Saturday, August 18, 2007

A BOOK ON MANDAEAN (MANDEAN) HISTORY is reviewed by April DeConick at the Forbidden Gospels blog.
Gorgias Press released in 2005 a book by Jorunn Jacobsen Buckley, The Great Stem of Souls: Reconstructing Mandaean History. For those of you interested in Mandaeism and Gnosticism, this is a must-have reference book. It is a modern reconstruction of Mandaean history.

The Iberian lynx is a specialist carnivore that subsists almost exclusively on rabbits. An adult male requires one rabbit a day; a female with cubs needs three to five. Until recently this made perfect evolutionary sense on the Iberian peninsula. Rabbits were so abundant that more than 30 species preyed on them. One linguistic theory holds that the word EspaƱa is derived from an ancient Phoenician name meaning Land of Rabbits.
Northwest Semitists, what do you think?

(From a Telegraph article on the lynx. My emphasis.)
THE HORRENDOUS BOMBING OF THE YAZIDIS is bad news for ethnic minorities in Iraq. April DeConick has some reflections on the Yazidis and their Gnosticism-related religion.

Friday, August 17, 2007

THE GNOSTIC IMPLICATIONS OF THE SIMULATION ARGUMENT, which I noted here in response to the recent NYT article, are not going unnoticed elsewhere. This from George Dvorsky of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies:
If we were ever to prove that we exist inside a simulation, it would be proof that the transhumanist assumption is correct—that the transition from a human to a posthuman condition is in fact possible. But that will be of little solace to us measly sims! The simulation—er, our world—could be shut down at any time. Or, the variables that make up our modal reality could be altered in undesirable ways (e.g. our world could be turned into a Hell realm).

Also, should we reside in a simulation, we have to pretty much assume that our digital benefactors are rather indifferent to our plight. Based on the amount of suffering going on around here we should probably assume a gnostic religious sensibility. These gods are not our allies; they may have created us, but they are not looking out for our best interests.
My emphasis. Also, Glenn Reynolds links to a couple of pieces that suggest how to live in a simulation. This from Robin Hanson:
In sum, if your descendants might make simulations of lives like yours, then you might be living in a simulation. And while you probably cannot learn much detail about the specific reasons for and the nature of the simulation you live in, you can draw general conclusions by making analogies to the types and reasons of simulations today. If you might be living in a simulation then all else equal it seems that you should care less about others, live more for today, make your world look likely to become eventually rich, expect to and try to participate in pivotal events, be entertaining and praiseworthy, and keep the famous people around you happy and interested in you.
That's an interesting practical theology.

And this from the BeldarBlog:
Well, duh. Act like you're not in a simulation. Otherwise you'll be inducing a software error. So, what — do you want to become the cosmic equivalent of the lines in the famously defective original Intel Pentium chip's microcode which caused that rare but catastrophic floating point division bug? Well, do you?
Well, it's true that one doesn't want to trigger a recall. But it may not be that simple. If we do live in a Gnostic simulation universe, we should think about the implications. The traditional object of the game according to Gnosticism is to obtain "Gnosis" -- salvific knowledge of the true state of affairs, and to conduct your life accordingly so as to ascend to the Pleroma, that is, to be uploaded out of the game. For further instructions, see, for example, the Apocryphon of John.

(This Gnosis is provided "AS IS" with no warranty of any kind, and use of it is at your sole risk. PaleoJudaica expressly disclaims all warranties including satisfactory quality and fitness for a specific purpose. We do not warrant that the functions residing in this Gnosis will meet your requirements or that the operation of the Gnosis will be uninterrupted or error free or that defects in the Gnosis will be corrected. Nor do we warrant the use or the results of the use of this Gnosis or any related Gnosis regarding its correctness, accuracy, reliability and the like. Should this Gnosis prove unreliable, you and not PaleoJudaica assume the entire cost of all necessary corrections, servicing, repairs or unfavorable rebirths. Under no circumstances shall PaleoJudaica be liable for any incidental, special, indirect, consequential or spiritual damages arising out of or relating to the use of this Gnosis.)

Good luck!

UPDATE: Still more arguments for the simulation scenario. They start about two-thirds of the way into the post.

UPDATE (19 August): More here.

UPDATE (20 August): The Gnostic simulation meme is spreading. (Thanks for the kind mention of this blog, but if you think PaleoJudaica is hard to spell, try Pseudepigrapha.)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

TARGUM NEWS from Ed Cook over at Ralph.
MORE ON THE BARNARD TENURE CONTROVERSY: Two items deal with the petition against granting tenure to Nadia Abu El-Haj. From John Gravois at the Chronicle of Higher Education News Blog:
August 15, 2007
Alumni Group Seeks to Deny Tenure to Middle Eastern Scholar at Barnard College

Controversial research on Israel and the Palestinian territories has become the basis of yet another campaign to prevent a professor from winning tenure. A group of Barnard College alumni has drafted an online petition asking their alma mater to deny tenure to Nadia Abu El-Haj, an assistant professor of anthropology whose scholarship, they say, is flawed and skewed against Israel.

And from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency:
Petition, donor threats on prof
puts spotlight back on Columbia

Nadia Abu El-Haj, author of "Facts on the Ground," is under fire for the 2001 book's perspective.
By Ben Harris Published: 08/14/2007

NEW YORK (JTA) -- A brewing battle over tenure for a polarizing Barnard College professor is threatening to thrust Columbia University back into the center of a controversy over its academic treatment of the Middle East.

Nadia Abu El-Haj, an assistant professor of anthropology at Barnard, is the author
of "Facts on the Ground," a 2001 book that questions archaeological claims regarding the ancient Jewish presence in Israel and argues that Israeli archaeologists legitimize the Jewish state's "origin myth."

An online petition against Abu El-Haj had garnered nearly 1,000 signatures as of Tuesday, the bulk of them from students and graduates of Barnard or Columbia University, its institutional parent.

Background here.

UPDATE (21 August): More here.
THERE'S A BIBLICAL BOARD OF TRADE? According to this press release, they're giving away free tickets to the San Diego Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition.
A PHOTO ESSAY ON THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS has been published by Archaeology.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

THE MINGANA COLLECTION of Syriac, Arabic, etc. manuscripts at the University of Birmingham gets a bad report over at Thoughts on Antiquity.
THE ARCHIMEDES CODEX AND A CHRISTIAN APOCRYPHA PALIMPSEST - Tony Chartrand-Burke has the story over at Apocryphicity.
THE GREEK GEEK pans the Lammas Fair in St. Andrews. Well, to appreciate it you have to have kids. I actually went on this ride, which is always just outside St. Mary's College, with my son on Monday. Never again.

But commenter Meigan is right about the doughnuts.
Following the footsteps of a Roman soldier
By Ofri Ilani (Haaretz)

Archaeologists have discovered a footprint made by the sandal of a Roman soldier - one of the few such finds in the world - in a wall surrounding the Hellenistic-Roman city of Sussita, east of Lake Kinneret.

The discovery of the print made by a hobnailed sandal, the kind used by the Roman legions during the time when Rome ruled the region, led to the presumption that legionnaires or former legionnaires participated in the construction of walls such as the one in which the footprint was found.

City-destroying earthquakes are hard on the inhabitants, but they're a boon to archaeologists, because things like this get preserved in the rubble.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

THE DEMIURGE is alive and well and is running our universe as a computer simulation. The link is to an article in the New York Times which summarizes the simulation argument of Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom. The essential argument, as given in the NYT is:
Dr. Bostrom assumes that technological advances could produce a computer with more processing power than all the brains in the world, and that advanced humans, or “posthumans,” could run “ancestor simulations” of their evolutionary history by creating virtual worlds inhabited by virtual people with fully developed virtual nervous systems.

Some computer experts have projected, based on trends in processing power, that we will have such a computer by the middle of this century, but it doesn’t matter for Dr. Bostrom’s argument whether it takes 50 years or 5 million years. If civilization survived long enough to reach that stage, and if the posthumans were to run lots of simulations for research purposes or entertainment, then the number of virtual ancestors they created would be vastly greater than the number of real ancestors.

There would be no way for any of these ancestors to know for sure whether they were virtual or real, because the sights and feelings they’d experience would be indistinguishable. But since there would be so many more virtual ancestors, any individual could figure that the odds made it nearly certain that he or she was living in a virtual world.
Cambridge Astrophysicist (and recent St. Andrews Gifford Lecuturer) Martin Rees also takes the idea seriously.

Maybe the Gnostics were on to something after all.

UPDATE (17 August): More here.
BARNARD PETITION: This is the first I recall hearing about a petition about Nadia Abu El-Haj's tenure at Barnard.
Bid to deny tenure to Barnard prof

Published: 08/13/2007 (JTA Breaking News)

More than 800 people have signed a petition seeking to deny tenure to a Barnard College professor accused of shoddy scholarship and a pro-Palestinian agenda.

Professor Nadia Abu El-Haj, an assistant professor of anthropology, is under from her book "Facts on the Ground." The book attacks the field of Israeli archaeology, arguing that it has produced knowledge central to the creation of Israel's foundational myths and therefore is complicit in Israel's supposed crimes against the Palestinians.

Paula Stern, a 1982 Barnard graduate and the organizer of an online petition calling on the college to deny tenure to El-Haj, claims the professor's scholarship is shoddy and her claims unsubstantiated.

Here's a recent article by Stern on the controversy. Follow the link at the bottom of that post for earlier coverage.

UPDATE (16 August): More here.
The Seventh-Century Christian Obsession with the Jews:
A Historical Parallel for the Present?

Rivkah Duker Fishman

In the seventh century, the Arabs embarked on the conquest of the world in the name of Islam. The Caliphate replaced the Persian Empire and Christian Spain and conquered much of the Byzantine Empire. The latter, however, seemed to ignore the threat of the new invaders and their religion. Instead, the Byzantine political and intellectual elite focused increasingly on the Jews in tracts and legal measures. The situation has certain parallels with the present.
This seems to have been published in 2005 and I'm not sure why it suddenly appeared on Google now.

As a general principal I'm skeptical of broad-brush parallels between ancient history and the present. There are just too many differences to have any feeling of control over the variables. But I'm always relieved when at least America doesn't get cast as ancient Rome.

Monday, August 13, 2007

THE MANDAEANS are once again on April DeConick's radar. Good for her.

For more on the Mandaeans (Mandeans) see here and here. And some more posts are here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

ROGUE FRAGMENTS of the Dead Sea Scrolls on display in a church in Florida?
Ancient items, modern wonder

A display includes pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

By NICK JOHNSON, [St. Petersburg] Times Staff Writer
Published August 12, 2007

The pastor of a prison outreach ministry recently visited a St. Petersburg church with what may be part of the most significant archaeological find for people of the Christian, Jewish and Islamic faiths.

The Rev. Thom Miller of Special Visit Ministry exhibited a small collection of religious antiquities, including what he said were two fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, at the Suncoast Cathedral on Wednesday for a group of church members and the media.


Miller said one of the fragments was anonymously donated to the ministry and the other was on loan from a group of physicians from New Jersey.

He plans to return to the Suncoast Cathedral in October with another Dead Sea Scrolls fragment that is held by the Ashland Theological Seminary and a more extensive exhibit of religious artifacts.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are actually a collection of more than 100,000 fragments that have been pieced together by archaeologists.

The San Diego Natural History Museum is displaying Dead Sea Scrolls on loan from the Israeli Antiquities Authority, which holds most of the scrolls.

Dr. Russell Fuller, a professor at the University of San Diego, worked as a consultant on the exhibit at the museum and edited a number of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

He said bits of the artifacts have become privately owned over the years.

"There are some small fragments in private hands in the U.S. and Europe, so it's conceivable that they could have a fragment," Fuller said. "If you have the resources and you have the contacts, it's possible that you could buy yourself a piece of Dead Sea Scroll."

There's nothing about the content of the fragments, which makes me wonder if they aren't of the "burnt cornflake" variety that don't show any actual leather letters. Can any PaleoJudaica readers in Florida report on the fragments?
HANAN ESHEL, his Leviticus scroll find, and the conflicts with the IAA are covered in Haaretz ("Questioning a scientist's true intentions"). It's a long and rambling article that describes the discovery and its implications for the study of the Bar Kokhba revolt in some detail, but here is the section on the conflict:
In September 2005, police investigators accompanied by a representative of the Antiquities Authority came to Eshel's home in Jerusalem and announced that he was suspected of trading in antiquities and in buying stolen property - the parchment fragments. The police searched his home, confiscated this and that, ordered Eshel to relinquish his passport and brought him for further questioning to the in Jerusalem police headquarters in the Russian Compound. A month later, he was summoned for more questioning and when he left, he was pounced on by reporters and photographers covering the juicy affair of the professor suspected of criminal activity.

Dozens of Eshel's colleagues, Israeli academics of repute, signed a letter published as an ad in Haaretz protesting the IAA's actions. Eshel had "rescued a scroll that could have been lost," they wrote, and "treating him like a criminal was vengeful, wrong and unfair." Never before had a member of the scientific establishment been treated in such a way, they added.

The IAA responded with an official announcement that stated it regretted that Eshel had "as a private person, broken the law, been caught and was now doing everything in his power to save his skin, including through the cynical exploitation of his colleagues."

The abusive language toward the professor reached a crescendo in a Yedioth Ahronoth headline: "The Antiquities Authority is positive: Eshel's next finding will be the defendant's docket."

Two years have passed and no charges have been filed against Eshel. The investigation seems to have stopped. The tempest in the teacup has dissipated. Some researchers believe that the IAA's battle against robbers and traders was brutally pursued at the expense of a scientist who had no ill intentions or expectation of monetary gain. Anybody who knows the antiquities market in general, and that of Jerusalem in particular, knows that it's a tricky arena. There are plenty of researchers held in the highest esteem who traded in antiquities, in peace.

The only ones to pay a price so far are the three Bedouin who found the fragments and sold them. They were arrested, tried and heavily fined.

Eshel feels bruised, but thinks that at the end of the day, it worked out. He is proud to have brought the pieces to the State.

Yet there's one person who isn't satisfiYet there's one person who isn't satisfied: Arnold Spaer, a lawyer and a member of the management boards at the Islamic Art Museum in Jerusalem and the Hecht Museum in Haifa, and a member of the Israel Museum.

Eshel told Spaer that the the IAA had cut segments from the parchment margins to verify that they were genuine. Spaer promptly complained to the police against the IAA.

Why did the authority do that? Probably, in the pursuit of another investigation into forged antiquities. A photograph of the fragments was found in the computer of Oded Golan, an antiquities trader from Tel Aviv who is accused of forging antiquities, and is in the middle of his trial. It is possible, however, that the Bedouin who found the Leviticus fragments contacted Golan before showing them to Eshel and Porat.

The latest twist in the affair is that Spaer has demanded that the Jerusalem District Prosecutor's Office address his complaint about the scroll's vandalization. The prosecution told him that it has more important things to do. To which Spaer replied, "When Dorfman and Amir Ganot" - the robbery prevention director at the Antiquities Authority - "complained at the time against Eshel, in respect to buying fragments of the scroll, the full investigative mechanism of the police and the Antiquities Authority went into action, including confiscation of documents, multiple interrogations and informing the press. Yet in this case, which is 10 times more serious, no response to the complaint is evident." Could a double standard be coming into play?, the lawyer suggested.

The IAA comments, "Following the complaint against Eshel and others on suspicion of allegedly violating the Antiquities Law, the Israel Police conducted an investigation, at the end of which the case was transferred to the Prosecutor's Office for handling." The authority added that acts to enforce the Antiquities Law against any and all offenders.
There's also a howler earlier in the article, where it says that Josephus wrote on the Bar Kokhba revolt. He wrote on the Great Revolt of 66-70, but he was long dead by the time of Bar Kokhba.

For earlier coverage of this story see here, here, here, here, here, and here.

UPDATE: Joseph I. Lauer writes the following on his e-mail list:
Many will note a confusing English translation of two sentences from the original Hebrew article. With my interpolations, the sentences should be understood to be stating: "There are any number of writings about the rebellion [that resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple in 70 CE], including Josephus Flavius and other Jewish and Roman writers. But there are almost no relics of the [Bar-Kochba] rebellion."
THE RENEWAL OF THE ISRAEL MUSEUM is covered in the New York Times:
A Museum to Get Lost in, and How Israel Is Fixing It

Published: August 12, 2007

THE Israel Museum is one of the finest in the Middle East — if you can figure out how to get in and find the art.

Founded in 1965 by Teddy Kollek, the long-serving Jerusalem mayor, to ensure that Israel would have a national museum of world rank, the museum was a vital symbol of the new nation. Mr. Kollek wanted, and got, “a modernist temple to culture” surrounded by other symbols of Israel’s modern statehood, like the Knesset, the Supreme Court and the National Library, said the museum’s director, James S. Snyder.

From ancient artifacts to contemporary art, the museum seeks to anchor the archaeology, material culture and ethnography of the world’s Jews within a broader global context, both Western and non-Western. It boasts a dominant site at the entrance to Jerusalem, a widely admired sculpture garden and, of course, the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Yet its entrance is an uninspiring parking lot and ugly ticketing building, and the portal to the actual exhibits is 270 yards away, requiring a hike up a hill, often in the blistering sun. It’s also hard to find your way from one collection to the next.

Much of that is about to change as the museum embarks on an $80 million expansion and renovation that will transform the way a visitor navigates and experiences the museum.


Mr. Carpenter, who is internationally known for his work with glass, including the cable-net glass wall at the Time Warner Center in Manhattan, focused on the north-south orientation of the campus. Given the harsh light of the Middle Eastern sun from the east and the west at various times of the day, he deployed thick extruded ceramic louvers on those facades. Fixed in place, the louvers refract the light to provide a soft, interior illumination.

Yet the buildings feel largely open. Much thinner louvers on the northern and southern faces allow visitors to look in, reinforcing a sense of activity and openness, both day and night.

The architects also extended the promenade out to the street, Mr. Carpenter said, “so people would understand it as a route of invitation,” even from the parking lot. “Before, they were stuck with a closed campus and no obvious route of entry,” he said.

The new central concourse also allows museumgoers to make more logical connections, progressing historically, for example, from the ancient archaeology of the region through the Ottoman period, then to the Judaica and Ethnography collection describing Jewish life dispersed from the Holy Land.

Early regional art, beginning with biblical artifacts, will flow into the beginnings of Israeli art, which will feed into European works and then into the modern and contemporary galleries. New galleries will also allow the museum to double space for the display of 20th-century art, another strength of the collection. ...