Saturday, April 15, 2006

ONLY 14% OF AMERICANS know that the Samaritans are still around. This according to a CBS poll.

Friday, April 14, 2006

MICHAEL BAIGENT'S NEW BOOK is reviewed by New Testament Professor Richard Ascough in the Ottawa Citizen:
A matter of faith: While the Gospel of Judas was meticulously verified, we'll just have to trust Michael Baigent about The Jesus Papers

Richard S. Ascough, Citizen Special
Published: Friday, April 14, 2006

As the Christian church worldwide prepares to celebrate its most sacred of liturgical dates, the figure of Jesus looms wide in the popular, secular press.

From cover stories in major news magazines to lengthy newspaper articles to television spots, Jesus has grabbed the attention of faithful, agnostic and atheist alike. At the centre of this year's fascination with the person and work of Jesus is a book called The Jesus Papers written by Michael Baigent, who has made headlines for his failed attempt to sue Random House, the publisher of The Da Vinci Code by author Dan Brown.

Held up against recent events, Mr. Baigent's evidence for The Jesus Papers sounds suspiciously more like the claims first made for the James ossuary than those made for the Gospel of Judas.

I think that's generous. We actually had the ossuary to study, unlike Baigent's Aramaic manuscripts.
The most sensationalistic detail of the book, however, is the existence of the "Jesus papers" themselves. Mr. Baigent claims to have seen two Aramaic documents from the first century, written by Jesus to the Jewish court, the Sanhedrin, denying his divinity outright and stating that he merely claimed to be filled with the spirit of God.

Since Mr. Baigent cannot read Aramaic the owner of the documents summarized their contents for him. Alas, Mr. Baigent tells us, the owner of these documents must remain anonymous.

In sum, we are asked to trust Mr. Baigent's faith in an unnamed businessman who told him that his documents contained one of the most explosive claims in history. The veracity of Mr. Baigent's arguments boils down to how much faith we will put in Mr. Baigent.
All this is true, but in addition there are unlikely elements in Baigent's story which make me suspicious of it. I'm not going to take it seriously unless he produces these Aramaic documents and makes them available for scholars to study. If they do exist at all, it is astronomically unlikely that are really autograph documents by Jesus.

Trust, but verify.
MORE DETAILS ON THE DISCOVERY OF THE GOSPEL OF JUDAS from the New York Times. The article also discusses the problem of dealing in looted antiquities.
How the Gospel of Judas Emerged

Published: April 13, 2006

When the National Geographic Society announced to great fanfare last week that it had gained access to a 1,700-year-old document known as the Gospel of Judas, it described how a deteriorating manuscript, unearthed in Egypt three decades ago, had made its way through the shady alleys of the antiquities market to a safe-deposit box on Long Island and eventually to a Swiss art dealer who "rescued" it from obscurity.

But there is even more to the story.


Details of how the manuscript was found are clouded. According to National Geographic, it was found by farmers in an Egyptian cave in the 1970's, sold to a dealer and passed through various hands in Europe and the United States. Legal issues in its transit are equally vague.

No one questions the authenticity of the Judas gospel, which depicts Judas Iscariot not as a betrayer of Jesus but as his favored disciple.

But the emerging details are raising concerns among some archaeologists and other scholars at a time of growing scrutiny of the dealers who sell antiquities and of the museums and collectors who buy them. The information also calls into question the completeness of National Geographic's depiction of some individuals like Ms. Tchacos Nussberger and its disclosure of all the financial relationships involved.


But scholars who have campaigned against the trade in artifacts of questionable provenance said they were troubled by the whole episode.

"We are dealing with a looted object," said Jane C. Waldbaum, president of the Archaeological Institute of America, a professional society. "The artifact was poorly handled for years because the people holding it were more concerned with making money than protecting it."

Read it all for the details. I don't know what the solution is to the problem of antiquities looting, but I do know that whatever it is, it has to involve keeping artifacts like the Gospel of Judas and the Dead Sea Scrolls from being lost. On the one hand, we don't want to encourage looters to destroy sites and tear artifacts from their contexts, and a great deal of that is happening all over the world. On the other hand, it would be tragically counterproductive if antiquities laws caused people like that farmer to decide that it's too much hassle to deal with that manuscript they found and to just use it for kindling.

UPDATE: David Meadows has lots more over at Rogue Classicism. The story of the history of the manuscript from the 1980s on just keeps getting weirder.
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS weighs in on the side of The Gospel of Judas. Hitchens's rants are always entertaining (such as when he fisks the Ten Commandments).

This Slate article also follows the good practice of correcting an error and noting the correction on the page of the article itself (even though the correction also has a spelling error in it).

UPDATE: Christianity Today is less positive. And the Pope reaffirms the traditional account in his Holy Thursday homily.

Lots of interesting discussions for this Good Friday.
THE SEPARATION WALL is cutting off a pilgrimage route between Bethany and the Old City of Jerusalem:
30ft high Jerusalem wall bars pilgrims' way
By Tim Butcher (The Telegraph)
(Filed: 14/04/2006)

Pilgrims wishing to follow in the footsteps of Jesus to Jerusalem from the place where he raised Lazarus from the dead will soon need their own miracle, as the ancient route is about to be severed by the Jerusalem wall.

The cutting of the two-mile path from Bethany over the Mount of Olives and down past the Garden of Gethsemane into the Old City will end a tradition begun more than 1,600 years ago by the earliest Christian pilgrims.


Thursday, April 13, 2006

HERSHEL SHANKS editorializes in The Jewish Week against the arrest of Hanan Eshel:
Arrests Won't Stop Looting Of Antiquities
Hershel Shanks

It�s not as bad as Afghanistan prosecuting a man and threatening him with the death penalty for converting to Christianity, but it smacks of the same unreality: Israel is threatening to prosecute a distinguished archaeologist for purchasing some Dead Sea Scroll fragments from Bedouins who apparently found them in a Judean desert cave near Ein Gedi. The charge: buying looted antiquities. The archaeologist says he was rescuing them.

THE PASSOVER PAPYRUS -- This Aramaic papyrus is, I believe, the earliest extrabiblical text that mentions the Jewish Passover. It was recovered from the Jewish garrison on the island of Yeb (Elephantine) in Egypt and dates to 419 BCE.
FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF MISLEADING HEADLINES - Fox 12, Boise Idaho, comes up with a winner:
Translated Ancient Documents Refute the Bible
The "ancient documents" are, of course, the Gospel of Judas and the article proceeds to say exactly the opposite of the headline. I'm not sure whether this is just an ignorant use of the word "refute" to mean "disagree with" (not "disprove"), as is common these days, or a deliberate sensationalizing distortion to attract readers. Either way, boo to Fox 12.
RABBI PROFESSOR MICHAEL COOK writes in The Forward about the Gospel of Judas, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, and why Jews should be more familiar with the New Testament:
Time To Teach Jews Gospel Dynamics
By Michael Cook
April 14, 2006

The story of Judas Iscariot has been, if nothing else, damaging to Jesus' image. Since their time Judas's presence among Jesus' inner circle has been disconcerting, as it suggests not only Jesus' lack of insight into Judas' character but also his inability to reform Judas once he became a follower. Indeed, around 200 C.E. the pagan Celsus ridiculed the presumably all-knowing Lord of Christianity for selecting among his close followers one who became a traitor.

One purpose of the recently discovered Gospel of Judas — which intimates that Judas, contrary to commonly held belief, was Jesus' best friend — was to repair Jesus' reputation. It tries to rescue his image by showing that he made no mistake in selecting Judas after all.

Most Jews likely view this revelation as no more than a matter for Christian scholars, or at best as a news item of passing interest. That is a shame, because the questions raised by the Gospel of Judas are in many ways analogous to questions our community has avoided for centuries, much to our own detriment.


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

MORTON SMITH would probably approve.
"Normally when you see an exhibit opening, you see a big push in the beginning and then there's somewhat of a lull and then another big push at the end," said Joanie Philips, the museum's director of major projects. "We haven't really seen that. We�ve seen a huge push at the beginning, and our numbers just keep building."

The exhibit has seen an estimated 106,000 visitors since it opened Feb. 17. Many of them are coming from outside the Carolinas.
HAPPY PASSOVER (begins tonight at sundown) to my Jewish readers.
BOB KRAFT is teaching a course on "Parabiblical Literature" in Early Judaism and Early Christianity at the University of Pennsylvania this semester.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


This story is reminiscent of the decision of the U.S. Government to release the Arabic documents from Saddam's Iraq online so that anyone who knows Arabic can sort through them and perhaps find interesting things. Now Cambridge University and the AHRC are doing the same thing with many thousands of unpublished fragments in Hebrew, Arabic, etc., from the Cairo Geniza.
Piecing together the Medieval Middle East

General Science : April 10, 2006

An important collection of ancient Jewish and Arabic documents, equal in significance to the Dead Sea Scrolls, and discovered as fragments in an old storeroom, has received a major grant for its upkeep. The Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection, housed at Cambridge University Library, has been awarded a £475,000 grant from the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council. This will pay for the description, cataloguing and digitization of a substantial part of the total 140,000 fragments, vital in making this unique collection accessible to scholars and lay people worldwide.

When I heard about the release of the Iraqi documents I wondered whether anyone was planning to do something similar with the Cairo Geniza texts and I was even planning to write a blog post suggesting the idea. This is being done on a small scale alread on the Giluy Milta B'alma blog, but what is needed is the release of all or most of the documents that no one is currently working on. Now it's being done, and I look forward to seeing the texts, many of which are of extraordinary importance for the study of late antique Judaism. I hope the online publication leads to many new doctoral dissertations, articles, and monographs.

While we're at it, does anyone know whether anything similar is planned for the Oxyrhynchus Papyri? I know lots of the material is already online, but my impression is that these are published rather than unpublished texts. Is that correct? Are there plans to put more online?

UPDATE: As I look more closely at the article, it doesn't say explicitly that the digitized material is going online, although that seems to be implied at the end of the quoted paragraph. Does anyone know for sure?

UPDATE: Roberto Labanti points me to the original press release on the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit website, which answers my question and has more details:
At the end of three years, it should be possible to search the online database of the new material on our web-site, to read the catalogue-entry and to view complete and detailed images of the fragments described in the course of the project.

This is an ambitious aim - requiring the researchers to describe an estimated 16,000 fragments and the Library's Imaging Department to produce an estimated 32,000 digital images - but one confidently within the Unit's reach, given the professionalism and experience of its staff and the introduction of new technology to the Imaging Department.
By the way, a number of you have written to say that the "blogger at paleojudaica" e-mail address is not working. As soon as I get a chance, I'll try to track down the problem. Meanwhile, you can reach me at my University address: "jrd4 at st-andrews dot ac dot uk".

Monday, April 10, 2006

Rabbi: Jews Should Know New Testament

The Associated Press
Saturday, April 8, 2006; 1:01 PM

-- Of all the texts considered required reading in a thorough Jewish education, one major work with Jewish roots is usually missing from everyone's list: the New Testament.

Most Jews shun Christian Scripture. As a result, they can't answer Christians who ask why Jews don't accept Jesus as the Messiah.

Reform Rabbi Michael J. Cook says this "self-imposed ignorance" is dangerous.

At a time when many Christians are embracing the Jewish origins of their faith, holding Passover seders before Easter, Cook says he has taken on the "Herculean task" of convincing Jews they must learn how the Gospels molded Christian attitudes toward Judaism.

I think he's right, although this point is legitimate too:
Burt Visostsky, a longtime professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary, the flagship institution for Conservative Judaism, said many rabbinical students enroll at the seminary without strong backgrounds in their own religion _ let alone Christianity and other faiths.

"In an ideal world, of course we'd train our students to know something about Christianity and also Islam," said Visostsky, who teaches Midrash and interreligious studies. "But where is it on the triage list? I'm afraid not very high."
Despite that, I hope that Professor Cook has some success in getting Jewish seminaries interested in the New Testament. By the same token, Christian seminarians would do well to learn something about rabbinic texts during their training, and this would alleviate many serious misunderstandings of Judaism that arise when people think they can understand it just by reading the New Testament.

My recent work has focused on how scholars should and shouldn't use the Old Testament pseudepigrapha as Jewish sources. (See my book, above right, and a popular article. In the book I also discuss the same issue for Josephus, Philo, and the Old Testament Apocrypha.) One of these days I mean to write another article on how scholars of early Christianity should approach Jewish sources, including the rabbinic literature, but time has not permitted it so far. Meanwhile, a few thoughts here and here.
JUDAS SPIKE: My site stats were running at triple the normal levels on Friday and have been at about double since then. Blog links and search engine queries about the Gospel of Judas seem to be the cause. Thanks for the links and welcome to all those new readers. Please have a look around and come visit again.

This isn't the first time I've noticed that a little heresy does wonders for public interest.

UPDATE: By the way, PaleoJudaica was reporting on the Gospel of Judas way back in July of 2004, long before the mainstream media had heard of it.
IN THE MAIL -- my review copy of:
Annette Yoshiko Reed, Fallen Angels and the History of Judaism and Christianity: The Reception of Enochic Literature (CUP, 2005)
The lab assistant looked at the needle of the energy-dispersive X-ray spectrometer and whistled. “My God, it’s authentic. This manuscript is 1,600 years old. ...

A sudden chill seemed to grip the room. Carbon dating, bank vaults, Switzerland, Gnostic symbolism — it all seemed familiar. And dangerous. “We should be careful. The new Pope may like this. But Opus Dei won’t. Does this link Judas with Mary Magdalene? You know, this is gonna be bigger than the Apocrypha, bigger than the Dead Sea Scrolls, bigger than . . . Da Vinci! My God! Think — film rights. Where’s Tom Hanks?”
Let's hope it doesn't come to that.
THE GOSPEL OF JUDAS DOCUMENTARY was live-blogged by Mark Goodacre. Mark also has a good roundup of Gospel of Judas blog posts and media articles.
ANOTHER GOSPEL OF JUDAS, this one published in The Spoof. Excerpts:
And Judas spoke and said

Lord when will you show us the Kingdom?

And Jesus spoke and said.

If I showed you, you would not believe, and if you believed I would not show you.

And Judas and Peter wondered in their hearts what manner of syntax this might be.


Jesus said,

It is late in the day. When the dawn kills the moon the kingdom will come as a thief in the night to destroy the fig tree.

Judas said:

Now that really makes no sense at all.

And Peter, saddened, said.

It does to me. I love figs. I will miss the trees.

Jesus said:

I am now going to my father's house where you can not come. Not today, anyway. They will come seeking me like a dog among thieves and I really don't want to be around for that. The spirit is willing but few are chosen.

Judas said,

The boys and I will sort your sayings out later. They need a lot of work.

Funny in places, if you're not too easily offended.
The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Announces $50-Million Capital Project to Enhance Visitor Experience and Transform Collection and Exhibition Spaces
מיקום: Jerusalem
תאריך פירסום: 09/04/2006

Project Creates New Entry, Route of Passage, and Expanded Galleries

Collective Funding Initiative Sets Precedent in Israel as Goal is Reached

Jerusalem, March 31, 2006 – The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, announced today a $50-million capital program to transform and unify the facilities on its landmark campus. This initiative is a joint project of American designer James Carpenter, a 2004 MacArthur Fellow, of the firm James Carpenter Design Associates, and the Israeli firm Efrat-Kowalsky Architects, specialists in Israel’s unique modernist architectural history.
This multi-year program envisions new entry facilities, an enclosed route of passage from the front of the campus to a relocated main entrance hall with access to all of the Museum’s curatorial collection wings, reorganized and expanded collection galleries, and new centralized temporary exhibition space. All together the program consists of 80,000 square feet of new construction and 140,000 square feet of renewed gallery space within the Museum’s 500,000-square-foot complex, and includes 30,000 square feet of new and newly allocated temporary exhibition and collection galleries.


The project is conceived to enhance the visitor’s experience of the Museum’s outstanding collections in the fine arts, archaeology, Judaica, and Jewish ethnography, and of its pioneering public programs. ...