Saturday, November 10, 2007

ZOMBIE ATTACKS: An occupational hazard for archaeologists.

(Via the Agade list etc.)
NEHEMIAH'S WALL FOUND IN JERUSALEM? Maybe. Todd Bolen has comments on a report in an odd place.
TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH -- only not. Yasser Arafat's tomb is getting a more permanent-sounding renovation in Ramallah:
The new tomb features a hall, a mosque with marble flooring, and a small pool network and landscaped garden.

Arafat had wanted to be buried in the Muslim cemetery next to the Al-Aksa Mosque on Jerusalem's Temple Mount but Israel, shunning the Palestinian leader for orchestrating an eruption of violence in 2000, denied permission.
The third anniversary of his death is tomorrow.

Background here, here, here, here, here and here.
SOMEONE NAMED GABRIEL KHANO, writing an autobiographical piece in, claims in a brief aside to have been involved in the early events surrounding the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. He's currently a tour operator in Jerusalem.
My family and I were driven out of Jerusalem and went first to Madaba, a village in Jordan where almost every house has a patterned mosaic. We had relatives there. Then we moved back to Palestine - to Bethlehem - and settled because there were a good number of Syrianis there who, like my parents, had been in a forced migration from Turkey years before.

One of these was Kando the Shoemaker, whose shop was next-door to our house; it was there, in 1946, that he received what became known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. When we arrived in Bethlehem, my Bishop and I tried to get recognition for these scrolls, some of which were in Syriac, which I speak and read; but they were not recognized until a young American scholar met the Bishop by chance in New York and took them to be tested using carbon 14. I had no work at the time, but my dreams of making money from the Scrolls came to nothing.
Presumably the reference to "Syriac" scrolls has something to do with the Aramaic Genesis Apocryphon from Cave One. The "Bishop" would have been Metropolitan Mar Athanasius Yeshue Samuel. I've not heard of Gabriel Khano before this. But there's another account of the events he describes, with additionals details, here, picked up by someone named Wong Chun Wai during a tour of Jerusalem:
In Bethlehem, the place where Jesus was born, the Khanos lived next door to Khalil Iskander Shahin. Khalil became famous and rich after he bought the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest and largest collection of Bible manuscripts.

Gabriel might have been in a similar situation but he was not so lucky. He too went to search for the scrolls in one of the caves but gave up after seeing thousands of bats. He also could not stand the stench of guano. Unfortunately for him, a search party later found more scrolls in the cave that he had turned his back on.
Also, a book by Mr. Khano's wife is reviewed here. Does anyone know or know of him?

For a brief but accurate account of the discovery and early history of the Scrolls, see here.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

FOR MY SINS, I'm leaving for our annual heads-of-school away day, which goes until late tomorrow afternoon. As far as I know, the Prime Minister will not be present this year. In any case, no more blogging before late Friday at the earliest.
MORE ON THE 400-YEAR-OLD TORAH SCROLL recovered from the ruins of a synagogue near Mosul and shipped to the Washington D.C. area:
From battle zone to bimaArea shul embraces centuries-old Iraqi Torah
by Richard Greenberg

Associate Editor (Washington Jewish Week)

A battle-scarred slice of the Middle East has disgorged what is now one of the most coveted objects in Temple Isaiah's possession - a 400-year-old Torah scroll that endured an Indiana-Jones-like odyssey before arriving safely at the Fulton synagogue.

Here's a fuller version of the story of the recovery:
The find was made by a U.S. special-forces soldier who had relieved himself at the site moments earlier. While he was cleaning up after himself, the soldier recognized Hebrew writing underfoot and on the wall of the structure. He knew it was Hebrew because he's Jewish.

"In the middle of all the craziness that's going on in Iraq, it's God's will that someone should find his Torah; and that person is Jewish," said Youlus. "It's an incredible irony."

The Torah, which was hidden beneath the floor of the structure, was soon unearthed by the soldier, whose identity has not been released by the military precisely because he is a member of the special forces. He was redeployed to Iraq about two weeks ago.

How did Youlus get involved? "That's the difficult part," he said, explaining that the soldier told his superior officer about his discovery. The superior officer then somehow got in touch with "someone in the government who knows what I do," and that person contacted Youlus, who declined to name the government official.


Enter Panoff, who had once informed Youlus that he was on the lookout for an especially distinctive Torah. He eventually determined that an ideal Torah "would speak to the experience of Mizrachi Jews," or those of Middle Eastern descent. "This would show how diverse and varied the Jewish experience has been."

When Youlus told him about the discovery in Mosul, Panoff immediately relayed the information to the synagogue's board members who promptly contributed $20,000 of their own money to cover the entire cost of the Torah rescue project.

Some of that money was used to pay what Youlus euphemistically called "fees" for "members of the Iraqi establishment" to allow the Torah to be removed from their country. However, possible exit routes through Turkey and Syria were barred because of fighting and other insurmountable geopolitical barriers. Israel was no option, as well, because Israeli law would have permitted the government to seize the Torah on behalf of Iraqi Jewry, according to Youlus.

The only way out was through Jordan, and that prodigious trek was made by a contingent of seven designated Torah-schleppers consisting of Iraqis, Jordanians and Youlus himself. The trip took six weeks. Torah in hand, they made their way via various conveyances - "some mechanized and some that I wished were mechanized," said Youlus, whose small band traveled by truck, on foot and by mule. "Have you ever ridden a mule?" Youlus asked. "My tuches won't forget it for a long time."

I would still like to have a clearer idea of what the antiquities laws say about a situation like this.
THE THIRTEENTH APOSTLE, by April DeConick, is reviewed in BP News:
Prof: Gnostics called Judas demon, not hero

Posted on Nov 6, 2007 | by Gregory Tomlin

HOUSTON (BP)--A new book by a biblical scholar at Rice University refutes the claims of the National Geographic Society in 2006 that a third- or fourth-century fragment of the Gospel of Judas depicted "the son of perdition" as a hero.

In fact, April DeConick, a professor of biblical studies at Rice and author of "The Thirteenth Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says," notes that the document actually calls Judas a "thirteenth demon." That translation of the ancient Coptic text conforms fairly well to what biblical scholars have said of Judas for centuries as well as ancient commentaries from the church fathers who regarded Gnosticism as heresy.


When National Geographic magazine publicized the discovery of the Gospel of Judas early in 2006, the magazine claimed that the document presented a loyal, sensitive and, perhaps, misunderstood Judas. Christ's betrayer, the magazine's experts said, actually may have been a close friend of the Messiah and a man who had been asked to "accept perpetual disgrace" in order to free Jesus' spirit from his body. Judas, too, was described in the text as a "spirit," the magazine's experts said.

But DeConick contends that translators were mistaken. The Coptic word "daimon" is not "spirit," she said.

"Plato used this word to refer to higher powers, divine powers, that controlled human fate," DeConick said. "This is the basis for the National Geographic translation 'spirit.' The problem with this interpretation is that Plato wrote almost 500 years before the Gospel of Judas and within a completely different conceptual environment. In Christian and Gnostic literature, 'daimones' are demons. They are malicious powers or angels who influence human destinies. They are associated with the stars. There are 52 instances of the use of 'daimon' in Gnostic literature, and all of them refer to demonic forces that control the cosmos and human destiny."


"All we have is the National Geographic Society's transcription of the Coptic, and its translation of that. We can't check the transcription. The situation is comparable to the deadlock that held scholarship back on the Dead Sea Scrolls 15 or 20 years ago. When manuscripts are hoarded by a few, it results in errors and monopoly interpretations. This is not the best way to do scholarship," DeConick said.

This article also sums up a number of themes that April has been pursuing for some time at her Forbidden Gospels blog.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

FOR YOU, SPECIAL DEAL: Eisenbrauns has a sale on books by bibliobloggers. Three of my books are included.

UPDATE (10 November): Dead link fixed.

This is a picture of Downtown San Diego during the recent fires, taken from Point Loma. (Click on the image for an enlargement.) Among those skyscrapers are the ones we all will be staying in during the SBL convention, which starts at the end of next week. The Governator did a fine job on the crisis (see below) and the fires are almost entirely contained or out. Still, I'm glad I didn't see this picture at the time. That fire is not nearly as close as it looks, but my mother's house is to the left of the hill and some miles back, too close for comfort. She wasn't evacuated and the fire never really got very near, but one of my friends farther north did have to be evacuated and they thought at the time they were going to lose their house. Luckily, the fire was contained in time.

The photo has been making the rounds via e-mail and it was sent to me by a relative in San Diego. Their source thought it came from the Union-Tribune, but I can't find an online source to link to.

See you soon in San Diego!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Fragment of ancient parchment from Bible given to Jerusalem scholars
By Anshel Pfeffer (Haaretz)
tags: Aleppo Codex

An eight-centimeter-square piece of the 1087-year-old Aleppo Codex will be given to a representative of the Ben Zvi Institute in Jerusalem on Thursday, following 18 years during which Israeli scholars tried to retrieve it from businessman Sam Sabbagh.

Sabbagh salvaged the fragment from a burning synagogue in Aleppo in 1947.

Inscribed on both sides, it is one of the lost fragments of the codex, a copy of the Bible written in 920 C.E. in Tiberias by the scribe Shlomo Ben Buya'a. The fragment Sabbagh had bears verses of Exodus chapter 8, including the words of Moses to Pharaoh: "Let my people go, that they may serve me..."
Sabbagh believed the small piece of parchment was his good luck charm for six decades. He was convinced that thanks to the parchment, which he kept with him always in a transparent plastic container, he had been saved from riots in his hometown of Aleppo during Israel's War of Independence, and he had managed to immigrate from Syria to the United States in 1968 and start a new life in Brooklyn and make a living. The charm was with him when he underwent complicated surgery.

Just two years ago, it completed its task, when Sabbagh passed away.


In 1987 Professor Menahem Ben-Sasson, then head of the Ben Zvi Institute and now chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, went to the U.S. to obtain funding from a wealthy member of the Aleppo community, Steve Shalom, for an urgent restoration of the codex.

"While I was meeting with him, another member of the community came in and said that the codex had burned but that his brother Sam had a page. I asked for the brother's phone number and called him right away. He told me 'I won't give it to you under any circumstances. It has saved me from disaster.' I asked if at least I could photograph it, and he agreed."

Michael Glatzer, the academic secretary of the Ben Zvi Institute confirmed that the shape of the letters the vowels and the cantillation marks left no room for doubt: it was part of the codex.

Glatzer documented Sabbagh's testimony about finding the page on the day of the fire. "I saw the pages scattered on the floor and damaged by the fire. I could have taken the whole remaining part but my hands shook with fear and the horror of what I had seen. I thought they were going to butcher us all like the Turks massacred the Armenians. I only took the little piece that was separate."

It is now believed that other Jews came in and took pieces of the legendary codex and subsequently refused to part with them. Although Sabbagh agreed to bestow the fragment posthumously, Ben Zvi Institute Director Dr. Zvi Zameret says negotiations with the family took time. "In the end we paid the small sum of a few thousand shekels so they would feel good and we had a little ceremony in New York with Sabbagh's widow."


Ben-Sasson says that since he found the fragment Sabbagh had, whenever he would give a lecture to Jews of the Aleppo community, he would ask them to find the missing pieces of the codex. "They bring me all kinds of manuscripts and charms but it was never that. I've even asked the community's rabbis to place a ban on anyone holding parts of the codex, but they told me it wouldn't help. The connection between the Aleppo Jews and the codex is just too strong."

More please.

(From Steve Caruso via the Hugoye list.

Monday, November 05, 2007

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: A terrorist attack at the Mughrabi Gate may have been thwarted.
Lupolianski assassination plot foiled
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (Jerusalem Post)

Three Jerusalem Arabs have been charged with planning a series of terrorist attacks in the city, including the assassination of Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, a suicide bombing and a shooting attack near the Western Wall, security officials said Sunday.

The suspects, who were arrested two weeks ago, were charged Friday in a Jerusalem court with establishing contacts with a foreign agent, conspiring to assist an enemy in time of war, and aiding a terrorist group.

A gag order imposed on the case was lifted on Sunday evening.

According to the indictment, late last year Mamoun Abu Tir and Atallah Abu Tir, both 19 and from the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Umm Tuba, decided to set up a terrorist cell.


Mamoun Abu Tir allegedly discussed attacks on various individuals, including the mayor of Jerusalem, and plans for a shooting attack at the Mughrabi Gate leading to the Temple Mount.

If there was a plot, it doesn't seem likely to be a coincidence that the attack was to take place at this spot, whose excavation by Israeli archaeologists has already generated lots of controversy, including protests in the Islamic world and violent protest in Jerusalem.
A ROUNDUP of the controvery over the tenuring of Nadia Abu El-Haj appears in Inside Higher Ed:
Barnard Tenures Scholar Opposed by Massive Campaign

In one of the most publicly contested tenure cases of the year, Barnard College announced Friday that it would promote Nadia Abu El-Haj, an anthropologist whose work on archaeology in Israel led to a major campaign against her.

A statement released by the college did not directly speak to the controversy that has raged around Abu El-Haj. “Like all tenured members of the Barnard faculty, Professor Abu El-Haj has successfully passed a highly rigorous review that involves both Barnard’s own independent process and a university-wide review [at Columbia University] that reflects Barnard’s partnership with Columbia and the participation of Barnard faculty in Columbia’s graduate programs,” the statement said.

“The tenure process includes extensive, confidential peer review by leading scholars in the candidate’s field; clear documentation of teaching effectiveness; and a candidate’s record of service to the institution and her profession. Tenure, together with the norms of academic freedom that pertain to all faculty, gives scholars the liberty to advance ideas, regardless of their political impact, so that their work may be openly debated and play a critical role in shaping knowledge in the scholar’s academic field.” (A Barnard spokeswoman said that college officials would not discuss the tenure decision beyond the statement.)

Background here.
MARY MAGDALENE is the subject of a long article (dated June 2006) in Smithsonian Magazine. I confess I haven't had time to read all of it, but here it is:
Who Was Mary Magdalene?

From the writing of the New Testament to the filming of The Da Vinci Code, her image has been repeatedly conscripted, contorted and contradicted. But through it all, one question has gone largely unanswered

* By James Carroll
* Smithsonian magazine, June 2006

The whole history of western civilization is epitomized in the cult of Mary Magdalene. For many centuries the most obsessively revered of saints, this woman became the embodiment of Christian devotion, which was defined as repentance. Yet she was only elusively identified in Scripture, and has thus served as a scrim onto which a succession of fantasies has been projected. In one age after another her image was reinvented, from prostitute to sibyl to mystic to celibate nun to passive helpmeet to feminist icon to the matriarch of divinity’s secret dynasty. How the past is remembered, how sexual desire is domesticated, how men and women negotiate their separate impulses; how power inevitably seeks sanctification, how tradition becomes authoritative, how revolutions are co-opted; how fallibility is reckoned with, and how sweet devotion can be made to serve violent domination—all these cultural questions helped shape the story of the woman who befriended Jesus of Nazareth.

THE UNION OF ARAB ARCHAEOLOGISTS is meeting to discuss a number of archaeological issues, including Jerusalem:
Kuwait keen on active role with Union of Arab Archaeologists

Published Date: November 05, 2007 (Kuwait Times)
CAIRO: Kuwait is keen on playing an active role in archaeological events that bring together experts and enthusiasts in the field in the Arab region, a specialist told KUNA yesterday.

Kuwait University Professor Faysal Al-Kanderi said Kuwait is taking part in the current conference of the Union of Arab Archaeologists which discusses the remains and relics associated with a renowned Ottoman navigator and other figures deemed controversial at one time or another among Arab intelligentsia and culture enthusiasts.

Al-Kanderi said Al-Quds (Jerusalem) and attempts to juadize the holy city feature high on discussion items and the media's blind eye to escalations and violations on the part of Israel are also to be discussed.

Should be interesting.
International panel discusses digitization of Dead Sea Scrolls
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (Jerusalem Post)

An international committee of 10 experts is meeting in Jerusalem this week to discuss the future digitization of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Israel Antiquities Authority said Sunday.

The scrolls, which are the oldest surviving biblical texts, were discovered 60 years ago by a Beduin shepherd in what is regarded as one of the most significant archeological finds of the 20th century.

The four-day meet, which began on Sunday, will deliberate on the best methods and techniques to digitize the scrolls for publication, research and conservation purposes, said Pnina Tur of the state-run archeological body's conservation department.

Bring it on!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

THE POST ON RICHARD BAUCKHAM'S RETIREMENT has been updated with additional photos and commentary.

(Bumped to the top for today.)
Religious sect fears extinction in Iraq

By Betsy Hiel
Sunday, November 4, 2007

ERBIL, Iraq -- Humam Abdel Jabar sits on a bench in a friend's jewelry shop. Shoulders hunched, head down, he nervously plays with his fingers while recounting a tale of kidnapping and torture that is familiar to many Iraqis.

In April, "four armed men wearing face masks came at 8 o'clock at night and broke down the door of my house," the tall, dark-eyed man with a full moustache wearily recounts.

They shoved him into a car trunk and drove to a nearby house, then blindfolded and bound him.

Jabar stares at the floor. "They beat me and terrorized me. They used a water hose ... punched and pushed me."

He points to scars on his face and shoulders.

"They said, 'You are an infidel, and this is an Islamic state. Either you pay the jiziyah (a tax that Islamic governments once levied on non-Muslims) or it is hallal (religiously sanctioned) to kill you.' "

The kidnappers demanded that the goldsmith pay a $100,000 ransom.

"If you do not give us this, how would you like to be killed -- by shooting or beheading?" they asked him. "We will send your head back to your family in a bag."

Jabar, 42, belongs to the Mandaeans, a tiny religious sect that survived for 2,000 years in Iraq and Iran. Now scattered by Iraq's bloodshed, its leaders fear the sect will disappear.

Not Jews, Christians or Muslims, Mandaeans venerate John the Baptist in rituals revolving around water. Their religious leaders still speak a dialect of Aramaic that is closest to that of the Babylonian Talmud.

"They are one of a variety of groups that appeared around the same time as Christianity ... offering alternative interpretations -- in the case of the Mandaeans, one that scholars have identified as Gnostic," explains Nathaniel Deutsch, a Mandaean expert at Swarthmore College. "The Mandaeans are the one community ... that still survives from this period, and that is extraordinary."

Background here, here, here, and here.
GOSPEL OF JUDAS WATCH: Articles on two recent books on the Gospel of Judas.
New translation sparks debate

Newly translated Gospel offers twist to old story of betrayal


Date published: 11/3/2007


Judas Iscariot is one of the most infamous traitors.

But was he?

Or was he just an early victim of bad press?

Marvin Meyer, a biblical scholar who translated the recently published Gospel of Judas, thinks it was the latter. Meyer spoke last week at the University of Mary Washington.


But is it possible Judas didn't betray Jesus but helped him? Instead of being the traitor, could he have been the only disciple to truly understand Jesus' mission?

The Gospel of Judas, a text discovered more than 30 years ago and translated in 2006, suggests that very scenario.

The new look at Judas has been so compelling that the translated Gospel became a best-seller.

Meyer's recent lecture at UMW was well-attended. He travels the world speaking about the Gospel of Judas.

"The response has been just incredible to this text," Meyer said in an interview.

The text has its supporters but some consider it heretical and others are now questioning the translation. Nevertheless, it's opening up discussions, Meyer said.

As for those questioning the translation, note, for example, this press release:
Rice University professor debunks National Geographic translation of Gospel of Judas

A new book by Rice University professor April DeConick debunks a stunning claim by National Geographic's translation of the Gospel of Judas. According to that translation, Judas was a hero, not a villain, who acted on Jesus' request to betray him. DeConick disagrees.

Before releasing her book "The Thirteenth Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says," DeConick was intrigued by the original release of the Coptic Gospel of Judas and as a scholar wanted to read it for herself. While researching and translating it, she discovered that National Geographic's translators had made some serious errors.

"Once I started translating the Gospel of Judas and began to see the types of translation choices that the National Geographic team had made I was startled and concerned," DeConick said. "The text very clearly called Judas a 'demon.'"

For much more, see DeConick'sThe Forbidden Gospels blog.