Saturday, December 01, 2007


Just got word from Eileen Schuller of the sad news that John Strugnell, one of the members of the original Dead Sea Scrolls editorial team, died on 30 November in Boston. I worked with John a good bit in the 1980s as a Harvard postgraduate working on the Scrolls. He was a giant in the field.

Requiescat in pace.
TYLER WILLIAMS needs some emergency help with this month's Biblical Studies Carnival.
MORE ON THAT WALL that has been associated with the time of Nehemiah. An AP article quotes the views of two other Israeli archaologists:
Ephraim Stern, professor emeritus of archaeology at Hebrew University and chairman of the state of Israel archaeological council, offered support for Mazar's claim.

"The material she showed me is from the Persian period," the period of Nehemiah, he said. "I can sign on the date of the material she found."

However, another scholar disputed the significance of the discovery.

Israel Finkelstein, professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv University, called the discovery "an interesting find," but said the pottery and other artifacts do not indicate that the wall was built in the time of Nehemiah. Because the debris was not connected to a floor or other structural part of the wall, the wall could have been built later, Finkelstein said.

"The wall could have been built, theoretically, in the Ottoman period," he said. "It's not later than the pottery — that's all we know."
THE FALLOUT from the Abu El-Haj tenure decision continues:
Facts in the air
By Bari Weiss (Haaretz)
Tags: land of israel, Archeology

Earlier this month, a young anthropology professor named Nadia Abu El-Haj received tenure at Barnard College, a division of Columbia University in New York. Unlike most academic promotions, which largely go unnoticed, her successful tenure bid was met with raucous jeers and cheers. Here was a victory for a "purveyor of hate," according to Paula Stern, the Barnard alumna who organized a campaign to deny El-Haj tenure. For her supporters, this marked a clear victory against the "New McCarthyism" - the alleged campaign now being waged against scholars who criticize Israel, particularly those of Arab descent.

It's all too easy to toss the news of El-Haj's tenure into the stew that is the ongoing battle over the state of Middle Eastern studies at universities today. But this is not just another round between the Zionists and the anti-Zionists. This is about the nature of truth, and the possibility of, well, facts themselves.


Let's be clear: Is it in the interest of today's Zionists to find evidence of an ancient Israelite kingdom in the Land of Israel? Of course. But recognizing such interest does not preclude the possibility of the application of fair, professional standards, and the ability of archaeologists, regardless of their ethnic group, to uphold them in good faith.

El-Haj's work does not remind readers of the need to be skeptical of the influence nationalism can have on the interpretation of archaeological facts. Instead, she has written a book condemning the notion of facts themselves. It is for this reason that those who care about the future of the veracity of facts - and not just the future of Israel - should take serious notice of her promotion.
This is a defensible reading of the book, although, largely due to Abu El-Haj's convoluted writing, as well as what I have called her argument by insinuation, I think she could also claim that this wasn't what she meant.
HANUKKAH is coming soon, and so the Jerusalem Post has a tourism-related piece on real and not-so-real archaeological connections etc. with the Maccabees:
On the Maccabee trail

The spectacle of two ancient armies advancing toward each other in battle is no doubt striking. And these compelling images of warriors atop elephants and steering extravagant chariots into battle are evoked at Canada Park, once the site of a Hellenistic town traditionally considered to be the New Testament settlement of Emmaus. Remnants of the town are displayed alongside plaques detailing the modest Maccabee rebel militia's most successful victory against its vast Greco-Syrian rival in 166 BCE, which was won at Emmaus.

AN ESSAY IN EL AHRAM entitled "Colonising a metaphor," by one Eric Walberg, begins with a reasonably coherent discussion of the dangers of using archaeology to prove the stories in the Bible as facts, although it draws entirely on a minimalist viewpoint which, although it is reputable, is hardly the only specialist position on the history of ancient Israel. The essay then rapidly descends into a bizarre anti-Israel conspiracy-theory rant:
The Zionists reconvened the ancient Jewish supreme court, the Sanhedrin (which condemned Jesus), in 2005 for the first time since 425 AD, and have been plotting virtually since the creation of Israel to blow up the Al-Aqsa Mosque and rebuild a replica of Solomon's temple there. Just recently, Israeli archaeologists "found" remains of a temple under the mosque, yet another astounding victory for this bogus science. Reconstruction plans are in place for the mythical and no doubt magnificent temple of Solomon, a temple that never existed except in the imaginations of dreamy-eyed Jewish scribes in third c BC Alexandria. Truly a breathtaking prospect, however mad. But nonetheless the logical culmination of the Zionist project, eagerly fuelled by the official Israeli archaeological establishment.

Then there's the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which sets out just such a programme in albeit an overtly grotesque form and is solemnly disowned by Zionists as a forgery, though a forgery of what is never made clear.

What is behind the Bible is not simply a record of historical facts or of even doctrines, but ultimately, the presence of God. There is much self-reference of symbols within the Bible for which the only "proof" that, say, the gospel story is true is that it fulfils the prophecies of the OT, and the only "proof" that the prophecies of the OT are true is that they are fulfilled by the gospel. This has absolutely nothing to do with digging up shards to establish some self-referential "event" in one of the Bible's many tales. There is no temple out there (or under there, where "there" happens to be the very real Al-Aqsa Mosque). The real temple exists in one's heart, though it is very unlikely that one can find it in the scheming Zionist's inflamed and secular heart. And by murdering and tormenting peaceful natives in order to scrounge some bits of a previous building and call it God's temple is unspeakable in its evil. The Naturei Karta heart has the temple in it, but for such a Jew, physical Israel itself is an abomination, and should be dismantled forthwith, or to borrow a particularly colourful metaphor of recent vintage, wiped off the map.
That's right, he equates professional archaeologists with the (self-appointed) "new Sanhedrin" and the extremists calling for the building of a third temple. He thinks there was no Solomonic Temple. He hints that maybe the Protocols of the Elders of Zion has something to it after all. And he thinks that for the true (anti-Zionist) Jew, with the President of Iran, Israel should be wiped off the map.

A Google search for Eric Walberg is illuminating. If we stick just to things written under his own name and posted on his own website, it's clear that he's a 9/11 conspiracy theorist. Al Ahram has published better.

For the evidence for the existence of the first Temple, go here.

Friday, November 30, 2007

ARAMAIC WATCH: WIKISYR -- a Wikipedia on matters Syriac ("l'encyclopédie électronique de l'Orient Syriaque").

(Via Andrew Hannouche on the Hugoye list.)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Nehemiah's wall uncovered
By ETGAR LEFKOVITS (Jerusalem Post)

The remnants of a wall from the time of the prophet Nehemiah have been uncovered in an archeological excavation in Jerusalem's ancient City of David, strengthening recent claims that King David's palace has been found at the site, an Israeli archeologist said Wednesday.
Not sure I follow the logic of that.

The section of the 2,500-year-old Nehemiah wall, located just outside the Dung Gate and the Old City walls facing the Mount of Olives, was dated by pottery found during a recent dig at the site, said Hebrew University archeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar.

(Via Joseph I Lauer's list.)

Tomorrow is St. Andrew's Day and our autumn graduation ceremonies, and I'm swamped today clearing space for tomorrow. Blogging will be a low priority.

UPDATE (1 December): More here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

VARIOUS ENOCHIC APOCRYPHA seem to be alluded to in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier:
by Andy Khouri, Staff Writer [Comic Book Resources]
Posted: November 15, 2007 — More From This Author

The long awaited "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier" is on sale now from Wildstorm, and that means Jess Nevins has been busy. Known in far corners of the Internet for his exhaustive annotations on some of American comics' greatest works, Nevins is a master who has been acknowledged by "League" creators Kevin O'Neil and Alan Moore, who've provided him with their own commentaries and remarks about his hugely impressive work.

Nevins has already completed his annotations for "Black Dossier," and CBR News is proud to re-publish his startlingly prodigious work here for our readers. To discuss Nevins' annotations and "Black Dossier" with fellow readers, don't forget to stop by CBR's Wildstorm forum.


The Book of Enoch is not, I believe, a reference to the various books which are falsely-attributed to Enoch, the great-grandfather of Noah, but rather to the book in which Dr. John Dee and his assistant Edward Kelley took dictation of the angelical language from a set of angels.
Philp & Emily Graves write, "I think the reference to the Book of Enoch is possibly a double-allusion. Certainly the apocryphal Enoch talks of various Angelic beings (and is the reference for the Nephilim and Lilim, which are the offspring referenced on p26). Likely, therefore that Suttle (Dee) and Face (Kelley) communicate with the creatures from Apocryphal Enoch, and would then use such contact to write a LoEG version of Dee's Enoch."
Greg Strohecker writes,

I think Moore is referencing the actual book "1 Enoch" from the pseudepigrapha, as well as the writings of John Dee and Edward Kelly. In 1 Enoch, there is a section where it describes how some of the "Watchers", who were fallen angels, took human wives and had children with them. Their descendents were a race of giants called the Nephillim (not unlike the Titans of Greek Mythology). Here's the link and quote from Wikipedia: . "The first section of the book depicts the interaction of the fallen angels with mankind; Sêmîazâz compels the other 199 fallen angels to take human wives to have children." In the magical Enochian tradition “aethyrs” are various planes or worlds which surround and mingle with our own.
The mythos is nothing if not eclectic, with (to give a random smattering) references to Greek, Greco-Assyrian, and Egyptian mythology, Arthurian legends, and the Cthulu and Conan stories.
Nineteenth Century Photographs Of Israel At Yeshiva Museum
Nov 27th, 2007 (Antiques and the Arts Online, CT)

Yeshiva University Museum will present the first exhibition of Nineteenth Century photographs of Israel by James Graham and Mendel Diness. On view December 4–April 6, "Picturing Jerusalem" includes 70 rare vintage prints of the Holy Land by Diness and his teacher Graham along with a selection of original artifacts used by the photographers.

Organized by the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, and featuring some of the earliest known images of Jerusalem, the exhibition is the result of discovery at a garage sale in St Paul, Minn., in 1989, when an American photographer came across some dusty boxes of glass plate negatives, silver prints, notebooks and other photographic material. This will be the first known exhibition of James Graham's work since an 1862 exhibition in London. Yeshiva University Museum provides the exhibition's premiere venue on an international exhibition tour. The tour's final stop will be the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Two images of the Temple Mount from the 1850s appear in the article.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

REPORTER OF THE LOST ARK? A journalist from The Smithsonian traveled to Ethiopia to try to get a glimpse of it.
Keepers of the Lost Ark?

Christians in Ethiopia have long claimed to have the ark of the covenant. Our reporter investigated

* By Paul Raffaele
* Photographs by Paul Raffaele
* Smithsonian magazine, December 2007

"They shall make an ark of acacia wood," God commanded Moses in the Book of Exodus, after delivering the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. And so the Israelites built an ark, or chest, gilding it inside and out. And into this chest Moses placed stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments, as given to him on Mount Sinai.

Thus Jews came to revere the ark as an earthly manifestation of God. The Old Testament describes its enormous powers—blazing with fire and light, halting rivers, blasting away armies and bringing down the fabled walls of Jericho. (Steven Spielberg's 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark provides a special-effects approximation.) According to the First Book of Kings, King Solomon built the First Temple in Jerusalem to house the ark. It was venerated there during Solomon's reign (c. 970-930 B.C.) and beyond.

Then it vanished. Much of Jewish tradition holds that it disappeared before or while the Babylonians sacked the temple in Jerusalem in 586 b.c.

But through the centuries, Ethiopian Christians have claimed that the ark rests in a chapel in the small town of Aksum, in their country's northern highlands. It arrived nearly 3,000 years ago, they say, and has been guarded by a succession of virgin monks who, once anointed, are forbidden to set foot outside the chapel grounds until they die.

One of the first things that caught my eye in Addis Ababa, the country's capital, was an enormous concrete pillar topped by a giant red star—the sort of monument to communism still visible in Pyongyang. The North Koreans built this one as a gift for the Derg, the Marxist regime that ruled Ethiopia from 1974 to 1991 (the country is now governed by an elected parliament and prime minister). In a campaign that Derg officials named the Red Terror, they slaughtered their political enemies—estimates range from several thousand to more than a million people. The most prominent of their victims was Emperor Haile Selassie, whose death, under circumstances that remain contested, was announced in 1975.

He was the last emperor of Ethiopia—and, he claimed, the 225th monarch, descended from Menelik, the ruler believed responsible for Ethiopia's possession of the ark of the covenant in the tenth century b.c.

The story is told in the Kebra Negast (Glory of the Kings), Ethiopia's chronicle of its royal line: the Queen of Sheba, one of its first rulers, traveled to Jerusalem to partake of King Solomon's wisdom; on her way home, she bore Solomon's son, Menelik. Later Menelik went to visit his father, and on his return journey was accompanied by the firstborn sons of some Israelite nobles—who, unbeknown to Menelik, stole the ark and carried it with them to Ethiopia. When Menelik learned of the theft, he reasoned that since the ark's frightful powers hadn't destroyed his retinue, it must be God's will that it remain with him.

Many historians—including Richard Pankhurst, a British-born scholar who has lived in Ethiopia for almost 50 years—date the Kebra Negast manuscript to the 14th century a.d. It was written, they say, to validate the claim by Menelik's descendants that their right to rule was God-given, based on an unbroken succession from Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. But the Ethiopian faithful say the chronicles were copied from a fourth-century Coptic manuscript that was, in turn, based on a far earlier account. This lineage remained so important to them that it was written into Selassie's two imperial constitutions, in 1931 and 1955.

Whatever the merits of the claims about the Ark of the Covenant (and as you might guess, I am skeptical), this is cool:
By chance, in the lobby of my hotel I met Alem Abbay, an Aksum native who was on vacation from Frostburg State University in Maryland, where he teaches African history. Abbay took me to a stone tablet about eight feet high and covered in inscriptions in three languages—Greek; Geez, the ancient language of Ethiopia; and Sabaean, from across the Red Sea in southern Yemen, the true birthplace, some scholars believe, of the Queen of Sheba.

"King Ezana erected this stone tablet early in the fourth century, while still a pagan ruler," Abbay told me. His finger traced the strange-looking alphabets carved into the rock 16 centuries ago. "Here, the king praises the god of war after a victory over a rebel people." But sometime in the following decade Ezana was converted to Christianity.

Abbay led me to another stone tablet covered with inscriptions in the same three languages. "By now King Ezana is thanking 'the Lord of Heaven' for success in a military expedition into nearby Sudan," he said. "We know he meant Jesus because archaeological digs have turned up coins during Ezana's reign that feature the Cross of Christ around this time." Before that, they bore the pagan symbols of the sun and moon.
Raffaele didn't get to see the Ark, but he did meet its guardian.
The next day I tried again, led by a friendly priest to the gate of the ark chapel, which is about the size of a typical suburban house and surrounded by a high iron fence. "Wait here," he said, and he climbed the steps leading to the chapel entrance, where he called out softly to the guardian.

A few minutes later he scurried back, smiling. A few feet from where I stood, through the iron bars, a monk who looked to be in his late 50s peered around the chapel wall.

"It's the guardian," the priest whispered.

He wore an olive-colored robe, dark pillbox turban and sandals. He glanced warily at me with deep-set eyes. Through the bars he held out a wooden cross painted yellow, touching my forehead with it in a blessing and pausing as I kissed the top and bottom in the traditional way.

I asked his name.

"I'm the guardian of the ark," he said, with the priest translating. "I have no other name."

I told him I had come from the other side of the world to speak with him about the ark. "I can't tell you anything about it," he said. "No king or patriarch or bishop or ruler can ever see it, only me. This has been our tradition since Menelik brought the ark here more than 3,000 years ago."

We peered at each other for a few moments. I asked a few more questions, but to each he remained as silent as an apparition. Then he was gone.
It's a long article and well worth the read. It's of interest not for any historical information about the actual Ark, but for the fascinating parabiblical legends of the Ethiopians.

Earlier posts on the Kebra Negast are here, here, here, here, and here.
RICHARD BAUCKHAM'S BOOK, JESUS AND THE EYEWITNESSES, continues to generate lots of discussion post-SBL.

(The time stamp on this post is correct. Jet lag has caught up with me the second night home.)

Monday, November 26, 2007

THE ORTHODOX CENTER FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF BIBLICAL STUDIES (OCABS) is pleased to announce the launching of its new, on-line academic journal, The Journal of the Orthodox Center for the Advancement of Biblical Studies (JOCABS).

The mission of JOCABS is to promote scholarship in biblical studies, homiletics, and religious education among Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Christians around the world.

Although submissions in English are preferred thus ensuring greater accessibility, academic papers in other languages (especially Arabic, Armenian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, and Spanish) will be considered by our multi-lingual editorial board and its international associates.

Articles may be submitted in the following areas:
  • Old Testament and Cognate Studies. Including (but not limited to) critical studies in Hebrew Bible; Septuagint; Pseudepigrapha; Ancient Near Eastern History and Culture; Syro-Palestinian Archaeology.
  • New Testament and Cognate Studies. Including (but not limited to) critical studies in New Testament; Early Christian Literature; Apocryphal Literature and Traditions; Classical Studies; Archaeology of the Hellenistic and Roman periods.
  • The Bible in Homiletics and Christian Education. Including theoretical and methodological studies dedicated to the practical applications of biblical scholarship to both preaching and pedagogy.
  • Book Reviews. Submissions of critical reviews of books related to the field of biblical studies will be accepted and invited.

JOCABS is committed to promoting scholarship among scholars and graduate students and encourages them to submit papers to its peer-reviewed process. The first issue will appear in the Summer of 2008, and semiannually thereafter.

For additional information, please contact Dr. Nicolae Roddy, at or Fr. Vahan Hovhanessian, at

To submit an article online, please visit
CAN'T MAKE IT UP -- Movies on Jesus in India:
Hollywood takes action hero Jesus to India

Film based on Aquarian Gospel to cover years left out of New Testament

Randeep Ramesh in New Delhi
Monday November 19, 2007
The Guardian

Hollywood is to fill in the Bible's "missing years" with a story about Jesus as a wandering mystic who travelled across India, living in Buddhist monasteries and speaking out against the iniquities of the country's caste system.

Film producers have delved deep into revisionist scholarship to piece together what they say was Jesus's life between the ages of 13 and 30, a period untouched by the recognised gospels.

The Aquarian Gospel is a modern forgery, which doesn't exactly count as "revisionist scholarship" or, indeed, any kind of scholarship.
Jesus Christ gets an evil twin in fantasy film
Mon Nov 26, 2007 1:14pm IST

By Tony Tharakan

PANAJI, India (Reuters) - There's no mention of him in the Bible but the plot of a fantasy film set in India gives Jesus Christ a twin brother -- and an evil one at that.

German filmmaker Robert Sigl's "The 13th Disciple" is still in the planning stage but producer Mario Stefan is in Goa trying to attract an Indian co-producer for the project.

"It's a fantasy-adventure film and takes place completely in present-day India," Stefan said on the sidelines of the 38th International Film Festival of India, which opened over the weekend.

The story traces the journey of two German archaeologists looking for evidence that Jesus visited India.

The researchers, who are twins themselves, find that Jesus had an evil twin brother who is reincarnated in the present as the scheming head of a religious sect.

The third-century Acts of Thomas places the Apostle Thomas in India, but that's quite a late tradition and in any case is rather a different matter from putting Jesus there.

Also the wandering Greek philosopher Apollonius of Tyana, who lived at the same time as Jesus and is sometimes compared with him, reportedly (according to his third-century biographer Philostratus) traveled to India and hung out there with the gymnosophists for a while. But I'm not aware of any remotely ancient apocryphal traditions that put Jesus in India.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

HERE'S MY REPORT ON THE SAN DIEGO DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBITION, which I visited on Friday. (Click on the images below for larger versions.)

This is a view of the Natural History Museum from the outside.

The big tree (visible on the right in the previous picture) has been a prominent fixture of the Museum Plaza for a very long time. I remember climbing on it when I was five years old, after a weekly summer museum class for children. But the decades of climbers like me started to take a toll on the health of the tree, so now it is fenced in so it can get a little peace.

This is the security line, through which visitors have to pass before entering the museum.

Security was tight. I had to check in my Swiss army knife.

There were further lines in the Museum. I had already bought my ticket online, so strictly speaking I didn't need to go through any of them, although it did take some time to find the place on the second floor where I could pick the ticket up. Note, by the way, the Allosaurus skeleton visible in the background through that open door.

My book was indeed for sale in the gift shop.

No photos were allowed in the displays, but here are some impressions. The upper floor had a lot of photographs on the walls of various things pertaining to Qumran, the Dead Sea, and the Scrolls, but I was familiar with most of this and breezed through it quickly. The actual Scrolls were on the lower level. The first few displays were crowded, but the crowds thinned, evidently because for most people when you've seen a couple of Dead Sea Scrolls, you've seen them all. The lighting was low and not always well angled for reading, but I did give each Scroll a careful look and managed at least to pick out a word or two in each. I was especially interested in two of them. The first was a manuscript of the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, on which I've done a lot of work -- including in the commentary for sale in the gift shop. I worked from photographs and this was the first time I've been in the same room with one of the manuscripts, so I spent some time puzzling out the opening lines of the work. The second was Bar Kokhba papyrus 46. It's a land contract and in itself is not very interesting, but the opening line dates it to "year three of Shimon bar Kosiba, Prince of Israel" (שמעון בר כסבא נשיא ישראל). Again, this is the first time I've been in the physical presence of a scroll contemporary with Bar Kokhba which actually contained his name. It's a little like reading a document from Camelot with King Arthur's name on it. I also was happy to locate the name of Šemihaza, one of the Watchers (fallen angels that consorted with human women and fathered giants), in the Aramaic manuscript of the Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch).

The introductory displays mostly seemed quite good to me. They concentrated on the Essene theory, but also repeatedly referred to Golb's theory (without mentioning him by name) that the Scrolls came from Jerusalem. They rightly made much of the ten years of effort invested by the original team in piecing together the thousands of fragments into scrolls, a huge accomplishment frequently glossed over by those who criticize them for taking so long to publish. There was mention of the criticisms of De Vaux's application of monastery-related terminology to describe the Qumran buildings. And there were salutary explicit corrections of errors in The Da Vinci Code, such as the fact that there are no books from the Christian New Testament among the Scrolls.

Naturally I found statements with which I disagreed or that I wanted to nuance, but I'll pass over those. But the timeline just before the Scrolls display did have a disturbing number of errors and infelicities. It said that Qumran was settled c. 250 BCE (actually generally thought to be c. 150 BCE, although the archaeological evidence would point to closer to 100 BCE). It dated the LXX translation c. 300-200 BCE, but I've never heard anyone argue that the Pentateuch was translated much before 250. Plato is correctly dated to about 385 BCE but he is placed under the third century BCE in the timeline. We are told that Jesus "teaches of the supreme power of love," which is not a very accurate sound bite of the scholarly view of the historical Jesus. It would have been more helpful to say that he taught about the Kingdom of God in parables. And, although I'm not a specialist in ancient China, I'm pretty sure that specialists regard the Tao Te Ching not as a fifth century BCE composition by someone named Lao Tzu, but a later pseudonymous work.

I wish they would correct these problems, but otherwise the exhibition was very good.

After the museum visit I had to run an errand Downtown and, this being Southern California and all, I was bemused but not surprised to happen upon this museum on Market Street. Unfortunately, it seems no longer to be in business, so I couldn't get in.
I'M BACK IN ST. ANDREWS. The trip was uneventful, apart from when my watch shorted out going through the security scanner at the San Diego Airport. All the security personnel I talked to swore that the scanners don't do such things, but it seems like a remarkable coincidence.