Saturday, May 27, 2006

STILL MARKING EXAMS. Almost there. Meanwhile, here are a couple more Da Vinci Code reviews:

Lesa Bellevie on the Magdelene Review blog:
"Da Vinci, slowed..."
She says to wait for the DVD. If you want to bother to see it at all, that's probably good advice.

A funny one by Anthony Lane, posted on Dr. Cathey's blog:
"Heaven Can Wait"

Friday, May 26, 2006

ANOTHER ACADEMIC BOYCOTT OF ISRAEL is being proposed in Britain. The lecturers' union known as NATFHE (National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education) is considering a motion to boycott Israeli academic institutions and individual academics in its annual conference, which starts tomorrow. Here's the full text of the motion from the NATFHE website:

Conference notes continuing Israeli apartheid policies, including construction of the exclusion wall, and discriminatory educational practices. It recalls its motion of solidarity last year for the AUT resolution to exercise moral and professional responsibility.

Conference instructs the NEC to facilitate meetings in each university and college, and to circulate information to Branches, offering to fund the speakers' travel costs.

Conference invites members to consider their own responsibility for ensuring equity and non-discrimination in contacts with Israeli educational institutions or individuals, and to consider the appropriateness of a boycott of those that do not publicly dissociate themselves from such policies.

South East Region
Further background here and here.

I don't have a lot of time to comment on this, so I'll just say that it's amazing to find this happening only a year after the similar AUT motion was passed and then, in an embarrassing climbdown, unpassed. The international reputation of the AUT suffered greatly and won't recover for a long time to come. The only conclusion I can come to is that lecturers' unions in the U.K. are led by people with hard-leftist, anti-Israel agendas that are more important to them than any prospect of doing any good for actual British lecturers. Especially at this very sensitive time of the controversial AUT [update: NATFHE too] work slowdown, this is hardly the sort of international publicity that the academic unions need.

If any NATFHE members who are going to the conference are reading this, I strongly urge you to vote against this motion. Besides the fact that passing it would be grossly unfair and disproportionate (see my AUT-motion post above), it also would only create an international blowback that would seriously damage NATFHE's reputation and futher damage the AUT. NATFHE would be faced either with having to try to undo the damage later on by revoking the motion, as the AUT did, or else it would be faced with mass defections.

Don't go there.

UPDATE (27 May): Scholars for Peace in the Middle East has an online petition opposing the NATFHE motion. At the moment they have about 4700 signatures.

UPDATE (29 May): They passed it. Obviously this is not about looking after the interests of British academics. It's about about scoring imagined political points on another subject even at their expense.

UPDATE (1 June): More here. A proposed boycott boycott and some comments on the shady timing of the boycott motion.

UPDATE: (11 June): As I predicted, the motion has been revoked, but only after adding much further damage to the reputation of the union.
1. New, permanent URL for the Project website:

2. The Apocryphon of Ezekiel material has been updated.

3. The Aristobulus fragments have now been published.
(Via Torrey Seland's Philo of Alexandria blog.)
A NEW BOOK ON RASHI is reviewed in Haaretz
'I will sing for Rashi'
By Rafael Benjamin Posen

"Rashi" by Avraham Grossman, The Zalman Shazar Center for Jewish History, 311 pages, NIS 76


The Zalman Shazar Center for Jewish History came up with a worthy idea: publishing a 15-volume series of works by masters of Jewish thought. At the gathering held to celebrate the appearance of the first three volumes (the one discussed here, as well as Shmuel Feiner's book on Moses Mendelssohn and Joseph Dan's on Rabbi Yehuda Hachasid), series editor Prof. Avi Ravitzky described the deliberations of the editorial team over the choice of writers. To demonstrate the dilemma, he listed a number of illustrious figures who were included after many arguments, and others who were reluctantly left out despite their considerable renown.

Greatest figures

However, Rashi's uniqueness was above dispute; the claim made by the book's author, Prof. Avraham Grossman, that "in a historical perspective, Rashi is one of the greatest figures the Jewish nation has produced over the generations," is a matter of consensus. One need only mention his exegetical writing on the Torah: Rashi's commentary, the first Hebrew book to appear in print, has itself been the subject of hundreds of interpretive works, a labor that continues to this day.


And still, Rashi - who lived a century before Maimonides (1040-1105) and owed his fame mainly to his two tremendous interpretive projects, his commentary on the Bible and on the Babylonian Talmud - has additional qualities to recommend him: his delightful and captivating personality, his exquisite style, his simplicity and humility. In my opinion, the achievement of the present monograph lies in its handling of this secondary aspect - Rashi's personality - of which the author has managed to provide a masterful portrait.

Israel Museum gets biggest overhaul in its 40-year history
Foreign donors give the lion’s share of the $50m needed for renovation and remodelling

By Lauren Gelfond Feldinger | Posted 25 May 2006

JERUSALEM. The 41-year-old Israel Museum, an encyclopedic national museum holding around 500,000 works from prehistory to contemporary art, will undergo a $50m redesign and expansion starting in mid-2007, officials announced last month.

The museum buildings, which sit on a 20 acre site, have grown from 5,000 to 50,000 sq. m since the museum opened in 1965. Plans are being drawn up to reorganise, expand and update the various museum buildings and create new buildings to improve entry, services and circulation for the visitors, which vary between 500,000 and one million a year.

The article has a nice photo of the new entry pavilion.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

THAT MODEL OF SECOND TEMPLE JERUSALEM has been moved to the Israel Museum and opens to the public on 12 June.
Second Temple Model moves to Israel Museum
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (Jerusalem Post)

On a crest of Jerusalem's Hill of Tranquility
overlooking the Valley of the Cross, the Knesset, the Supreme Court, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the National Library, a model of the Second Temple has been relocated adjacent to the Shrine of the Book on the campus of the Israel Museum, in a spot where history and archeology intersect.

The Second Temple Model, which was located for the
last four decades since its construction in the mid 1960's on the grounds of Jerusalem's Holyland Hotel, was moved to the Israel Museum this winter due to the construction of a new residential complex on the slopes of the city's Holyland hill.


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

SOME EGYPTIAN BLOGGERS in detention have been released, but Alaa is not among them. The Sandmonkey has details. At least there's some progress.
James D. Tabor, The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity
Kindly sent to me by the author.

UPDATE: Follow the link above and scroll down for Tabor's review of the The Da Vinci Code movie. He also notes its tendency to correct errors in the book and he gives another good example that I'd forgotten. He liked it better as a movie than I did.
THE INK AND BLOOD EXHIBITION is moving to Daytona Beach, Florida, where they hope to pick up some business from the Da Vinci Code movie.
Ancient mysteries of 'Ink & Blood'
An exhibition probes Bible history and 'The Da Vinci Code.'

Ken Ma | [Orlando] Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted May 23, 2006

DAYTONA BEACH -- William Noah didn't set out to debunk the The Da Vinci Code.

The 45-year-old pulmonary physician from Tennessee wanted to put together an exhibition that would tell the story behind the story of the Bible -- how its history can be used to teach the history of much of Western civilization.

Along the way, though, there was no escaping Dan Brown's best-selling book, which hit store shelves the same year Noah's exhibition first opened in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Plagued by questions about the novel that claims Jesus and Mary Magdalene were man and wife, the Rollins College graduate added a section to his traveling exhibition -- which opens Friday in Daytona Beach -- to set the historical record straight.

"It's just a fiction story like Gone With the Wind," Noah said of the book, which has been turned into a box-office smash.

Officials with Daytona Beach's Museum of Arts and Sciences hope Noah's "Ink & Blood: Dead Sea Scrolls to the English Bible" can boost museum attendance by drawing on the interest in the movie, which made $77 million in the U.S. during its debut this weekend.

If you're thinking of going, remember that their Dead Sea Scrolls look like burnt cornflakes and that the Marzeah Papyrus may be a forgery.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

CARNIVALESQUE XV has been published by Brandon Watson on Siris. It is an Ancient/Medieval edition and a good number of bibliobloggers are cited.
A JOINT CONFERENCE ON HEBREW AND ARAMAIC by "the five Hebrew Language Departments in Israel (Haifa, Tel Aviv, Bar Ilan, Ben-Gurion and the Hebrew University) and the Academy for the Hebrew Language is about to take place on June 12th." Shai Heijmans gives the program at the Hebrew and Aramaic Philology blog.
FORGOTTEN FRAGMENTS FROM THE CAIRO GENIZA have been rediscovered in Geneva. Manuscript Boy has the story over at Hagahot.
DA VINCI CODE REVIEW (THE MOVIE): I saw The Da Vinci Code last night. My expectations were low, but it was better than I'd anticipated. I didn't think it dragged and it was pretty entertaining throughout. The acting of Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou was wooden, although Ian McKellan's hamming it up helped to keep the pace moving. Most people will see the film already knowing who the Teacher is, so that element of surprise is lost.

My comments below contain a few minor spoilers, so if you haven't seen the movie and you care, stop here. I have reviewed the book here.

I thought it was interesting that the movie not only corrected some errors by omission (e.g., that the Dead Sea Scrolls were Christian documents), it also seemed to go out of its way to correct a few (by no means all!!) of the historical errors in the book. Langdon challenges Teabing's reference to the Priory of Sion and says that it's been discredited. (Teabing, of course, says ha ha that's what they want you to think.) And when Teabing spouts the nonsense about the idea of a divine Jesus only arising in Constantine's time, Langdon vigorously and correctly asserts that it had been around for a long time before that, and Teabing does not disagree [but see update, 3 June, below]. All in all, that awful bogus infodump in the middle of the book is made more bearable in the movie, mainly because it's shorter.

Also, the movie is very careful to make clear that neither the Vatican nor Opus Dei are part of the evil plot. The baddies are part of a secret faction within Opus Dei (I believe Langdon once refers to them as "fascist Opus Dei," although I'm not sure I heard this clearly.) Indeed, Captain Bezu Fache is made a member of the real Opus Dei and he pursues and captures the Teacher in righteous wrath once he figures out what's really going on.

So it's an okay movie that tries to undo a little of the damage of the book, although it probably does that much damage and more by spreading the rest of Brown's nonsense even more widely so that more gullible people will believe it. But the up side is that millions of people are now enthusiastically debating historical and theological issues that they were not even aware of a few years ago. It reminds me of what the fourth-century visitor to Constantinople wrote:
'This city,' says he, 'is full of mechanics and slaves, who are all of them profound theologians, and preach in the shops and in the streets. If you desire a man to change a piece of silver, he informs you wherein the Son differs from the Father; if you ask the price of a loaf, you are told, by way of reply, that the Son is inferior to the Father; and if you inquire whether the bath is ready, the answer is, that the Son was made out of nothing.'" (Gibbon)
Those of us who specialize in areas Dan Brown has made popular should find opportunities for some teachable moments and we should take advantage of them.

Meanwhile, if I want to watch a historical-nonsense thriller again, I'll be getting out Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Mummy, not this one.

UPDATE (1 June): Over the weekend AKMA e-mailed:
Wasn't the "visitor to Constantinople" to whom Gibbon adverted Gregory of Nyssa? My notes suggest that the quoted passage comes from "On the Deity of the Son and of the Spirit."
Could be. Anyone have the reference?

UPDATE: Robert S. Schwartz e-mails that Gibbon's footnote (which is not at the site I linked to, but can be found here) indicates that he himself did not have the reference:
Footnote 25: See Jortin's Remarks on Ecclesiastical History, vol. iv. p. 71. The thirty-third Oration of Gregory Nazianzen affords indeed some similar ideas, even some still more ridiculous; but I have not yet found the words of this remarkable passage, which I allege on the faith of a correct and liberal scholar.
Oh well, it's a good story. Does anyone have Gregory's quote handy?

UPDATE (3 June): Teabing does not dispute Langdon's correction that the idea of Jesus' divinity had been around for a long time, but he does reply with this howler: "Facts, for many Christians: Jesus was mortal one day and divine the next." Nonsense. The idea of Jesus as a divine being goes back to the first-generation Jesus movement and it's possible it even goes back to Jesus himself. Such ideas about people like Enoch and Melchizedek were circulating in the Judaism of Jesus' time. People in the time of Constantine who considered themselves to be "Christians" all believed in the divinity of Jesus, although they disagreed widely and violently about what exactly this meant. (I follow the transcript of Langdon and Teabing's conversation posted on Mark D. Roberts's blog. Scroll to the bottom of the page.)

Monday, May 22, 2006

BILL GATES has expressed in interest in learning the methods of Gemara (the Talmudic commentary on the Mishnah) and investing in a relevant Yeshiva computer program, according to Arutz Sheva.
"GNOSTIC GOSPELS one key to Da Vinci Code origins." The Houston Chronicle interviews April DeConick and Harold Attridge about the Gnostic Gospels.
'Da Vinci Code' breathes new life into old theories

By Douglas Belkin, [Boston] Globe Staff | May 21, 2006

SALEM, N.H. -- Dennis Stone looks at the 9-foot-long, 4 1/2-ton slab of granite on a hilltop here in southern New Hampshire, and sees a 4,000-year-old sacrificial altar built by the ancient Phoenicians to honor their gods. He sees an ancient locus of magic and mystery, birth and death.

Ken Feder, a professor of anthropology at Central Connecticut State University who has studied the 20-acre site, looks at the slab and sees a place to make soap.

''It's a lye stone," Feder said. ''About 300 years old."

After the bestseller ''The Da Vinci Code," Stone's version of history is finding a receptive audience. About 75 percent of people who come to ''America's Stonehenge" walk away believing that the rocks and caves are an ancient religious site.

''People were more skeptical in the '70s," Stone said. ''They're more open-minded now."

There's a certain Orwellian element to the language in this story. Silly, unfounded notions about history are "theories." Gullible is "open minded." These "theories" are worth covering because academics "say the ideas are fanciful -- but impossible to disprove." (Someone make this reporter write an essay on the concept of "burden of proof.") They are also "convincing to many" (of the gullible people mentioned above.)

I'm a little under the weather today and am at home, marking final exams (or trying to). So I'm probably grumpier than usual. But the tone of the article is irritating. It's reasonable to cover such things, but it isn't reasonable to try to set up an equivalence between academics who reject the ideas and some other "open-minded" "many" who find them "convincing" because they are "impossible to disprove." Sigh.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

THE LOST GOSPEL: The Quest for the Gospel of Judas Iscariot, by Herbert Krosney, is reviewed by William Murchison in the Washington Times. Excerpt:
Then to the point. Says Jesus to Judas: "[Y]ou will exceed all of [the disciples]. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me." Mr. Krosney explains: "Jesus is asking Judas to hand him over and sacrifice him. The reasons become clearer. Jesus' life on Earth is only in the guise of a man. The man provides clothes for the spirit within. Jesus is an eternal figure; he is part of the higher God . . ."
Believe it if you like. Just don't confuse it with Christianity, notwithstanding Mr. Krosney's praise of this "fresh and authentic witness [to] an early era" of the faith. "Fresh" and "authentic" aren't the words that come most readily to mind. Wild and woolly or febrile and fraudulent are among the likelier possibilities for characterizing the contents of the Judas gospel.
There's also a word for this whole publishing project: Cynical or credulous, take your pick.
I trust the book makes clear that the "early era" is the second century and not the first.
THE CRADLE OF CHRISTIANITY EXHIBITION in Cleveland gets a good review from Tom L. Freudenheim in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles:
Show Decodes Early Years of 2 Religions

by Tom L. Freudenheim

Whether it's good luck or good planning, the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in the Cleveland area has hit the exhibition jackpot with its current show, "Cradle of Christianity," which runs through Oct. 22. Because while the film version of "The Da Vinci Code" is generating buzz over a purported tale of Jesus, here's an exhibition with tantalizing real objects that provide an actual glimpse from the years of early Christianity.

The exhibit's revelations are more subtle than, say, an uncovering of a liaison between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, but there is evidence of fascinating links between the older and newer religions: Judaism and Christianity.

That is especially evident in items used in liturgical contexts - two Byzantine oil lamps - one with a menorah and the other with a cross. The fact that both lamps are otherwise virtually identical is a useful reminder that, even in our own time, it's often the decorative motifs rather than the object's basic form that identifies the group using it - as, for example, in the case of drinking vessels or candlesticks.