Saturday, December 24, 2005

HAPPY FIRST BLOGIVERSARY to Michael Pahl's The Stuff of Earth!
PSEUDEPIGRAPHA WATCH: The Sibylline Oracles make an appearance an a Telegraph (UK) editorial:
Christmas and the end of history
(Filed: 24/12/2005)

In the misty morning of Roman history, an old woman came to King Tarquin and offered to sell him nine books at a huge price. He laughed. She went away, burnt three books and returned, offering the six left at the same price, only to be rebuffed again. A third time she came, with only three books still unburnt. Tarquin bought them at the price first named. For she was the Sibyl of Cumae, and the scrolls of her prophecies were lodged for centuries in the holiest site of pagan Rome, the temple of Jupiter.

Ancient Rome wanted to know its future, and yet feared to know, for the Sibylline prophecies spoke of ashes, suicide, rape, terror, looting and a terrible fall from pride that would bring despair to humankind. And so it came to pass.


There is, though, an unlikely place where both the prophets of Israel and the Cumaean Sibyl are honoured, and that is on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo's incomparable frescoes show her opposite the prophet Ezekiel. The idea comes from the poet Virgil, for in his fourth Eclogue he talks of a Cumaean prophecy coming true; he speaks of a virgin, the birth of a boy, the beginning of a golden age, with a new generation born from heaven. No wonder Christian poets and artists took it for an inspired prophecy. There, on Michelangelo's painted plaster, the puzzles of the pagan Sibyl and the Bible's prophecies are reconciled. But the world's conflicts still await reconciliation, and only in a spirit of hope can we wish all of our readers a Happy Christmas.

No pagan Sibylline Oracles survive, but there are Christian and perhaps Jewish oracles attributed to the Sibyl. Not all the surviving Sibylline Oracles are included in Charlesworth's Old Testament Pseudepigrapha volumes. The More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project is publishing still more.
THE SIXTH-CENTURY JESUS SEAL from Tiberias is covered by the Discovery Channel:
Early Image of Jesus Found
By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

Dec. 23, 2005 — A rare 6th-century seal that bears the likely image of Jesus on one side and a cross symbol signifying the name "Christ" on the back recently was excavated in Tiberias, Israel, according to archaeologists who continue to work at the site.

Since seals with this imagery do not appear before the middle of the 6th century, the object is one of the first to show such early Christian symbolism.


The article has good photos of both sides of the seal and lots of new details about it and its discovery.
NAZARETH VILLAGE, the simulation of first-century Nazareth located near modern Nazareth, is back in the news with its annual Christmas celebrations:
Nazareth Village re-creates life as Jesus knew it
Replica designed to improve understanding of Scriptures

Matthew Kalman, [San Francisco] Chronicle Foreign Service

Friday, December 23, 2005

Nazareth, Israel -- On a rocky hillside in Nazareth, the town where Jesus grew up and spent much of his life, a familiar scene is taking shape. In the courtyard of a stone stable, surrounded by rough-hewn wooden farming implements, a young man and his wife are comforting their newborn son. They are dressed in simple, handwoven tunics, and the baby is lying on a bed of fresh straw in an animal's trough.

It is as if they had been transported back in time 2,000 years to the birth of Christ and the simple rural community where Mary and Joseph lived, probably less than a mile away. This is Nazareth Village, an authentic re-creation of a first-century Holy Land farm.


Friday, December 23, 2005

"JERUSALEM SYNDROME" is the subject of an article in Haaretz. Don't let this happen to you!
Messianic mania
By Neri Livneh


In most big cities around the world, when you see someone loudly singing or shouting to himself, the tendency is to conclude that he is a possibly deranged homeless person, and while some may view such characters as an environmental hazard, they usually aren't dangerous to themselves or their surroundings. But the Jerusalem-maniacs who come from abroad have a different quality.

"For years, the theory was that people came to Jerusalem and went crazy here, that there was something particular to Jerusalem that made people become seized by a psychosis," says [psychiatrist Prof. Moshe] Kalian. "But our argument is that the people who go crazy here come here from the outset with a history of mental problems and that Jerusalem is the stage upon which they perform their big show." To paraphrase Hamlet, there's a method to their madness. In "Jerusalem Syndrome," it takes the form of "biblical delusions."

THE HISTORICAL JESUS is discussed in Slate in an ongoing e-mail exchange between John S. Kloppenborg, Larry Hurtado, and Alan Segal, three heavyweights in the field.
Jesus and the Gospel—What Really Happened?

(Mark Goodacre has already noted this. Safe travels and happy holidays, Mark.)
REFLECTIONS ON HANUKKAH, and the history of its interpretation, in the Jerusalem Post:
Hanukka and Hellenization

Hanukka, which begins Sunday night, has meant different things to different generations. Initially it was celebrated as a reminder of faith's victory over heresy, good over evil, and the few over the many.


UPDATE: And here's a very different take by James Ponet in Slate:
The Maccabees and the Hellenists
Hanukkah as Jewish civil war.

Also, the Jerusalem Post has a timely tourist piece on Modi'in.
MORE ON THE POOL OF SILOAM: The story of its excavation is being recycled in Haaretz for the holidays, but with new information. The article also notes other recent discoveries, such as a cache of cylinder seals near Warren's Shaft.
True size of Pool of Siloam discovered due to sewer blockage
By Nadav Shragai, Haaretz Correspondent

If the central sewage line for Jerusalem's Old City, which runs down the slope of the village of Silwan, had not gotten blocked a year ago, it would probably have been many years before we would have discovered the real dimensions of the historic Pool of Siloam from the Second Temple Period.

The pool, whose present small dimensions date from Byzantine times, is the outlet for the spring water coursing through the ancient Hezekiah's tunnel. It was once huge - three to four dunams.

And if the huge dimensions of the pool had not been discovered, it is doubtful that the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Elad association, which is working for the development of the area also known as the City of David, would not have come across the dramatic discovery now underway: the far end of a street dating from the Herodian period, which begins at the outer southwestern corner of the Temple Mount and is familiar to visitors to the Western Wall.


UPDATE: evidently those "cylinder seals" in the English version are "seals and bullae" in the Hebrew article. This according to Victor Avigdor Hurowitz, who also notes some other glitches in a post on the ANE list.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

MIRECKI UPDATE: Sort of. Please have a look again at my 10 December Paul Mirecki post and follow the link to Loren Rosson's blog in today's update. In the comments I post some corrections to the first post and I have more to say about "intelligent design." There's also a little more news about the Mirecki situation.
HAPPY SECOND BLOGIVERSARY (slightly belated) to the Philo of Alexandria blog!
JUDAISM, FOOD, AND ASCETICISM: Jay Michaelson reviews two interesting books in the Forward:
Mystical Bodies, Mystical Meals: Eating and Embodiment in Medieval Kabbalah
By Joel Hecker
Wayne State University Press, 296 pages, $44.95.

Holy Men and Hunger Artists: Fasting and Asceticism in Rabbinic Culture
By Eliezer Diamond
Oxford University Press, 240 pages, $49.95.

Two recent studies, Rabbi Eliezer Diamond's "Holy Men and Hunger Artists: Fasting and Asceticism in Rabbinic Culture" and Joel Hecker's "Mystical Bodies, Mystical Meals: Eating and Embodiment in Medieval Kabbalah," both grapple, in different ways, with the contradictory tendencies regarding food in the Jewish religious tradition. Diamond, professor of Talmud and rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, discusses talmudic culture, and Hecker, professor of Jewish myticism at ReconstructionistRabbincal College, covers Kabbalah. But both end up in similarly ambivalent places: Diamond's rabbis seemed to yearn for asceticism but nonetheless couldn't quite reject the Jewish emphasis on the this-worldly, and Hecker's zoharic texts vacillate between seeing food as a necessary evil and praising it as a connection to God.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

JUSTIN DOMBROWSKI has a request:
REPRINT: Gustaf Dalman's Grammatik des Jüdisch-Palästinischen Aramäisch

I am trying to get this fine out-of-print grammar reprinted by Wipf and Stock. The cost will be roughly $30-35 / volume.

jedombrowski - at - msn -dot- com

If you're interested, drop him (not me) a note.
HAPPY WINTER SOLSTICE to all our neopagan friends.
PHIL HARLAND'S BLOG, Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean has moved to a new location. Be sure and update your bookmark. He has been writing about humor in antiquity and I like his recent posts on ancient jokes about scholars, ancient jokes with ethnic stereotypes, and his link to graffiti from Pompeii. (The last link is not recommended for those easily offended.)
ARTSCROLL'S TRANSLATIONS are given an unfavorable review by Yeshiva College senior Alec Goldstein in The Commentator:
What's Wrong With Artscroll?
By: Alec Goldstein
Issue date:
12/19/05 Section: Opinion

ArtScroll translations make study and prayer difficult for three reasons. First, ArtScroll uses big words needlessly. Second, it uses Hebrew words in English translations. Finally, it ineffectively distinguishes between translating words either literally or figuratively.


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

THE SBL FORUM for December is now posted and has lots of good stuff, as usual. Note in particular, Nicolae Roddy, "A New Program Unit: Religious Experience in Early Judaism and Early Christianity." Congratulations also to Jim VanderKam, who has been appointed the new editor of the Journal of Biblical Literature. And Deinde blogger Danny Zacharias also publishes "Bookends Review: Bibliographic Software For Mac" in this issue.
ARAMAIC WATCH: The AssyriaSat channel will soon be bringing Aramaic programming to Australia:
PanAmSat (NYSE: PA) today announced that AssyriaSat has signed a multi-year agreement with GlobeCast Australia to deliver its programming through PanGlobal TV, a joint marketing alliance between PanAmSat and GlobeCast Australia, to viewers throughout Australia. The world's first and only Assyrian television station will be carried on the Australia Beam of PanAmSat's PAS-8 Pacific Ocean Region satellite located at 166 degrees East Longitude. As a result of this transaction, PanGlobal TV will now offer 27 channels of multi-ethnic programming to the Australian subscribers of this Direct-to-Home platform (DTH).


Launched in October 2002, AssyriaSat is the first Assyrian worldwide television channel. Originating from the Assyria Vision (KBSV-TV) studios at the Assyrian Cultural Center of Bet Nahrain in Ceres, California, it features a wide variety of family-oriented programs, including news reports, general entertainment, cultural and educational shows. The station broadcasts its programming worldwide 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

"AssyriaSat is very pleased to announce this relationship with GlobeCast Australia using the PanGlobal Platform on PanAmSat's PAS-8 satellite," said Dr. Sargon Dadesho, CEO of AssyriaSat. "With this agreement, AssyriaSat will be able to reach thousands of Aramaic-speaking homes throughout Australia."


Monday, December 19, 2005

WELCOME TO VISITOR NUMBER 200,000, who arrived at 06:42:49 PM GMT. The IP address was quite uninformative, so I can't give you any additional general information, even country of origin. But if you think it may have been you, and you're interested, drop me a note with your IP address (which I won't make public) and I'll tell you.

Sorry, no free book, though. I have to say I'm baffled by the custom some people are following of giving out a free book to their 100,000th (or however many) visitor. The way I see it, dear readers, I'm giving you PaleoJudaica for free nearly every day of the year. And I should give you a book too? If any of you want to give me a book, well, that would be fine. (Some of you have, and I'm grateful.) But there's no need to. Just keep coming back and keep telling your friends about PaleoJudaica.
ASSIMILATED TO THE BLOGOSPHERE: Kevin P. Edgecomb has a new blog called biblicalia. I have mentioned Kevin before on PaleoJudaica here and here. And he tells us more about himself here. Welcome!

(Via Chris Weimer at Thoughts on Antiquity.)
HAPPY BLOGIVERSARY to Dr. Cathey's Blog!
THE COPTIC GOSPEL OF JUDAS is to be published under the auspices of the National Geographic Society, with a documentary and article planned for the spring of 2006, followed by three books. John Dart (journalist and author of a good popular book called The Jesus of Heresy and History) has an article in the Christian Century in which Charles Hedrick describes the contents:
Long-lost Gospel of Judas to be published
by John Dart


Hedrick said the last six pages of the Judas document describe a heavenly scene in which Allogenes is being tested and tried by Satan, followed by an earthly scene in which Jesus is being watched closely by scribes. At one point Judas is told, "Although you are evil at this place, you are a disciple of Jesus." The last line of the text says, according to Hedrick: "And he [Judas] took money and delivered him [Jesus] over."

So, Hedrick said, "it appears that Judas is working at the behest of God when he betrays Jesus as part of the divine plan." When translations of the Gospel of Judas are released with accompanying analyses, Hedrick expects that "there will be a lot of sensationalism, but it will dribble out, leaving only the scholars interested."

Yet, in academic and religious circles, the text may stir excitement for years, according to a scholar from the University of Ottawa. "It is a major discovery not only for Coptic, Gnostic or apocryphal studies, but also for ancient Judaism and early Christianity," said Pierluigi Piovanelli in an e-mail to colleagues in 2004 when the first plans to publish were announced.


You can read Piovanelli's original announcement here, which was available at PaleoJudaica long before the press got wind of the story. And for more on the Coptic Gospel of Judas, see these links.
MORE ON THE TIMBUKTU MANUSCRIPTS -- The Toronto Star has an article:
The treasures of Timbuktu
Wealth of words | The belief that Africa had no written history has been disproven in the fabled centre that once was a seat of Islamic scholarship
Dec. 18, 2005. 01:00 AM

Time has not been kind to this once-great centre of civilization, which in the early 1500s inspired the Spanish explorer Leo Africanus to paint a picture of a learned, cultured and peaceful place where books were the main industry, where one literally walked on "gold."

Lured by this promise of riches, European explorers tried for centuries to find Timbuktu. By the time the first ones finally arrived in the 1800s, they found a desolate desert outpost not all that different from the sand-swept town of today, with no evidence of all the fabled wealth. Hence, the Western myth about a never-never place with little to offer the world — a myth that is about to be exploded.

Today, treasures are being unearthed here that are radically changing the way the world views Timbuktu, Africa and her history. They're called the "Timbuktu manuscripts" and they disprove the myth that Africa had no written history.

While many thousands have been recovered, there are still hundreds of thousands of manuscripts hidden away in wells and mud-walled storerooms in northern Mali. Huge collections have been passed down in families over many centuries, kept out of sight for fear that European explorers, and then French colonists, would abscond with them.

"Before, all the manuscripts were kept in our homes," says Abdelkader Haidara, who has inherited his family's collection of 9,000 written works dating back to the 16th century.

"Then, in 1993, I had an idea to open a private and modern library that would be open to everyone."

Thanks to funding from an American foundation, Haidara has been able to open his Mamma Haidara library and catalogue 3,000 of the manuscripts, some of which date back to the 1100s.


There's lots of interesting information in the article. For more on the Timbuktu manuscripts and their potential relevance for ancient Judaism, see here and here.

UPDATE: Bad link fixed.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Jesus skeptics on the run (LA Times)
• Anne Rice's latest novel relies on a biblical scholarship more trusting of the New Testament.

By Charlotte Allen, Charlotte Allen is author of "The Human Christ: The Search for the Historical Jesus." She co-edits the InkWell blog for the Independent Women's Forum.

ANNE RICE'S "Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt," her novel about the boy Jesus whose family has not gotten around to telling him that he is the messiah, is a national bestseller. That's not surprising. Rice is a seasoned storyteller whose 26 previous novels on subjects ranging from vampires to sadomasochistic erotica have sold more than 75 million copies. With "Christ the Lord," she transferred her flair for the supernatural to a new market of Christian believers who share the faith she has re-embraced.

What is interesting — and portentous — is that just as "Christ the Lord" was nearing release in early September, Robert Funk, founder of the Jesus Seminar, died. The Jesus Seminar is still going strong. But Funk's death and Rice's novel constitute a kind of symbolic marker of the passing of a brand of dogmatic hyper-skepticism toward the Gospels and the rise of a new and more generous biblical scholarship that holds, contra the seminar, that the Gospels and other New Testament writings constitute virtually our only record of what Jesus said and did. These scholars contend that there is no point in trying to deconstruct the Gospels to find the "real" Jesus. They maintain there is nothing in the historical or archeolological record of the 1st century that makes the Gospel accounts of Jesus' life inherently implausible.


I think that Allen is a little hard on Funk and the Jesus Seminar, but they can't complain that they haven't asked for confrontation. I come down somewhere in the middle of this debate, insofar as I have the right to an opinion at all. I'm skeptical of the historicity of much of the material in the Gospels but I don't think that it's inherently implausible that Jesus thought of himself as a messianic redeemer and/or a divine being. Such ideas were in the air.

UPDATE (19 December): Bad link fixed.
THAT VISITOR'S CENTER AT THE WESTERN WALL PLAZA, and the objections to it by the Palestinian Authority, are covered briefly in a Jerusalem Post article:
Palestinians slam Kotel visitors' center


The Palestinian Authority has lambasted a new visitors' center at the Western Wall plaza.

"Israel is constructing a heritage center dedicated to show a fabricated heritage that might help them to deceive the foreign visitor into believing Jerusalem is a historical place of the Jews," an article about the new center on the Palestinian Authority's official Web site read.