Saturday, April 12, 2008

DOCTOR WHO meets the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha!

My son and I just finished watching episode 2 of Doctor Who Series 4 (trailer here), which episode takes place in Pompeii on 23 and 24 August 79 CE. I'll avoid spoilers, but at one point the Sibylline priestesses quote Sibylline Oracles Book 13 as predicting the coming of The Blue Box. That line isn't in our copies of Book 13 today, but maybe our text is corrupt.
THE SEPHIROTIC TREE is on display at the Smart Museum in Chicago:
Another attention-grabbing piece is the 19th century “Holy Tree.” This piece is a long strip of parchment with Hebrew text inked onto it. The piece is a sefirot, or a graphic representation of God’s attributes. This piece, like the works from Ancient Mesopotamia, may generally be thought significant more for its religious or historical significance than as a piece of art. But approaching the piece from an aesthetic perspective brings out the fluidity of ink markings and the way the shape of the text guides the viewer’s eyes through the piece without a dizzying effect.
CAITLIN MORAN, television critic for the London Times, wasn't impressed by Tudor Parfitt's Ark of the Covenant theory:
I don't think I'm going to wholly disintegrate your day when I tell you that Parfitt doesn't actually find the Ark. Let's face it - if humanity ever finds what is essentially God's handbag, it's not going to be left to the TV critics to break the news. CNN, I think, might get there first.

What Parfitt does do, however, is trace - using DNA - the lost tribes of Israel, their flight into Africa, and the establishment of Jewish tribes in Zimbabwe that exist until this day. It's all quite reasonable and mildly diverting. Definitely worth, say, half an hour of your life; particularly if you're into African Jews.

However, having worked himself up into a big tizzy about his life-long quest for the Ark - “Five years went by without any leads,” he says, at one point, with almost incalculable weariness - and having been giving a whopping and, frankly, unnecessary 75 minutes to fill, Parfitt keeps on flogging the dead Ark horse to a point of mild dementia.

In the end, he becomes convinced that he's found the real Ark. The real Ark, according to Parfitt and not really anyone else at all, is not a sacred box, 80cm wide and high, lined inside and out with gold, topped with a golden lid, and two golden cherubs with outstretched wings, through which one can hear the voice of God.

It's actually - a drum. Yes, a drum. A knackered old drum from Africa. That's, erm, only 600 years old. That Parfitt eventually finds in a cupboard. In a museum. By looking through a card index.

Yes, I know. It's not quite grabbing-your-hat-from-underneath-the-closing-stone-door-having-just-outrun-the-giant-boulder.

So, mmmmm. Whilst it's great to see bone-botherers going for the big ticket historical items again - why settle for a submerged Neolithic toilet-area, when you could track down the intercom to God? - in this case, it doesn't really work, thrill-wise.
Oh well.

(Background here, and keep following the links back.)

Friday, April 11, 2008

A VATICAN EXHIBIT coming to Cleveland sounds as though it will have some interesting items:
Vatican Splendors Exhibit Coming To Cleveland by Dan Martin
More than 200 items from the Vatican Museums, Saint Peter's Basilica and the Swiss Guard will soon be on display at the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland. A venue large enough to house 2,000 years of history, culture and tradition, some of which has never been seen outside of Rome-- until now.

"They'll see one of the earliest known images of Jesus, we have a sculpture from the great artist Bernini, an Old Testament story of Daniel in the lion's den, it's a clay model, you can actually still see the thumb print of the artist himself.", says Mark Greenberg, President of Evergreen Exhibitions.


"If you're an art lover, there will be something there for you, if you're a lover of history, you'll see some of the early atlases of North America, Aramaic Bibles, things from cultures from far and wide that the Vatican has visited.", says Greenberg.


Thursday, April 10, 2008


On the Agade list, Jack Sasson relays a message from Jim West that David Noel Freedman has passed away. More details here and a Wikipedia article about him here.

I didn't know Noel well, but I heard lots of stories about him when I studied with Frank Cross (they wrote two joint doctoral dissertations together under Albright at Johns Hopkins in the 1940s). I did see him from time to time, most recently at a party at Bill Propp's house in San Diego during the November 2007 SBL conference. Here's a picture I took of Noel and Baruch Halpern that evening. If memory serves, they were discussing letter forms on a new inscription.

David Noel Freedman was one of the major figures in biblical studies of the twentieth century, known for many books and projects, including the editing of the Anchor Bible Commentary Series. He was also a very nice guy. He will be missed.

Requiescat in pace.

UPDATE (11 April): Hershel Shanks has a final Letter to David Noel Freedman.

UPDATE: Here's a recent interview with Professor Freedman on YouTube.
WRAP-UP: MBTS enhances origins studies
By Amelia Hendra / Baptist Press
Wednesday, April 9, 2008

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)--An academic chair and institute for the study of Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian origins was approved by Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustees during their March 17-18 meeting in Kansas City, Mo.

The G. Richard and Judy Hastings Chair and Institute for the Study of Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins will advance and encourage the academic study of the Hebrew roots, context, language and theology of Christian faith from biblical times to the present.

THE ARK OF THE COVENANT THEORY OF TUDOR PARFITT is the subject of a Channel 4 documentary next week.

Background here.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Plan brokered by UCLA, USC archaeologists would remove roadblock to Mideast peace
Negotiations lead to first agreement on region's archaeological riches

Israelis and Palestinians may not be able to agree right now on their present or future, but, if a pair of Los Angeles archaeologists have their way, they soon will see eye to eye on their past.

Working tirelessly for the past five years, Ran Boytner, a University of California, Los Angeles archaeologist and Lynn Swartz Dodd, an archaeologist at the University of Southern California, have guided a team of prominent Israeli and Palestinian archaeologists to arrive at the first-ever agreement on the disposition of the region's archaeological treasures following the establishment of a future Palestinian state.

"Israelis and Palestinians never previously had sat down to achieve a structured, balanced agreement to govern the region's archaeological heritage," said Dodd, a lecturer in religion and curator of USC's Archaeological Research Collection. "Our group got together with the vision of a future when people wouldn't be at each other's throats and archaeology would need to be protected, irrespective of which side of the border it falls on."

Sounds pretty ambitious.

The initiative is also covered by The Jewish Journal of Greater L.A. (with video) and, briefly, by the Jerusalem Post.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

MARTHA HIMMELFARB is a 2008 Guggenheim Fellow.
Martha Himmelfarb, William H. Danforth Professor of Religion, Princeton University: Jewish eschatology and Christian empire.
Congratulations Martha!

(Via the Agade List)

UPDATE (9 April): More from the Daily Princetonian:
Martha Himmelfarb, a religion professor, plans to use her fellowship funds to study the impact of Christianity on Jewish eschatology, the concept of the end of the world.

Though Himmelfarb has done related work before, she said that “there are parts that are entirely unchartered for me, and I’m not sure what will come out of my further research.”

MICHAEL SWARTZ is giving a lecture series at NYU:
"Outside the Text: Sources of Non-Textual Meaning in Rabbinic Civilization"
Subject: JOB: Visiting Assistant Professor, Biblical Hebrew and World History, Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley State University
World History/Ancient Hebrew

The Department of History at Grand Valley State University invites applications for a full-time Visiting (non-tenure-track) appointment for the 2008-09 academic year, with possibility for renewal, at the rank of Visiting Assistant Professor (or at the rank of Visiting Instructor if ABD). The teaching load is four courses per semester, including one course in beginning Biblical Hebrew and three sections of a world civilization survey course. Grand Valley State University is an affirmative action and equal opportunity institution. The Department is especially interested in qualified candidates who can contribute to the diversity and excellence of the academic community.

Interested candidates are asked to submit a letter of application and curriculum vitae as soon as possible, followed by letters of reference and transcript, to Professor Gretchen Galbraith, Chair, Department of History, Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Michigan 49401-9403. Applications will be reviewed until the position is filled. For further information: 616-331-3627 or

Contact Info:
Professor Gretchen Galbraith, Chair
Department of History
Grand Valley State University
1060A MAK
Allendale, MI 49401
From the H-Judaic list.
THE BIOGRAPHY OF KATHLEEN KENYON by Miriam Davis was mentioned in the article on Davis's recent lecture, about which I posted on Thursday. The publisher has just written me with a link for the book: Dame Kathleen Kenyon: Digging Up the Holy Land.
WORLD LANGUAGE DAY at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is coming on 22 April and it includes a session on the Hebrew of the Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls:
World Languages Day to draw 700-plus students from across Wisconsin

April 7, 2008

by Gwen Evans [University of Wisconsin-Madison News]

It's a rite of passage each spring for thousands of state high school students — heading to Madison for basketball, hockey and wrestling tournaments and a taste of the city, the university and a day or two out of school.

But the siren call is not just for sports enthusiasts. The campus beckons each spring to those interested in exploring world languages and cultures at World Languages Day, an annual event sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Language Institute that attracts some 700 students from 25 Wisconsin high schools. This year's event, the 7th World Languages Day, will take place on April 22 in the Memorial Union and the Pyle Center.

Through more than 50 class sessions on language learning, storytelling, skits, cinema, dance and music, students are exposed to many diverse world languages and cultures. Over 30 languages are represented in these sessions, from Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Norwegian and Spanish to Yoruba.

Students may select among sessions with topics such as Finnish youth culture in the 21st century; the language, music and folkloric dance of Jordan; Latin dance; Hebrew in the Bible and the Dead Sea scrolls; using French in the professional world; Chinese fashion; and Hmong language and culture. Many of the sessions are participatory and include performances and foods from the target culture.


Monday, April 07, 2008

Mor Jacob Monastery: a Syriac oasis in Nusaybin
(Today's Zaman)
Mardin's Tur Abdin region is home to the Mor Jacob Monastery, with an early history that is the stuff of legend: The building serves the oldest Syriac Christian community in Turkey.

The southeastern village of Barıştepe, formerly known as Salah or Saleh, is a little Syriac village in the Tur Abdin region in Nusaybin, a district of the southeastern province of Mardin. Tur Abdin is Syriac for "the mountain of the servants of God" and refers to the numerous ascetics based in the region after the advent of Christianity there.

This plateau, which is on the border with Iraq, is home to the oldest surviving Syriac Orthodox Christian community in Turkey and also to the Monastery of Mor Jacop the Recluse, known as Mor Yakub Manastırı in Turkish and Dayro d'Mor Ya'qub Hbsihiyo in Syriac. Mor is a Syriac word that means "saint" and is also used as an honorary title for living bishops.

Once you enter the village the monastery is visible from the road. There are always children playing around the building, which acts as both a school and playground. The monastery's school teaches classes in the Syriac language and religion, which the children attend after their classes at regular school are finished.

Little is known about the history of the monastery, and its origins remain shrouded in mystery, although it is thought to be named after to its founder Mor Jacob and to have been built in A.D. 419.

Related post here.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Mayor of Tiberias and the Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority Today Revealed for the First Time Plans for the Archaeological Park that Will “Resurrect” the Roman City of 2,000 Years Ago (1/4/08)

In a festive press conference today the mayor of Tiberias and the director-general of the Israel Antiquities Authority announced the beginning of work on the national project for the construction of an archaeological park in Tiberias that will bring the Roman city “back to life”. Berko Park is slated to be magnet that will attract tourism from Israel and abroad to Tiberias and will expose the public at large to Tiberias’ glorious past, through all of its history which has its beginnings in the Early Roman period 2,000 years ago.

(Via Explorator.)

The project has not been without controversy. The Tiberias excavation has been in the news a lot in the last few years. Run "Tiberias" through the search engine above for more. And note this too.
Jewish group to slaughter lamb in Passover sacrifice rehearsal

(Israel Today)

A Bible-adherent Jewish group on Sunday ritually slaughtered a young lamb in what is called a "rehearsal" for the renewal of the Passover sacrifice once the Jerusalem temple is rebuilt.


The sacrifice and accompanying religious ceremonies were performed at a prominent yeshiva overlooking Jerusalem's Temple Mount, which is still occupied by several Muslim shrines.
More here.
AN ASSYRIAN ORTHODOX PRIEST has been murdered in Baghdad:
Christian priest gunned down in Baghdad

BAGHDAD (AFP) — Gunmen shot dead an Assyrian Orthodox priest near his house in the centre of the Iraqi capital on Saturday, in an attack condemned by Pope Benedict XVI who expressed his "profound sorrow".

Iraqi security officials said Youssef Adel, a priest with Saint Peter's Church, was gunned down by gunmen travelling in a car around noon (0900 GMT) as he left home.


The Assyrian church has maintained its independence since the 5th century when it broke away from the rest of the Christian communion. Some of its followers still speak a modern version of Aramaic, the language of Christ.


Film Legend Charlton Heston Dead at 84


LOS ANGELES (AP) — Charlton Heston, who won the 1959 best actor Oscar as the chariot-racing "Ben-Hur" and portrayed Moses, Michelangelo, El Cid and other heroic figures in movie epics of the '50s and '60s, has died. He was 84.

Requiescat in pace.

UPDATE: Here's a statement from his family.