that creationism is not a viable scientific theory and "intelligent design" is a very weak philosophical argument. And it is perfectly legitimate to teach a class that explains why. Creationism is nonsense and flies in the face of both scientific method and the actual evidence. "Intelligent design" is a superficially plausible attempt to cast doubt on evolution and bring creationism in again through the back door, but its arguments simply don't hold up to anyone who knows anything about serious metaphysics or scientific cosmology. For example, the "fine-tuned universe" argument is based on the assumption that all of reality is contained in the visible universe, but there are plenty of reasons to doubt that this is the case. We don't even know the actual size of the universe we're in: all we can see is in our own past-light cone, which may be a very small part of the whole. The many-worlds theory of quantum physics holds that there are an infinite number of parallel universes. There are good physical arguments (involving both quantum computation and the "two-slit experiment") in favor of it and a fair number of physicists accept it. Moreover, the Big Bang itself may be just a small eddy in an infinite quantum-fluctuating vacuum. In other words, the fact that the parameters of our universe are set to many decimal places to produce life may just be an extremely unlikely coincidence that nevertheless is unremarkable among the infinity of other possibilities that are realized elsewhere. And once you grant that such a coincidence has to happen somewhere, it's no surprise that we find ourselves in a universe of the sort that produces intelligent life. Where else are we going to find ourselves? (The technical term for this general point is the "weak anthropic principle.") And so on.*

Back to Mirecki: the reaction of elements of the Kansas legislature to these events has been disappointing:
The university’s action wasn’t enough for conservative lawmakers, who said they want to know whether professors teaching other courses are letting their biases get in the way.

“This may show a bigger problem than just Professor Mirecki,” said Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican. “It may show we’re not providing fair and balanced opportunities to our students.”

Landwehr has called for hearings when the Legislature resumes next month. She said she wants to know whether professors are exhibiting any intolerance, whether it’s religious, political or any other kind.

Landwehr also questioned whether Mirecki should be allowed to teach religious studies courses.

“It’s hard to teach religion if you don’t believe in it,” she said.

I've taught courses on Judaism, Asian religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Chinese religions, Shinto, etc.), Islam, and early Christianity. Sorry, but it's pretty hard to believe in all of them, and any attempt to do so would fail to take any of them seriously on their own terms. One can teach about religious beliefs and practices accurately and fairly without believing in them. I imagine this was just a poorly thought-out, off-the-cuff comment, but the Balkanization it implies is chilling. If Kansas legislators are going to pressure universities to allow only adherents to teach a religion, and that only from an insider's faith perspective, Kansas has a problem.

Likewise, the zero tolerance of "any intolerance" of any kind is ill considered. Personally, I'm intolerant of, say, cannibalism, al-Qaeda, clitorectomies, Nazis, and Aztec human sacrifice, and I don't see why anyone should try to be tolerant of them in class, online, or elsewhere. I don't think Rep. Landwehr would disagree, but while she's criticizing Mirecki, she needs to think more carefully about statements she herself is making in public as an elected public official.

Professor Mirecki made some mistakes and has paid more for them than he ought to have. But that doesn't justify teaching creationism in public schools or using the incident to interfere with the academic freedom of professors of religion in Kansas. I hope that cooler heads speak up more about this and that they prevail in the long run.

*Just to be clear, I have nothing in principle against people making arguments for the existence of God from metaphysics or scientific cosmology. Theologians have been advancing these for a long time and continue to do so, joined by the occasional physicist. Some of what they've done is quite interesting, although I doubt that a great many people have been converted to theism via that route. But these theologians and scientists operate on a more sophisticated level than the proponents of "intelligent design" and -- crucially -- they don't promote their positions as alternatives to evolutionary theory. I have no problem with these arguments being studied in university courses, but these should be courses on theology and science or on the philosophy of religion (both of which would quickly reduce the "intelligent design" arguments to mincemeat), and not science courses.


David Deutsch, The Fabric of Reality (London: Penguin, 1997).

UPDATE: I suppose Rep. Landwehr could have been saying just that atheists and agnostics shouldn't teach religion rather than that only people who believe in a religion should teach it, which is how I first took her statement. But this is no better, pretty much for the reasons I've already given. It's possible to teach a religion at the university level fairly and accurately without believing in that religion or any religion. And if my second interpretation is what she meant, its both discriminatory and unconstitutional. Whatever she meant, it was out of line.

UPDATE (11 December): Rebecca Lesses comments.

UPDATE (12 December): More good commentary from Rebecca here. She also notes this article, in which Mirecki says that he was forced to resign as department chair.

UPDATE (13 December): The University of Kansas begs to differ: "KU: Mirecki left leadership post voluntarily".

UPDATE (22 December): Note this post on Loren Rosson's blog, The Busybody. In the comments I interact with an anonymous commenter and offer some corrections and expansions of this post. Also, the Religion Department of the University of Kansas now has a new acting chair.

Friday, December 09, 2005

QUMRAN ARTICLE: Shai at the Hebrew and Aramaic Philology blog summarizes a Hebrew article on the Dead Sea Scrolls which raises implications also for the redaction and development of biblical literature:
E. Tov, “Implications of Qumran Finds for the Literary Analysis of Hebrew Scripture”, Meghillot 3 (2005), pp. 191-204

Thursday, December 08, 2005

BRUCE CHILTON'S NEW BOOK on Mary Magdalene is reviewed by bibliobabe Lesa Bellevie.
Youths reveal racy Bible calendar (BBC)

A German Protestant youth group has put together a 2006 calendar illustrated with erotic scenes from the Bible.

The 12 re-enacted passages feature a bare-breasted Delilah cutting Samson's hair and a nude Eve offering an apple.

The Nuremberg-based group said they wanted to represent the Bible in a way that would entice young people.


I dare say it will. And, yes, the article does include a sample illustration.

(Via Tzvee Zahavy.)
"ABC? QED!" Philologos explains the origins of the term "abecedary" and also the letter C. Timely.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

BAR ILAN UNIVERSITY is protesting Hanan Eshel's arrest:
Bar-Ilan delays archaeology meet to protest IAA complaint
By Amiram Barkat (Ha'aretz)

Bar-Ilan University has postponed indefinitely its annual archaeology conference in protest over a police complaint lodged by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) against Dr. Hanan Eshel, a senior member of the school's archaeology department.

The IAA submitted the complaint after Eshel allegedly failed to turn over a rare artifact in his possession. According to the IAA, an indictment is to be issued shortly against the archaeologist.

The Archaeological Council, Israel's senior professional body of archaeologists, which advises the IAA, objected to the authority's move. It said disciplinary procedures might have been opened against Eshel before a police complaint was lodged. Dozens of archaeologists signed a petition recently condemning the IAA action.


Background here. Jim West has posted a copy of the petition here.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

HOW NOT TO GIVE A CONFERENCE PAPER: Maria Doerfler has some good advice based on her experiences at the recent AAR meetings.
STUDIA PHILONICA ANNUAL 17 (2005) is now out. Torrey Seland has details.
Manuscripts 'treated as fossils'
By Julianna Kettlewell
BBC News science reporter

A palaeontologist has come up with a novel way of studying historical manuscripts, by treating them as fossils from an extinct species.

John Cisne, writing in Science magazine, says manuscripts from the Middle Ages have a lot in common with animal populations.

For this reason, he claims, he can work out how many copies of a manuscript once existed and how regularly they were destroyed, simply by applying a biological model.

Historians have cautiously welcomed this rare link between the arts and sciences.


This is cool, if it actually works. It reminds me of Hartmut Stegemann's technique for reconstructing the column arrangement of a whole Dead Sea Scroll and placing its fragments in order and in the right columns (based on the shapes and damage-patterns of the fragments), which often can be done pretty well even when all you have are some badly damaged fragments that represent only part of a scroll. The problem with such techniques, of course, is testing them to see if they do work. Stegemann's method has been verified by independent reconstructions of the Hodayot Scroll (1QHa) by Stegemann and Puech, cross-verified by the texts of the Cave 4 Hodayot manuscripts. I'm pretty sure it's also been tested on biblical manuscripts whose contents are known, but I can't find discussion of the latter anywhere. I wonder if some similar test could be applied to Cisne's method.


Annette Steudel, "Scroll Reconstruction," Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls (ed. Lawrence H. Schiffman and James C. VanderKam; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 842-44.

(Via Pete Williams at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog.)

UPDATE (8 December): Ken Penner e-mails:
Perhaps you were thinking of Herbert's A New Method for Reconstructing Biblical Scrolls, and its Application to the Reconstruction of 4QSam-a (Brill, 1997)?

Yes, I think that's an example.
TZVEE ZAHAVY has a blog:
THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBIT AT DISCOVERY PLACE (Charlotte, North Carolina) opens on 1 February.

Monday, December 05, 2005

BIBLIOBLOGGING, ETC., AGAIN: The SBL session continues to generate comments. Chris Weimar has now posted his thoughts on "'Biblioblogging' 'Femiblogging' and Blogdom" on his Thoughts on Antiquity blog. One comment regarding this:
Furthered by some of Jim Davila's remarks (again, I'm getting this information second-hand, so correct me if I'm wrong) about who are bibliobloggers (professors and graduate students only?), the next thing you know people are angry over who is a biblioblogger and who isn't and why women are being excluded from this white-middle-age-male association and whathaveyou nonsense and then...Tim B. leaves.

In my paper I said that I took "bibliobloggers" to mean "bloggers who have a primary or at least a significant focus on academic Biblical Studies" and that I understood this to be the general view. When I counted them up I was counting "academic specialists in biblical studies or postgraduate students in the field." In fact, it turns out that at least a couple of those I was counting fall outside those more narrowly defined limits, so the first definition is more accurate and is the one that I prefer for my own use of the word. Others, of course, are welcome to use it however they like.

My interest is in biblical studies and early Jewish studies from historical, archaeological, and philological perspectives and I tend to read blogs that work more from those perspectives than not. I don't care what you call them and they don't all deal with the Bible (e.g., Hagahot and Hebrew and Aramaic Philology rarely do, if ever). My interests should not be taken as in any way definitive. They're just, well, what I'm interested in.

Also, Chris draws attention to a new blog by Lesa Bellevie called The Magdalene Review, which keeps track of media references etc. to Mary Magdalene and related matters.

UPDATE (6 December): Mark Goodacre comments on Chris's post here. Also, Chris worries that I thought he was attacking me. I didn't. On the contrary, he pointed out something I had said which turned out to be incorrect (that the bibliobloggers I was counting in my survey were all either academic specialists or postgrads) and I was happy to have the opportunity to correct it. If I sounded defensive, it was not from anything he said. I just wanted to keep it clear that by expressing my opinion I am not making authoritative, prescriptive pronouncements.
BLEG FOR A PHOENICIAN GIANT: I'm wondering if any of my readers can help me with a question I've had for some time. I have a vague memory from perhaps twenty years ago, when I spent a lot of time working with Phoenician, that there is a Phoenician inscription that refers to the biblical figure Og, King of Bashan, (עוג מלך־הבשן) who is mentioned in Numbers 21:31-35; Deuteronmy 1:4; Deuteronomy 3:1-11; Joshua 12:4-5 and 13:12; and a few other biblical passages. The passage in Deuteronomy 3 indicates that he was a giant and the passages in Joshua trace his ancestry back to the Rephaim, who were also known as giants (see 2 Samuel 21:16-22, ילידי הרפה).

At the SBL meetings I asked a bunch of Northwest Semitists about this and a couple of them vaguely remembered it too, one suggesting that it was found in a curse in one of the Byblian inscriptions, which invoked King Og. But no one could remember which text it was precisely and, after I got home, I checked all the Phoenician inscriptions from Byblos and could not find a reference to Og in any of them. And no Og is mentioned in the names indices for Donner and Rôlling's Kanaanäische und Aramäishe Inscriften or Gibson's Syrian Semitic Inscriptions, vol. 3, Phoenician Inscriptions. I don't have access to Benz's Personal Names in the Phoenician and Punic Inscriptions.

So -- is my memory at all correct? Is there a Phoenician, Punic, or Neo-Punic inscription that mentions Og? I'm collecting material on the giants and on ancient non-Israelite mentions of figures from the Hebrew Bible, both for the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project, and I would be very grateful if someone can either point me to the relevant inscription or else tell me authoritatively that there isn't one.

UPDATE (3:30 pm): My thanks to Arne Halbakken, who located the reference for me in HALAT. Wayne Pitard was right: the reference is in a Phoenician inscription from Byblos (Byblos 13). It was published in 1974 by Wolfgang Rölling in "Eine new phoenizische Inscrift aus Byblos," Neue Ephemeris für Semitische Epigraphik, vol 2, 1-15 and plate 1. Apparently J. Starkey published it first in 1970. It is a damaged 7-line funerary inscription that Röllig dates to around 500 BCE. It appears to say that if someone disturbs the bones of the occupant, העג יתבקשנ האדר, "the mighty Og will avenge me." Og the giant, King of Bashan? Could be. The Rephaim were ghosts too. I wonder how common the name was.

UPDATE (29 December): I've posted much more on Og here.

(UPDATE 7 September 2011): I should note that I no longer think that this inscription refers to Og the giant. I will explain my reasons in my general introduction to the Book of Giants, which is to be translated for volume 2 of the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project.
ENOCH/METATRON at the SBL conference: Rebecca Lesses reports on her review of Andrei Orlov's book The Enoch/Metatron Tradition. She also had a car-malfunction adventure coming home from the conference.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

WHERE IS MISS MABROUK? She is not responding to comments on her most recent blog post on 10 November. I have expressed concern before and now another blogger has as well. But, surprisingly, the first comment on the latter post indicates that Alaa of Manal and Alaa (see here too) isn't worried. I hope he's right.
NEW TESTAMENT APOCRYPHA SERIES: I've been meaning for some time to take note of Phil Harland's ongoing series of blog posts on New Testament Apocrypha, the most recent of which (#22) is on Secret Mark, with special reference to Stephen Carlson's new book. I only recently realized that the series is tied to a graduate course Phil is teaching this semester. There are lots of interesting entries, including this list of online resourses and this recent post on The Ascension of Isaiah, which is both a New Testament Apocryphon and an Old Testament pseudepigraphon. Good stuff.