Saturday, September 16, 2006

SBL FORUM: My coverage of the SBL Forum has been spotty, mostly just due to lack of time. But there are invariably worthwhile articles in its monthly updates and you should check it regularly. Here are a couple of interesting pieces:

Biblical Research Findings for the Public
by John Dart

John Dart is a journalist who has been producing excellent coverage of biblical scholarship for many years.

A Recently Discovered Irish Book of Psalms in its Setting
by Martin McNamara

Martin McNamara is a top expert in Irish biblical traditions and this is an excellent piece on the Bog Psalter. Incidentally, we have a number of pseudepigrapha in Old Irish in the More Old Testament Project. McNamara has provided us with some info and may be futher involved.

Also, Leonard Greenspoon is asking about the Wikipedia experiences of SBL Forum readers.

There's more, so have a look at the site.
THE INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR THE STUDY OF THE OLD TESTAMENT has issued a call for papers for its July 2007 meeting in Slovenia. This will be in tandem with meetings of related societies on Targumic studies, the Septuagiant and cognate studies, Qumran studies, and Masoretic studies.

Eibert Tigchelaar has e-mailed a call for papers from the IOQS, which I reproduce here:
International Organization for Qumran Studies
Sixth Meeting
July 16–18, 2007

Call for Papers

The topic of this 6th IOQS Meeting is:
Qumran Cave 1 Revisited:
Reconsidering the Cave 1 Texts Sixty Years after Their Discovery

Previous meetings of the IOQS have been dedicated to the history of the community (Founding meeting Groningen in 1989), on special groups of texts — texts newly published (Paris 1992), legal texts (Cambridge 1995), sapiential, liturgical and poetical texts (Oslo 1998), apocryphal, pseudepigraphical and parabiblical texts (Basel 2001) — and recently, in the fifth meeting at Groningen in 2004, on the topic of identity forming of the group or groups represented in the Scrolls.

Now, in the sixth meeting of the IOQS, sixty years after the discovery of Cave 1, and after fifteen years of scholarly focus on newly published texts from Cave 4, it seems fitting to revisit the Cave 1 texts. Textually, this goes for the new editing and revisions of editions of texts from Cave 1. Historically and ideologically other issues are to be broached. For example, how should one consider the Cave 1 texts in the light of all the now known materials from the other caves? Or, to what extent do new hypotheses or changing paradigms on the Dead Sea Scrolls and the community/ies that authored them invite us to reevaluate or reinterpret those Cave 1 texts. All contributions, whether from a literary, historical, social sciences, or other kind of approach, are equally welcome.

Following the established tradition of the IOQS meetings, the papers that are directly related to the topic of the meeting will be published in a corresponding volume of the STDJ series, but participants working on other topics in the field of Qumran studies are encouraged as well to present their own particular research.

The sixth meeting of the IOQS will be held from July 16-18, 2007 in conjunction with the XIXth Congress of IOSOT, the International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament, and other specialized congresses (IOTS, IOSCS, IOMS), to be held from 12th to 20th July 2007 in Ljubljana, Slovenia. All information on these congresses, registration, accommodation, etc. can be found now or later on

If you are interested in participating and presenting a paper, please send your proposal (title and/or subject of paper) to Dr. Eibert Tigchelaar,

Please forward this call for papers to any student or scholar you think may be interested.

Leawood moves ahead with Gezer Park

(Kansas City Jewish Chronicle)


Leawood's Gezer Park, named in honor of the suburb's Sister-City relationship with the Gezer Region of Israel, is getting closer to becoming a reality. The park's design should be completed soon, and construction could begin as early as this fall. The park will be located on the east side of Mission Road at 133rd Street and was approved by the city in December 2004.
Scott Lambers, Leawood city administrator, said he hopes construction will be complete by late 2007 or early 2008.


Lambers and Leawood Mayor Peggy Dunn took pictures of the future parkland to show Gezer officials when they visited Israel in September 2005.
In her state of the city address earlier this year, Mayor Dunn said the Leawood delegation was "overwhelmed by the genuine hospitality we received and the strong bonds of friendship that were formed with the mayor, council members and the gracious people in the Gezer Region."
During her speech, Dunn reported that the Gezer Regional Council is giving Leawood an 8-foot sculpture replica of the ancient Gezer calendar tablet to be placed in the park. The tablet contains an agricultural calendar that has been dated to 1,000 B.C.E. and is considered the first harvest record. It will be placed near the park's entryway.

You can see a photo of the original Gezer Calendar here.
THE FROM ABRAHAM TO JESUS EXHIBITION (noted already here) has opened in Atlanta:
Exhibit takes visitors on tour through biblical times
Associated Press

ATLANTA - It blends biblical stories with historic artifacts, taking visitors on a walk through the birth of Judaism and Christianity. But organizers say what makes "From Abraham to Jesus" stand out the most is that it doesn't do it in a preachy way.

The exhibit, which opened a national tour in Atlanta on Friday, guides visitors through biblical stories with more than 300 artifacts, videos, paintings and an audio tour voiced by an archaeologist with a sense of humor.


On display will be a portion of the famed Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as what researchers believe to be a box that held the remains of a son of Simon the Cyrene, who, according to the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, carried the cross for Jesus on his way to Calvary.

The artifacts, on loan from Israel's Hebrew University, join pottery pieces, coins, tools and other relics that date as far back as 5,000 years. Perhaps the most unique piece is a fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the first that's ever come to the U.S., said Kathleen Miller, an assistant editor with the Biblical Archaeological Review. "I wouldn't say it's a coup, it's just the first time you can see it here," she said.

That bit about it being the first Dead Sea Scroll to come to the U.S. is, of course, nonsense, and Kathleen Miller has clearly been misunderstood by the reporter. The exhibition website says "It will be the first visit to this country of the Isaiah Scroll," and doubtless that is what she said. I'm not sure which Isaiah scroll it is; there are a number of them.

Friday, September 15, 2006

BAD NEWS FOR IRAQ'S ANTIQUITIES. On the Iraqcrisis list Chuck Jones notes the following from the Times of London :
Fears for ancient treasures with Shia radical in charge

From Ned Parker in Baghdad

IRAQ’S archaeological riches face a dangerous new threat following the appointment of a minister from a radical Islamic party to run the department responsible for antiquities.

Within months qualified staff have been purged from their posts, archaeologists have been threatened by gunmen and some of Mesopotamia’s ancient sites have been left open to looters. There are fears that Iraq may lose many of its Sumerian and Babylonian treasures for ever.

“We are really worried that Iraq’s history is going to be destroyed and vandalised because of a group of lunatics,” one former member of the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage told The Times. He was referring to followers of the Shia Muslim militia leader Hojatoleslam Moqtadr al-Sadr, whose movement has secured a number of Cabinet posts in government, including the Ministry of Tourism, responsible for antiquities.

Liwa Sumaysim, the new Minister of Tourism, is a dentist whose wife is a member of parliament and a relative of al-Sadr. He has been accused of squeezing out experts and appointing religious fundamentalists to key posts. He denies these allegations.

Donny George sums up the situation and it sounds grim:
The board was founded in 1923, three years before Gertrude Bell, the British colonial officer and Arabic scholar, established the National Museum of Iraq. Since then Iraqi archaeologists have been regarded widely as the foremost scholars in their field throughout the Middle East.

But the expertise is vanishing. Donny George, the former president of the board, resigned this summer and fled to Syria, where he has raised the alarm. Before he left, Dr George said that he had sealed the National Museum with thick concrete walls to protect the exhibits from the anarchy in Baghdad.

“I can no longer work with these people who have come in with the new ministry. They have no knowledge of archaeology, no knowledge of antiquities, nothing,” he said.

“They are only interested in Islamic sites and not Iraq’s earlier heritage,” added Dr George, a Christian. He accused the Sadrists of pressuring the board to cut its ties with museums and cultural institutions around the world, as well as to sever its links with the coalition forces — relations deemed essential to help to protect sites and prevent troops from going to areas where they could destroy artefacts.
Read it all -- and weep. I hope that diplomatic and media attention may put pressure on the Iraqi government and lead to a change. I don't have time to try to organize a petition or a letter writing campaign (our presessional week starts this weekend), but I hope someone on the Iraqcrisis list will take it up.
Looted artefacts returned
By Richard Beeston, Diplomatic Editor (Times of London)

COMMANDER Sue Wilkinson of Scotland Yard returned two stolen artefacts yesterday to Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, and Salah al-Shaikhly, the Iraqi Ambassador to Britain.

The items were part of a haul of looted antiquities that were smuggled out of the country and put up for sale on the international art market.

There's a small photo of the incantation bowl, too small for the script to be readable.

UPDATE: More coverage from the A.P. via the International Herald Tribune:
Artifacts stolen in Iraq are returned to country's ambassador in London
The Associated Press

Published: September 14, 2006
LONDON An ancient manuscript that was stolen from Iraq nearly 30 years ago was returned Thursday to the country's ambassador in London.

The manuscript, written in 1013 by Arab physician Ar-Razi, was one of the oldest books of the AwQaf library in Mosul, northern Iraq. It is worth an estimated 250,000 pounds (€370,758, US$427,130).

It was stolen from the library in 1977, and remained missing until a man attempted to sell it to a London auction house in 2003. The Metropolitan Police's specialist Arts and Antiques Unit was alerted, and an investigation began in August 2003.

Although a man was later arrested, there was not enough evidence to prosecute him. However, the man chose to give up the manuscript and since then, officers have been working with the Iraqi authorities to return it.

The Aramaic bowl is also discussed. And the BBC has an article on both artifacts as well:
Stolen Iraqi artefact returned
Met detectives have returned a valuable Iraqi manuscript worth £250,000 after it was stolen almost 30 years ago.
Here's what it says about the bowl:
A second artefact was also returned - an ancient Aramaic incantation bowl believed to have been illegally looted from an unknown area of Iraq and worth about £1,000 to £2,000.
THE STATE OF LEBANON'S HISTORICAL SITES is surveyed by Nevine El-Aref in Al Ahram:
Ancient Phoenicia under threat
Nevine El-Aref looks at the UNESCO's efforts to rescue Lebanon's historical sites following the Israeli-Hizbullah ceasefire

Like other countries of the Middle East, Lebanon has a heritage almost as old as the earliest evidence of mankind. Its geographic position as a crossroads linking the Mediterranean Basin with the great Asian hinterland has conferred on it a cosmopolitan character and a multicultural legacy.

At different periods of its history Lebanon has come under the domination of foreign rulers, including Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Ottomans and French. Moreover, its mountainous terrain has provided it with a certain protective isolation, enabling it to survive with an identity all of its own.


However, although both Lebanon and Israel have signed the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and the 1972 Paris Convention concerning the Protection of World Cultural Heritage, Tyre and Baalbek were recently subjected to rigorous Israeli bombardments during the recent conflict in Lebanon. Fortunately no damage occurred, but the bombardments which targeted adjacent areas provided a real threat.


Matsuura set up a special meeting of UNESCO's Middle East Task Force to discuss the crisis and issued an urgent call to protect heritage sites in both countries of conflict, emphasising that the heritage site of Tyre was under threat.

Following the ceasefire, an archaeological mission is inspecting historical sites in Baalbek and Tyre as well as Byblos, which was affected by the oil spill from a power station hit in an Israeli attack in mid-July. The mission will adopt a plan to determine how to help recovery efforts.

The article also includes historical profiles of Baalbek and Tyre.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

GREEK GEEKS are here and here. Plus, Abbott and Costello learn Hebrew here.
Tuesday Sep 12, 2006 (KPVI-TV, ID)

A highly anticipated exhibit is on its way to the area and it features fragments of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls.

The exhibit called "Ink and Blood, Sacred Treasures of the Bible" has never been west of the Mississippi, but it's coming to the Museum of Idaho early next year.


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Can We Trust the Gospels?
None of the Gnostic texts--or any other recently unearthed find--can trump the four canonical gospels.
By N.T. Wright
The key question for studying Jesus is: Can we trust the gospels? I am referring to the four books which are known by the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and which are found in the "canon" of the New Testament--that is, the collection of books that the church, from early on, recognized as authentic and authoritative (hence the often-used phrase "the canonical gospels") ....
His answer to the question is a qualified yes, for which there is indeed a reasonable case.

He discusses the Gospel of Thomas as the prime contender for being a an additional useful source for the historical Jesus:
Take the best known, and one of the longest, of the Nag Hammadi documents: a collection of supposed sayings of Jesus known as the Gospel of Thomas. This is the book which, it has often been suggested, could and should be treated as at least equal, and quite possibly superior, to the canonical gospels as a historical source for Jesus himself. The version of Thomas we now have, like most of the Nag Hammadi material, is written in Coptic, a language spoken in Egypt at the time. But it has been demonstrated that Thomas is a translation from Syriac, a language quite like the Aramaic that Jesus must have spoken (though he pretty certainly spoke Greek as well, just as many people in today's world speak English as a second language). But the Syriac traditions that Thomas embodies can be dated, quite reliably, not to the first century at all, but to the second half of the second century. That is over a hundred years after Jesus's own day--in other words, seventy to a hundred years after the time when the four canonical gospels were in widespread use across the early church.
I'm not sure whose view he is citing here; I know there was work in the 1970s and 80s by Helmut Koester and others arguing for a Syrian provenance for the Gospel of Thomas and for all I know they're right. And it seems that April DeConick argues for a Syriac stage in the transmission of Thomas in her recent book. (Her book hasn't arrived in our library, so I haven't been able to read it yet.) But I have to say I'm very skeptical in principle of our ability to say that Thomas was composed (or transmitted) specifically in Syriac. (Syriac is the dialect of Eastern Aramaic that was spoken in Edessa and which later became an important church language.) It is possible that Thomas was composed originally in some form of Aramaic, although I'm skeptical that we have the data to establish even that. What we have is one complete Coptic manuscript from the fourth century and three very (very) fragmentary Greek manuscripts from around 200, and it's pretty clear that the Coptic must be a translation of the Greek. It would be very difficult to establish with any philological rigor on the basis mainly of one manuscript in a secondary translation, that the original was in a Semitic language, let alone Aramaic rather than Hebrew. But to suggest that it's been demonstrated that Thomas was written in one particular dialect of Aramaic rather than another goes well beyond what one could reasonably hope to establish on philological grounds. I have more on this problem of establishing that a Greek text was translated from Hebrew or Aramaic here (requires paid subscription to access) or here (an earlier and shorter draft, but free).

Wright continues:
What's more, despite efforts to prove the opposite, the sayings of Jesus as they appear in Thomas show clear indications that they are not as original as the parallel material (where it exists) in the canonical gospels. Sayings have, in many cases, been quietly doctored in Thomas to express a very different viewpoint. For instance, when Jesus says, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's;" the saying in Thomas has an extra phrase at the end: "and to me the things that are mine." What is going on here? In the worldview represented by Thomas, the word "God" denotes a second-rate kind of deity who made the present wicked world, the world from which Jesus has come to rescue people. Thomas and most of the other Nag Hammadi documents represent a worldview known as "Gnosticism,' in which the present world is a dark, evil place from which we need to be rescued by "gnosis," a special knowledge of hidden truth--a world quite different from the Jewish world of Jesus and the four canonical gospels.
I think what really needs to be said here is that this is one understanding of Thomas, but other experts on it (such as DeConick and Koester) place it much earlier, well within the time frame of the four Gospels and Q (if we want to accept Q). I can't see any particular "Gnosticism," as Wright defines it, in Thomas, and his example isn't especially compelling. Certainly such ideas are much more visible in other works from the Nag Hammadi Library. And I'm not a specialist in Jesus sayings, but for what my opinion is worth, I would say that Thomas has one or two noncanonical sayings that could well go back to Jesus (e.g., the Parable of the Assassin, #98) and some of the canonical parables in Thomas do look to me as if they preserve a more primitive version than in the canonical gospels (e.g., the Parable of the Vineyard, #65). In any case, the range of specialist views is considerably wider than Wright indicates here.

Wright concludes:
This doesn't mean, of course, that everything the gospels say is thereby automatically validated. Assessing their historical worth can be done, if at all, only by the kind of painstaking historical work which I and others have attempted at some length but for which there is no room in a book of the present kind. I simply record it as my conviction that the four canonical gospels, broadly speaking, present a portrait of Jesus of Nazareth which is firmly grounded in real history. As the late historian John Roberts, author of a monumental History of the World (1980), sums it up, "the gospels need not be rejected; much more inadequate evidence about far more intractable subjects has often to be employed [in writing history]." The portrait of Jesus we find in the canonical gospels makes sense within the world of Palestine in the 20s and 30s of the first century. Above all, it makes coherent sense in itself. The Jesus who emerges is thoroughly believable as a figure of history, even though the more we look at him, the more we feel once more that we may be staring into the sun.
Well, maybe. But see also my and Mark Goodacre's more skeptical comments (also in response to Wright) here.

UPDATE (14 September): Mark Goodacre has lots of good comments here. And, just to clarify, I don't dispute that Thomas has redacted some Jesus sayings for its own purposes. I just think that some of the material (not necessarily all) looks to have been transmitted independently of the Synoptic Gospels and some of it may give us new or better information about what Jesus said.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Couple's passions enflamed by Gibson film

For devout Christians Michael and Patricia Watson it should have been the perfect end to a perfect night.

But when they sat down to watch Mel Gibson's controversial film The Passion of the Christ it almost ended their marriage.

The couple began to row about the contents of the Hollywood blockbuster after a theological discussion grew increasingly heated.

The extraordinary argument ended when Mr Watson tried to strangle his wife - only releasing his grip when she appealed to his religious beliefs. She begged: "I'm anointed by God, you know that, Michael. Do not touch God's anointed."

Way too weird.
Tombstones bearing Hebrew inscriptions in Aden (Part 2)
A. Klein-Franke

The study of tombstone inscriptions from Aden provides us with more than just a possible time horizon for the presence of the Jews in southern Arabia. The letter forms used in the inscriptions are an important asset for Hebrew palaeography. A number of inscriptions use some of the oldest known styles of Hebrew characters. Furthermore, a few epitaphs from the same cemetery and seemingly from the same period exhibit styles of letters that are either inconsistent or completely different.

Part I is noted here. This installment deals mostly with early modern inscriptions.

Monday, September 11, 2006

UNESCO is sending representatives to Lebanon to check on the state of cultural heritage sites there:
UNESCO sends experts to carry out technical assessment of the effects of the war on Lebanon’s cultural heritage
Friday, September 8, 2006

The Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, today announced that the Organization will send a mission of experts, from September 10 to 16, to assess the potential damage caused to cultural sites in the recent conflict in Lebanon.

The mission will, among other things, visit UNESCO's World Heritage sites of Tyre, Baalbek and Byblos. Tyre and Baalbek, first built by the Phoenicians grew over the centuries and retain, to this day, some of the finest examples of Imperial Roman architecture at its zenith. The experts will analyze the structural soundness of the monuments on these sites and their state of conservation.

Byblos, north of Beirut, bears testimony to the earliest stages of the Phoenician civilization and early urban organization in the Mediterranean world. It has been affected by the oil spill caused by a leak from a coastal power plant bombarded in July. The experts will assess the potential damage of the oil spill to the ancient Port.

The experts are also expected to visit cultural heritage sites in the south of Lebanon that are not inscribed on the World Heritage List, as has been requested by the Lebanese authorities.

Mr. Matsuura also says that the current information is that there was not significant damage of these sites, but they still want to have a look, and he expresses willingness to do the same in Israel.

(Via Chuck Jones on the Iraqcrisis list.)
The Japanese Jesus trail

By Duncan Bartlett
BBC News, Japan

A Japanese legend claims that Jesus escaped Jerusalem and made his way to Aomori in Japan where he became a rice farmer. Christians say the story is nonsense. However, a monument there known as the Grave of Christ attracts curious visitors from all over the world.

The Grave of Christ has become an international tourist attraction
To reach the Grave of Christ or Kristo no Hakka as it is known locally, you need to head deep into the northern countryside of Japan, a place of paddy fields and apple orchards.


However the legend of Jesus the rice farmer does not stretch back very far. It only began in the 1930s with the discovery of what were claimed to be ancient Hebrew documents detailing Jesus' life and death in Japan.

Those documents have now mysteriously disappeared and the grave has never been excavated. ...
Why is it that all the really interesting ancient Hebrew documents always disappear mysteriously?

(In case a search-engine refers someone here who isn't used to my sarcasm, I'll speak more plainly. Jesus never went to Japan and there probably weren't any Hebrew documents. If they existed at all, which I very much doubt, they were fakes. I'm sure it's a fun story though.)

Sunday, September 10, 2006

AN EXHIBITION ON BIBLES BEFORE THE YEAR 1000 is coming to Washington D.C. next month:
Papyrus, Parchment & Posterity
At the Sackler, 'Bibles Before the Year 1000' to Trace Books' Evolution

By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 10, 2006; Page N11

Most of us take the form of the book for granted: A collection of sheets with writing on both sides bound along one side.

The story of how that form -- the codex -- became synonymous with the idea of a book is one of the threads that runs through one of the most unusual exhibitions coming to Washington this fall.

The show, which opens in October at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, brings together scrolls, scraps of papyrus, bits of parchment and other curiosities, including a copy of the Gospels written in silver ink on purple parchment.

The various manuscripts -- including some of the rarest in the world -- are being displayed in an effort to trace the evolution of the Bible from a loose collection of texts into a codified volume.

"In the Beginning: Bibles Before the Year 1000" argues that when early Christian communities adopted the papyrus codex as the form of their Scriptures, it was "the most dramatic development in the history of the book."

The exhibit will also show how the various writings circulating in the first thousand years of the Christian era became encased in the form we know today as the Bible.

The show starts with a 1st-century scroll containing a text of Isaiah 2. There are many other papyrus and parchment fragments that are part of the evolution of the Bible.

The Sackler borrowed items from two dozen institutions around the world. Most of the manuscripts have never been seen outside the countries where they are stored. Even six manuscripts purchased in 1906 by Charles Lang Freer and given to the Smithsonian Institution are usually kept in storage vaults because of their fragile state. Two have never been exhibited and two have not been shown since 1978.

This is an extraordinary exhibit. It includes contributions from the Bodleian Library, the British Library, St. Catherine's Monastery, the Israel Museum, and other major institutions. The manuscripts on display will include material from the Dead Sea Scrolls, from the Aleppo Codex, from the Cairo Geniza, and from the Oxyrhynchus Papyri. And both the Greek and the Coptic manuscripts of the Gospel of Thomas will be included. Marvelous.

The exhibition website is here.

As usual, I have a couple corrections to point out. The Chester Beatty manuscript of Numbers and Deuteronomy (P963 -- displayed here) is of the second century C.E. and is thus a very early Greek manuscript of the books, but not the earliest copy per se: three fragmentary Greek manuscripts, Papyrus Fouad 266 (Deuteronomy, first century B.C.E.), John Rylands Library Papyrus Greek 458 (Deuteronomy, second or first century B.C.E.), and 4QLXXNum (first century B.C.E. or C.E), are earlier. And manuscripts of Numbers and Deuteronomy from the Dead Sea Scrolls are of a comparable early date. (I would have to look up the exact dates and I don't have the reference works handy at home. For the dates of the Greek manuscripts, see this article by Robert Kraft.)

To be fair, the WaPo article got the incorrect info from the exhbition website.

Second, as Tim Finney pointed out on the Textual Criticism list, "... I wouldn't have called Tischendorf and the monks of St Catherine's 'a group of excavators.'"

(Via Stephen Goranson on the Textual Criticism list.)