Saturday, April 08, 2006

DAN BROWN has been acquitted -- of plagiarism, not bogosity. Still, this was the right decision.
Judge Clears 'Da Vinci Code' Author

By SARAH LYALL (New York Times)
Published: April 7, 2006

LONDON, April 7 — A High Court judge ruled today that Dan Brown did not steal the idea for his stratospherically successful thriller, "The Da Vinci Code," from an earlier book, and he cleared Mr. Brown's publisher, Random House, of accusations of copyright infringement.

In issuing his judgment, Justice Peter Smith said that Mr. Brown did indeed rely on the earlier work, "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" in writing a section of "The Da Vinci Code." But he said that two of "Holy Blood's" authors, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, had failed to define the central theme of their book and thus failed to prove their accusation that Mr. Brown had lifted it from them.

In fact, the judge said, the earlier book "does not have a central theme as contended by the claimants: it was an artificial creation for the purposes of the litigation working back from 'The Da Vinci Code.'

LOTS MORE ON THE GOSPEL OF JUDAS: I'm getting on a plane this evening and don't have much time to blog. But here are some of the many current articles on the Coptic Gospel of Judas, with a little commentary. The media coverage seems to me generally to have been thoughtful and accurate. The National Geographic Society is to be commended for its handling of the publicity.
In Ancient Document, Judas, Minus the Betrayal (New York Times)
Note the following therefrom:
The 66-page codex also contains a text titled James, a letter by Peter and pages provisionally called Book of Allogenes, or Book of Strangers.
Allogenes was known from Porphyry's Life of Plotinus 16 as one of the works of the Gnostics whom Plotinus opposed. A copy also survives in the Nag Hammadi Library. I believe Allogenes means 'stranger" or "alien," singular rather than plural.

Also, I notice that the NYT has put a prominent correction at the bottom of this article which corrects a mistake in a related earlier article, which is good practice.
Document Is Genuine, but Is Its Story True? (NYT)
I'm surprised to hear that Craig Evans thinks that there could be an historical basis to the idea in The Gospel of Judas that Jesus gave Judas private instruction. That strikes me as exceedingly unlikely.

Finally, the Philadelphia Inquirer has some grassroots reactions from Christians. No one seems much impressed from a theological perspective, which I would say is the correct reaction (although, of course the new text is very exciting from the perspective of the history of Gnosticism and second-century apocryphal gospels).
Skepticism over a long-lost text.
Enjoy the documentary if you get to see it tomorrow. I probably won't have anything more to say today. I'll try to let you know when I get home on Sunday, but otherwise I expect to be back in my office on Monday, with a class to teach at 11:00 am. Look for somewhat jet-lagged blogging to resume then.

UPDATE: Geza Vermes on Judas in The Times:
Iscariot and the dark path to the Field of Blood

Friday, April 07, 2006

Harry Potter and the Gospel of Judas
JAMES TABOR'S NEW BOOK, The Jesus Dynasty, is profiled by ABC News. According to the article, he says that Jesus and John the Baptist were the dual messiahs as per the expectations of the Qumran sect. He also accepts the second-century and later tradition that Jesus' father's name was Pantera. I always thought that ben Pantera was a corruption of the Greek "son of the parthenos (virgin)."

Thursday, April 06, 2006

THE COPTIC GOSPEL OF JUDAS was published today (it's still today in California) by the National Geographic Society. You can download a translation of excerpts in PDF format here. And here's the website on The Lost Gospel, which has some images. There's good media coverage in:
"In Ancient Document, Judas, Minus the Betrayal" (New York Times)
"Judas: this is what really happened" (The Observer)
The title of the second is lame; the Gospel of Judas doesn't tell "what really happened." But otherwise the article is pretty good.
Jesus may have walked on ice, not water: study

By Jim Loney
Tuesday, April 4, 2006; 6:22 PM

MIAMI (Reuters) - The New Testament says that Jesus walked on water, but a Florida university professor believes there could be a less miraculous explanation -- he walked on a floating piece of ice.

Professor Doron Nof also theorized in the early 1990s that Moses's parting of the Red Sea had solid science behind it.

Nof, a professor of oceanography at Florida State University, said on Tuesday that his study found an unusual combination of water and atmospheric conditions in what is now northern Israel could have led to ice formation on the Sea of Galilee.

I think this sort of approach is naïve. Miracle stories gather around charismatic intermediaries as a matter of course, even in their own lifetimes. There is no need to look for naturalistic explanations of the stories. I have commented at greater length on this issue here.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Kotel Stability to be Checked Thursday
18:46 Apr 04, '06 / 6 Nisan 5766 (Arutz Sheva)

( On Thursday this week, a crane will be placed in the plaza in front of the Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem's Old City. It will be used in an architectural examination of the stability of the Wall's composite stones. ...
ART IMITATES TALMUD at the Center for Jewish History in New York:
Permanent Exhibit: Luminous Manuscript

Wednesday Apr 5 2006 Sunday Dec 31 2006 - 11 pm to - 3 pm

A permanent artwork commissioned by the Diane H. and Joseph S. Steinberg Charitable Trust. Pittsburgh artist Diane Samuels has created a 22-foot square mosaic tablet, laid out in a design reminiscent of a page of the Talmud. ....
AN ANCIENT EGYPTIAN PILLOW was preserved with Dead Sea wax:
Unusual Ancient Egyptian Pillow Analyzed
By Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News

April 5, 2006 — Most ancient Egyptian pillows were rather uncomfortable-looking headrests carved out of wood, ivory and stone, but scientists have just analyzed a 4,000-year-old Egyptian pillow made out of woven plant fibers that were encased in a wax coating.

The rare artifact, which dates to 2055-1985 B.C., suggests Cleopatra and other well-known ancient Egyptians may have snoozed on relatively fluffy pillows that perhaps biodegraded over time, leaving the hard headrests for modern archaeologists to find.

"If sleeping on fiber pillows and bedding occurred, it has not survived well or at all in the archaeological record of the ancient Near East," said Andy Gize, Judith Seath and Rosalie David, whose research will be published in next month's Journal of Archaeological Science.

Since the wax on the pillow appears to have come from a Dead Sea petroleum residue, the artifact also could indicate that a community of "foreigners" brought knowledge of petroleum processing and pillow making into the Sedment el-Gebel region of the western Nile Valley.


The wax was not scented. However, the coating may have been an attempt to preserve the pillow for the deceased, who was likely an adult female. ...

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

MORE ON THE NEW CAVE with Iron Age remains which has been found in connection with the "John the Baptist Cave" at the Suba Cave site. A press release by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte includes the following:
In the most recent excavations in March, 2006, a University of North Carolina at Charlotte student team, supervised by Gibson and Tabor, uncovered an outside corridor leading to what appears to be another cave. The corridor was filled with deposits that date to the Iron Age (within 100 years of the site's original construction) and leads directly into the steep hillside.

"Just last summer we found new pools outside up above the cave and a corridor, which our most recent dig shows is leading into what we now think is another chamber," said Tabor. "We're almost afraid to continue because it now looks like this is some huge complex, but now that we are into it, we can't stop."

"We're following the corridor on back and taken it up to a wall of fill – it is leading to something – maybe another cave. The corridor narrows as it approaches the cliff face and up above you can see bedrock, maybe a roof, but in front you can just see fill. It could just be a little enclave, but it just keeps going… it's going somewhere."
Read it all for more details.

(Via the Agade list.)
THE COPTIC GOSPEL OF JUDAS DOCUMENTARY premiers on 9 April on the National Geographic Channel. I'll be in transit that day, and don't subscribe to that channel anyway, but if anyone in St. Andrews does, I'd be grateful if I could borrow the video.

Monday, April 03, 2006

ARAMAIC WATCH: Well, sort of. Aramaic has now securely replaced Greek in popular culture as the language symbolic of utter obscurity. Here's an example, with reference to the script of the new Simpsons movie:
“We’ve taken script security to the point of lunacy, though it helped that we wrote it in Aramaic,” jokes Mike Scully ...
It's all Aramaic to me.
ARAMAIC WATCH - Syriac-speaking Christians in Turkey:
FEATURE - Ancient Christian sect prays for Turkey to join EU

Mon Apr 3, 2006 7:03 AM IST8

By Gareth Jones

MARDIN, Turkey (Reuters) - Like most Turkish men, Gabriel Oktay Cilli likes to drink tea with his mates and go to soccer matches.

However, one detail marks him out sharply in this overwhelmingly Muslim country: every Sunday he goes to church.

On the wall of his jewellery shop, next to the more familiar portrait of modern Turkey's founder Kemal Ataturk whose image decorates stores, restaurants and offices throughout the country, hangs a picture of Jesus Christ and his disciples.

Cilli belongs to one of Turkey's most ancient communities, the Syriac Christians, who still speak a form of Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus. In Turkey they number barely 20,000, down from 250,000 when Ataturk founded the republic in 1923.

The 20th century was hard on the Syriacs, bringing religious persecution and economic hardship, but Cilli is confident about his future in a democratic Turkey that aims to join the European Union. He has no plans to follow relatives into exile.


Sunday, April 02, 2006

THE "JOHN THE BAPTIST CAVE" is back in the news in a brief UPI piece, perhaps because of this tidbit:
The most recent excavations point to the possible existence of a second, still unexcavated cave at the site, suggesting that the location may have been a major complex of uncertain function during the Iron Age.
I don't remember hearing this before.
ANOTHER ARTICLE on the Cleveland exhibit and the Temple Scroll:
Early Christianity exhibit features pieces from Dead Sea scroll
Associated Press

BEACHWOOD, Ohio - Small, oddly shaped fragments of an ancient Hebraic scroll appear almost like the flames atop candles as they lay enclosed in a glass protective case with lighting that makes the handwritten text stand out.

The pieces are from the Temple Scroll, one of eight Dead Sea scrolls stored at the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. It's a commentary about ritual and rules at the second Temple, a place where many Jews from about 2,000 years ago would have visited and worshipped. It was a place key to the experiences of Jesus.

The newly restored scroll segments are on display for the first time. They have been added to the Israel Museum's early Christianity exhibit, which has only been on display previously in Jerusalem to mark the new millennium in 2000. The traveling exhibit, which is making its first stop in suburban Cleveland and will travel to Atlanta, seeks to document the historical linkage of early Christianity to the Jewish culture of Israel.

The "Cradle of Christianity: Treasures from the Holy Land" opened Saturday and continues until Oct. 22. It's the first major visiting exhibit for the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, which opened about six months ago.