Thursday, June 28, 2007

Dead Sea Scrolls: Long-awaited exhibit offers sights, sounds, smells and samples

By: KIRBY FAIRFAX For the North County Times

By far the most convenient way to see Israel this year is to visit the San Diego Natural History Museum in our very own Balboa Park, where a once-in-a-lifetime experience awaits. For, in addition to an unprecedented exhibition of the actual Dead Sea Scrolls, the museum's staff has created a powerful, multisensory tour of the land where these historical treasures were discovered, thereby helping viewers to put them into context.

And here's some information I don't think I've highlighed yet:
Also on display are 11 pages from several 1,000-year-old Hebrew Bibles on loan from the Russian government as well as 17th and 18th century Ethiopic copies of the Bible and three pages from a six-year contemporary project, the Saint John's Bible, which seeks to replicate the medieval tradition of illuminating manuscripts, among many other such treasures.
GOSPEL OF JUDAS WATCH: Another review of Reading Judas by King and Pagels has come out, this one by Stephen Prothero in the New York Times. Excerpt:
Although Pagels and King attend with care to the ironies of a text that both attacks Christian martyrdom and sets Judas up as the first Christian martyr, they are less effective in dealing with the most disturbing feature of this gospel: Jesus’ sarcastic laughter. In the Gospel of Judas, Jesus laughs no fewer than four times. He laughs not with his disciples but at them — for worshiping incorrectly and for misunderstanding his teachings. “Teacher, why are you laughing at us?” Judas asks. Good question. Pagels and King devote scant attention to it, responding simply that this laughter is intended to spur Jesus’ disciples on to “higher spiritual vision.” To me, however, it just sounds mean-spirited, turning Jesus into the sort of person you wouldn’t like, much less worship.

The Gospel of Judas will have its champions, not least Pagels and King, who laud its hero for inspiring a text that makes early Christianity look like contemporary American religion — more pluralistic, more wild and more contested than most imagine. But this gospel is not long for the world, or at least the American corner of it. Most Americans will rightly prefer Luke’s Jesus, whose heart breaks over the oppression of women and the poor, to a smart-aleck Jesus who guffaws at the stupidity of his listeners. America is supposed to be a happy place. Americans want their Jesus to channel Paula Abdul rather than Simon Cowell, Dorothy rather than the Wicked Witch of the West.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

THE RENEWAL OF THE ISRAEL MUSEUM is now getting underway:
Israel Museum starts $80 million renewal project
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (Jerusalem Post)

The Israel Museum is launching an $80 million campus renewal project aimed at enhancing visitors' experience, the museum announced Sunday.

The project, which is being primarily funded by private donors, is the most comprehensive initiative undertaken by the museum since it opened its doors in 1965, and was inspired by the desire to enhance visitors' services on a campus that has grown tenfold over the past four decades.

The nearly three-year project will create new entrance 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 newly centralized temporary exhibition space.

It's a "renewal" but not a "renovation." I'm not sure why. But it looks as though the price tag has gone up by $30 million since March of 2006. In any case, it sounds impressive.
GOSPEL OF JUDAS WATCH: Reading Judas, by Karen King and Elaine Pagels, is reviewed in the New York Sun by Bruce Chilton. Excerpt:
Reading Judas" is beautifully presented as well as generally well written, and it sets discussion of Judas along a productive direction. But its failure to bring "Judas" into dialogue with its counterparts in the Christian Bible and patristic writings makes the treatment less engaged with the passionate diversity of the period than it should have been.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

MY MASADA SKELETONS POST from a couple of days ago has been updated.
NOMINATIONS ARE REQUESTED for Biblical Studies Carnival 19. Stephen Cook e-mails:
Dear Colleagues, Good morning, and please excuse this mass email. I am hosting this month's Carnival at my blog at Could you please post a reminder to folks to send in their favorite posts from this month to me? Would each of you also be willing to email me either your own nomination or what you consider to be the best post from your own blog for the month of June? Thanks so much for your help! I hope the summer is going great for each of you. My email address is Peace,
---Stephen Cook
PETER SCHÄFER'S BOOK, JESUS IN THE TALMUD, is reviewed in the Jerusalem Post, by Gershom Gale, editor of The Jerusalem Post Christian edition. He doesn't like it.

In short, it seems he searched several digital editions of the Talmud for possible references to Jesus, and with the understandably meager results of such investigation (after all, Jews are strongly discouraged from naming or discussing a person convicted of a capital crime), constructed his central thesis - that the Talmud's few and enigmatic references to him represent "a highly ambitious and devastating counter-narrative," "a well-designed attack" by Babylonian rabbis who intended to mock the Gospels' accounts of Jesus's birth, life, death and resurrection, while defending his condemnation as a sorcerer who led Israel astray.

The book's nine short chapters cover what the author maintains is the Talmud's description of Jesus's birth and family, his failures as a student and disciple, his work as a Torah teacher, healings done in his name, his execution, his disciples, and his punishment in hell, where he is described as sitting in boiling excrement.

Whether the few scattered words and phrases involved (most referring not to "Jesus" or "Jesus of Nazareth" at all, but rather to one "ben Stada" or "ben Panthera") indeed represent the deliberate and "devastating counter-narrative" posited by Sch fer, I leave to the reader's judgment; however, it seems to me that Sch fer may actually have caught and dissected one or two academic flies, while ignoring at least two elephants in the lab - and all because of his stated fear of "relapsing into the bad habits of positivism."
For more on Jesus in the Talmud see here and follow the links.

UPDATE (27 June): The review is taken apart by Simon Holloway in his Davar Akher blog. (Via the Iyov blog.)
THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBITION IN SAN DIEGO, which opens on Friday, is covered once again, this time in the LA Times. It notes that Norman Golb and Robert Eisenman are unhappy with the coverage of their theories about the origins of the Scrolls.
A lively debate over the Dead Sea Scrolls
As the ancient documents are readied for a San Diego exhibition, scholars clash over just who wrote them and what they represent.
By Mike Boehm, Times Staff Writer
June 26, 2007

SAN DIEGO — The first commandment for showing the Dead Sea Scrolls is: "Let there not be too much light."

It has been handed down by the Israel Antiquities Authority, custodian of most of the 2,000-year-old parchments and papyri. The scrolls, many of them pieced together like puzzles from fragments and tatters, contain the oldest known biblical writings — among them a text of the Ten Commandments that will be part of the six-month Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition that opens Friday at the San Diego Natural History Museum. It's billed as the largest and most comprehensive ever.

Museum-goers accustomed to prolonged gazing will have to adjust their expectations when they reach the show's darkened climactic room. There, each of the 15 scroll fragments lies in its own case, with separate climate controls and a fiber-optic lighting system that's set to turn off five seconds out of every 20 to avoid overexposure.

The scrolls' appeal shows no signs of fading. Since the Israeli government began making them regularly available for exhibition a few years ago, they've been a hot attraction in international museums — not bad for an assortment of documents so visually mundane that in 2003 a Montreal museum director said that "they look like little pieces of burned paper."

A little controversy never hurts at the box office, either. Most scholars consider the scrolls to be the articles of faith of a small Jewish sect that lived an ascetic life near the Dead Sea, avoiding what it saw as the corrupt religious establishment while waiting for the Messiah. But dissidents have kept up a literary crossfire disputing the majority's thinking — and some complain that the public has gotten a slanted view of the scrolls.

For more on Norman Golb, see here. Robert Eisenman's work is more controversial than Golb's and I don't know of any specialists in the Dead Sea Scrolls who find convincing his attempts to connect the Scrolls with early Christianity. I can't find a useful recent discussion of his theories (here's a Time article from 1992), but this is his most recent book.
BREVARD CHILDS is dead at the age of 83. The Yale Divinity School has an obituary:
Brevard S. Childs, an iconic figure in biblical scholarship, dies at 83

Brevard S. Childs, one of the most influential Old Testament scholars of the 20 th century, died Saturday afternoon in New Haven at the age of 83 from complications from injuries sustained in a fall in his home.

As noted in the obituary, St. Andrews Divinity postgraduate Daniel Driver has a Brevard S. Childs website with lots of additional information. Daniel also has a blog, Occasional Publications, whose most recent post is a tribute to Childs.

Requiescat in pace.

Monday, June 25, 2007

JEWISH MAGIC makes an appearance in a conference on health in the Middle Ages at the University of Nottingham:
Demonic Possession And Miraculous Healing

Science Daily — Latest research into health in medieval Europe — taking in everything from demonic possession to miracles of healing — is to be revealed at The University of Nottingham.

Experts from all over the world are gathering at the University to exchange their latest findings on concepts of 'Health and the Healthy Body' in early medieval times, 400-1200AD.

The lecture in question is:
'”This should not be shown to a gentile”: Medico-magical entries in medieval Franco-German Hebrew manuscripts and their social significance', Ephraim Shoham-Steiner, Ben-Gurion University, Israel. Includes a discussion of texts detailing short potions, charms and medical remedies in the pages of Hebrew manuscripts.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

SOME FAMOUS SKELETONS FROM MASADA are being given a new interpretation:
Researchers claim to have solved mystery of Masada remains (The Scotsman)

AN ISRAELI anthropologist is using modern forensic techniques and an obscure biblical passage to challenge the accepted wisdom about human remains found at Masada, the desert fortress famous as the scene of a mass suicide nearly 2,000 years ago.

A new research paper re-examines the remains of three people found in a bathhouse at the site - two male skeletons and a woman's full head of hair, including two braids.
Advert for Barclaycard

They were long thought to have belonged to a family of Zealots - the fanatic Jewish rebels said to have killed themselves rather than fall into Roman slavery in the spring of 73AD, a story that became part of Israel's national mythology.

The bodies found at Masada were recognised as Jewish heroes by Israel in 1969 and given a state burial.

But now it seems Israel might have mistakenly bestowed the honour on three Romans, according to the paper, published yesterday in the journal Near Eastern Archaeology by anthropologist Dr Joe Zias and forensics expert Azriel Gorski.

Actually the occupiers of Masada were Sicarii, not Zealots.

The core argument is given as follows:
The new paper focuses on the hair, noting the absence of a skeleton to go with it. Forensic analysis showed the hair had been cut off the woman's head with a sharp instrument while she was still alive.

Dr Zias' attempt to explain the discrepancy led him to the Old Testament's Book of Deuteronomy, where a passage says that foreign women captured in battle by Jews must cut off all their hair, apparently in an attempt to make them less attractive to their captors.

He thus concluded that the hair belonged not to a Jewish woman but to a captured foreign woman.

In his scenario, the woman was attached to the Roman garrison stationed at Masada at the time the Zealots took over the fortress and killed the Roman soldiers. Jewish fighters threw two Roman bodies into the bathhouse, and then treated the woman captive according to Jewish law, cutting off her hair, which they threw in along with the bodies.
Typically, the article does not give the biblical reference. The passage in question seems to be Deuterononmy 21:10-14:
10: "When you go forth to war against your enemies, and the LORD your God gives them into your hands, and you take them captive,
11: and see among the captives a beautiful woman, and you have desire for her and would take her for yourself as wife,
12: then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and pare her nails.
13: And she shall put off her captive's garb, and shall remain in your house and bewail her father and her mother a full month; after that you may go in to her, and be her husband, and she shall be your wife.
14: Then, if you have no delight in her, you shall let her go where she will; but you shall not sell her for money, you shall not treat her as a slave, since you have humiliated her.
If this passage applies to the Masada scenario, it would imply that one of the Sicarii occupiers had taken the captured gentile woman as a wife. It doesn't seem likely to me that an eligible woman would have been found in a remote Roman garrison, but I suppose it isn't entirely impossible. One question is whether she had to be an unmarried virgin. The passage seems to imply this, since she only bewails her mother and father, not her (dead?) husband or her children. Still, the earlier passage in Deuteronomy 20:10-15 which deals with holy war commands the preservation of all women as "booty," which may imply that any captured woman could be taken as a wife or concubine:
10: "When you draw near to a city to fight against it, offer terms of peace to it.
11: And if its answer to you is peace and it opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall do forced labor for you and shall serve you.
12: But if it makes no peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it;
13: and when the LORD your God gives it into your hand you shall put all its males to the sword,
14: but the women and the little ones, the cattle, and everything else in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourselves; and you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the LORD your God has given you.
15: Thus you shall do to all the cities which are very far from you, which are not cities of the nations here.
I would not have expected that whole families would be living in the garrison at Masada with women potentially eligible if captured, but I don't know much about the social organization of Roman garrisons in the provinces.

Incidentally, I read the hair and nail cutting in Deuteronomy 21 to be a rite of passage to mark the woman's changed status, not any effort to make her less attractive.

Anyhow, an interesting theory to go with an odd piece of evidence from Masada. I'll try to get a chance to look up the article, which doubtless presents the arguments much more clearly and in greater detail.

UPDATE: It's actually an AP article and the Washington Post has a more complete version. Note in particular the following:
Ehud Netzer, a veteran Hebrew University archaeologist who participated in the 1960s dig and later oversaw restoration work there, questioned the new findings.

Zias is "building a story on assumptions built on assumptions," he said.

"I think that with the existing information, you can't make such theories, and I think that those people should be allowed to rest in peace," Netzer said.
UPDATE (26 June): Joe Zias kindly sent me a copy of the article and it does clarify one of my questions above, about women at provincial Roman garrisons in this period:
As to the inevitable question of a woman garrisoned atop Masada prior to its capture by the Zealots, a cache of documents found preserved in a Roman period fort in northern Britain reveal that higher-level Roman officers and soldiers often brought women with them during military campaigns (Bowman 1994: 51–65). Therefore the shorn woman may have been married or at least related to one of the two males killed and thrown into the Northern Palace bathhouse. Her braided hair however suggests that she was married, since a woman in the Greco-Roman world changed her hairstyle after marriage to symbolize her unavailability to any man but her husband (Cosgrove 2005).
Bowman 1994 is the following:
Bowman, A. K.
1994 Life and Letters on the Roman Frontier: Vindolanda and It’s
London: British Museum Press.
The slightly later garrison at Vindolanda did, of course, include whole families.

UPDATE (27 June): Josh Waxman comments at Parshablog.