Saturday, May 31, 2008

METATRON WATCH: Get your Metatron Personal Harmonizer now, before everybody has one.
It turns out, preparing for the imminent alien invasion is only part of Jeff Peckman's craziness. He also creates and peddles "Metatron Harmonizers," little snakeoil gadgets designed to "transform the chaotic electromagnetic fields into life-supporting fields that are in harmony with the natural fields created by the human physiology." Hoo boy.
Check out the picture.

I love Gizmodo.
ANOTHER PHOENICIAN BOAT RECONSTRUCTION is in the works, this one involving a circumnavigation of Africa:
An ancient adventure
By George Hamilton (Oxford Mail)

Grandfather Mike Wilcox is set to become an honorary Phoenician - by recreating one of the greatest ever voyages of discovery.

The property maintenance worker from Bicester Road, Launton, is one of seven people from across the world who have been picked as full-time crew on an exact replica of a Phoenician sailing boat.

He will spend a year on the wooden boat, including 10 months recreating the first-ever circumnavigation around Africa, a voyage first made by Phoenician mariners in 600BC.

The 52-year-old said: "I couldn't believe it when I was picked. It took a couple of days to sink in. It's a voyage of discovery. Nobody has sailed 17,000 miles in one of these boats since 600BC."

Mr Wilcox was a Petty Officer in the Royal Navy for 16 years and saw action during the Falklands conflict in 1982, when he was a member of the crew of the landing ship HMS Intrepid, delivering troops to the beachhead at San Carlos.

He was offered a place in the crew of the Phoenicia after hearing about the British Museum-sponsored expedition and emailing a good luck message to the organisers.

I noted a similar project, involving a trip from Tyre to Europe, in January.
CAN'T MAKE IT UP: Remixing the Torah for Shavuot.
The Word of God, Rewritten

By Beth Schwartzapfel

Thu. May 29, 2008 (The Forward)

On the upcoming festival of Shavuot, we commemorate the day when Moses carried the Torah — with its 613 rules, injunctions and guidelines on how to live a Jewish life — down from Mount Sinai. Some of its commandments, like “Do not murder” and “Love the stranger,” ring as true today as they did in the Sinai desert. Others, like “Destroy the seed of Amalek” and “Do not eat the flesh of an ox that was condemned to be stoned,” require a little creativity to remain applicable to the lives of 21st-century Jews.

So, two San Francisco-based artists have set up a Web site that allows Jews everywhere to apply their own brand of creativity and humor to the task. (RE)velation ( users “remix” the commandments, using colloquial English and a modern sensibility to reinterpret the lessons of the mitzvot. Thus, “Do not carry tales” becomes “Gossip magazines are not your friend,” and, in a rather unorthodox take, “Do not leave a beast that has fallen down beneath its burden, unaided” becomes “Mick Jagger just wants you to make love to him.” It’s sort of like a Talmud wiki.

I can't wait to see the search engine referrals that last quote brings in.

Friday, May 30, 2008

USC, UCLA professors work on Israeli-Palestinian archaeological pact

Lynn Dodd and Ran Boytner are helping to devise a plan for handling the region's rich heritage.

By Ashraf Khalil, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
May 30, 2008

JERUSALEM -- A pair of archaeology professors from crosstown rivals USC and UCLA are working together to help bring harmony to a small corner of the lengthy conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

For five years, Lynn Dodd of USC and Ran Boytner of UCLA have sought to come up with a plan for handling the rich archaeological heritage of the Holy Land should a binding peace deal be reached for the creation of a Palestinian state.

The pair organized the Israeli-Palestinian Archaeology Working Group, bringing together three Palestinian and three Israeli archaeologists to craft a blueprint for the eventual disposition of hundreds of historical sites and thousands of artifacts.

After three years of sometimes contentious negotiating sessions overseen by professional mediators, the group has formulated a nonbinding model that could be put into action once the final borders of a Palestinian state are defined. Their next step is to submit the proposal for discussion in June at the World Archaeological Congress in Dublin, Ireland.

The Dead Sea Scrolls would be a particularly touchy area:
From the Israeli side, one of the immediate sticking points is the future status of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The ancient texts are viewed in Israel as a national treasure, and Israeli officials made it clear from the start that putting the scrolls into Palestinian hands was not an option.

"The Israelis are very emotional about them," Jubeh said.

At least some of the scrolls were unearthed on what is now Palestinian land, Greenberg said, but many first came to light when they turned up on the antiquities market.

The joint archaeology document states that the fate of certain highly sensitive artifacts should be addressed by the politicians during final negotiations.

"The Dead Sea Scrolls are a political issue. We recognize that will be a political decision," Boytner said.

And though all sides acknowledge that the scrolls probably will remain in Israeli hands, Boytner said, "there must be a legal way to do it. The Israelis can't just say, 'We're going to keep it and that's it.' "

Background here. This remains a utopian exercise until there actually is a peace agreement.
ARAMAIC WATCH: Gilgamesh, The Opera - in Syriac:
Bedford composer's works earning international attention
May 29, 2008

BEDFORD — Since a trip to The Netherlands in 2006, Bedford resident and composer John Craton has kept busy. And the work will take him back to The Netherlands this summer for another premiere of an original work.

The work for two guitars and orchestra called “Flowers of Spain” will be premiered July 5 by American guitarists Mark and Beverly Davis and the Dutch orchestra Het Consort. The composer and his wife, Dr. Deborah Craton, plan to attend the concert in The Netherlands.


Craton is a full-time composer who also teaches violin and classical mandolin in a studio at his home.

A Bedford resident since 1984, he began composing music when he was 11 years old. He has composed for artists in the United States, Great Britain, France and Germany.

The composing side has been busy the past several months. Some highlights:


• A commissioned opera, “Gilgamesh,” is the first to be composed in the Syriac language. It is to be presented at a concert by the Townsend Opera Players this fall in Modesto, Calif.

There is a venerable tradition of Gilgamesh in Aramaic, although these sources just preserve the name and get the story completely garbled. Gilgamesh, the monster Humbaba, and the Flood hero Utnapishtim appear as giants in the Book of Giants. And around 600 CE, the Nestorian Syriac writer Theodor bar Qoni mentions Gilgamesh as a contemporary of Abraham. It's good to see that the tradition continues and that, presumably, this Aramaic version will be much closer to the original.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

THE SHROUD OF TURIN may be compared to a much older shroud found in the Judean Desert:
Will Judean Desert find shed light on Shroud of Turin?

Can a 6,000-year-old shroud uncovered in the Judean Desert in 1993 help illuminate the centuries-old debate over the Shroud of Turin?

That is the question posed by Olga Negnevitsky, a conservator at the Israel Museum who was involved in the conservation of the lesser-known shroud for the Antiquities Authority after it was discovered inside a small cave near Jericho.

The idea to use the older shroud to learn more about the famous one came to Negnevitsky this week after she listened to an address on the Shroud of Turin at the International Art Conference in Jerusalem on the conservation of cultural and environmental heritage.


Instead of finding biblical scrolls, the archeologists stumbled on the 6,000-year-old tomb of a nobleman whose body was wrapped in an elaborate linen shroud.

The skeleton was accompanied by a long flint blade, wooden bowls, sandals of thick leather, and bows.

The shroud, like the Shroud of Turin, had signs of blood on it, likely from a wound suffered by the bandaged warrior, Negnevitsky said.

On a related note, the Chicago Tribune reports that the Shroud of Turin is going to be subjected to new tests at Oxford University:
Now, John Jackson, a University of Colorado at Colorado Springs physics lecturer has done something his colleagues consider nearly miraculous.

Jackson, who is a leading researcher on the 14-foot-long linen sheet, has persuaded the Oxford laboratory that dated the shroud to the 13th or 14th Century to revisit the question of its age.

Professor Christopher Ramsey, head of the Oxford University Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, has agreed to test Jackson's hypothesis that contamination by carbon monoxide could throw off radiocarbon dating by more than a millennium.

It is possible, Jackson said, that even minimal contamination of the shroud by environmental carbon monoxide could have skewed the dating by 1,300 years — making it not medieval but contemporaneous with Jesus's life.

Jackson, who must prove a viable pathway for that contamination, is working with Oxford to test samples of linen under the various conditions the shroud has endured, such as outdoor exhibitions and exposure to extreme heat during a 1532 fire.

"Science still has much to tell us about the shroud," said Jackson, a devout Catholic. "If we are dealing with the burial cloth of Christ, it is the witness to the birth of Christianity. But my faith doesn't depend on that outcome."
Watch this space.
MANI AND MANICHAEISIM get some nice coverage from Press TV, Iran:
Mani and Manichaeism in Sassanid Iran
Wed, 28 May 2008 15:46:15
By Hedieh Ghavidel, Press TV, Tehran

Manichaeism, presumably an offshoot of Zoroastrianism, was not only an inspiration for various heretical movements in Christianity but also dominated the religious life of Central and Eastern Asia for centuries.

Through the four centuries of Sassanid rule over Persia (224-651 CE) Zoroastrianism was the official state religion. Historians, however, have spoken of several heretical sects. One such cult was that of the Manicheans, founded by Mani at the beginning of the Sassanid era.

The founder of the new religion believed to have been the culmination of Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Buddhism was born in 216 CE in southern Babylonia of noble Persian stock.

He grew up under the careful guidance of his father who was a religious leader of a Jewish-Christian baptizing sect. At the age of twelve, Mani claimed that an angel named The Twin had instructed him in a vision to withdraw from the sect and purify himself through asceticism. The Angel later returned to young Mani, this time calling upon him to preach a new religion.


During his years in exile, Mani gave final shape to his teachings and committed them to writing. Between 244 and 261 CE, he sent a mission to Egypt which met with considerable success.

Apart from the extensive body of anti-Manichaean literature, there are numerous Latin, Greek, Coptic, Middle Iranian, Uighur, and Chinese documents, found in the 20th century, on the Manichean doctrine and practices.

Manichaean sacred texts include The Living Gospel, The Treasure of Life, The Pragmateia, The Book of Mysteries, The Epistles, The Book of Giants, and Psalms and Prayers.

Other Manichaean writings consist of the Shahburagan, a summary of Mani's teachings prepared for Shapur I, the Ardahang, a picture-book illustrating Mani's view of the world and the Kephalaia, a collection of Mani's sayings.

Despite the unfortunately simplistic heading ("offshoot of Zoroastrianism"), the article itself is much more nuanced and looks accurate in general, although I don't have time to check the details. It also has some good images of Manichaean artifacts, including a manuscript. I have written on the Book of Giants here and here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

DERULZAFARAN MONASTERY (the Syriac "Saffron Monastery") was mentioned in a post in March. Here's a photo gallery of it. A number of Syriac inscriptions are included.

(Via the Condé Nast Traveler blog.)
Police recover Roman-era figurine, meter-high pottery in home raid
By Jack Khoury, Haaretz Correspondent

Tags: Antiquities, Israel

A Roman-era bronze figurine of a woman and an intact ceramic pitcher more than a meter high were among dozens of antiquities that Haifa law-enforcement authorities discovered Monday while raiding the home of a man suspected of planning to sell the goods.

The finds - which also include three anchors from ancient ships, pottery, ancient coins, and glass and bronze tools - were allegedly recovered during illegal dives to undersea archaeological sites in the north.

And here's some good advice on what to do if you discover an artifact (and how to avoid being prosecuted as a looter):
"If you dive and accidentally discover antiquities on the sea floor, do not remove the antiquities from the sea," Ganor said. "Try to mark the location and try to get exact coordinates, and immediately report it to the Antiquities Authority. Diving and removing antiquities from sunken ships on the sea floor sabotages archaeological research and erases important historical evidence. In addition, it is illegal."
Context is crucial.
IN SEARCH OF THE SYNAGOGUE PART III: Lee I. Levine is interviewed in Reform Judaism Magazine. For Part II, see here. I missed Part I and can't find it in their archive.
HUGOYE: Journal of Syriac Studies Volume 11 Number 1 (Winter 2008) has been published online. Table of contents:

Coptic-Syriac Relations beyond Dogmatic Rhetoric.
Lois Farag, Luther Seminary

Jonah’s Oar: Christian Typology in Jacob of Serug’s Mēmrā 122 on Jonah.
Robert A. Kitchen, Knox-Metropolitan United Church

Expectations of the End in Early Syriac Christianity.
Ute Possekel, Pappas Patristic Institute

Brief Article

The State of Preservation of the Byzantine mosaics of the Saint Gabriel Monastery of Qartamin, Tur Abdin.
Patrick Blanc and Marie-Laure Courboulès, Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence antiques

Publications and Book Reviews

Recent Books on Syriac Topics.
Sebastian Brock, University of Oxford

Jerome Alan Lund, The Book of the Laws of the Countries, A Dialogue on Free Will Versus Fate: A Key-Word-in-Context Concordance.
Kristian S. Heal, Brigham Young University

Martin Zammit, ‘Enbe men Karmo Suryoyo (Bunches of Grapes from the Syriac Vineyard): A Syriac Chrestomathy and Anonymous, The Book of Crumbs: An Anthology of Syriac Texts.
Kristian S. Heal, Brigham Young University

W.Th. van Peursen and R.B. ter Haar Romeny (eds.), Text, translation, and Tradition: Studies on the Peshitta and its Use in the Syriac Tradition.
Craig E. Morrison, Pontifical Biblical Institute

P.S.F van Keulen and W.Th. van Peursen, Corpus Linguistics and Textual History: A Computer-Assisted Interdisciplinary Approach the Peshitta.
Deryle Lonsdale, Brigham Young University

Sebastian Brock, Fire from Heaven: Studies in Syriac Theology and Liturgy.
David G.K. Taylor, Oxford University

Conference Reports

International Syriac Language Project. Ljubljana, July 2007.
Terry Falla and Beryl Turner, University of Melbourne


‘Antioch’: a new initiative for the study of the Rum Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch.

Symposium Syriacum and Conference of Christian Arabic Studies, September 22-27, 2008.

Jacob of Sarug and His Times: Studies in Sixth Century Syriac Christianity, October 24-26, 2008.


Journal of Aramaic Studies

Beth Mardutho Amazon Associates

Journal of the Canadian Society of Syriac Studies
QUEEN OF SHEBA'S PALACE UPDATE: Another note of skepticism.
Did Helmut Ziegert discover the Queen of Sheba's palace?

Helmut Ziegert, a retired Archaeology professor from the University of Hamburg, has recently inspired a wide international discussion brought about by his announcement that he should have discovered the palace of the Queen of Saba from the 10th century B.C. in the vicinity of Aksum in northern Ethiopia. However, he provides no tenable proof for his otherwise interesting contribution to the history of Aksum.

Ziegert did not discuss his hypothesis with any colleague working in the field of Ethiopian studies or African archaeology. He is not a member of the Research Unit. The members and the head of the Research Unit Ethiopian Studies of Hamburg University consider the published identification as not scientifically proven.

Professor Dr.Dr. Siegbert Uhlig, Head, Research Unit Ethiopian Studies
Background here.

(Via the Agade list.)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Israeli Museum Offers Insider’s View of How Scribes Put Pen to Parchment

By Tamar Runyan ( News)
May 26, 2008

In a grand celebration attended by hundreds of people, a slate of politicians and rabbinical dignitaries dedicated a new scribal arts factory and visitors’ center in Safed, Israel.

Kiryat Hasofrim – its name roughly translates to “Palace of the Scribes” – promises to both present Judaism’s rich scribal heritage and support a veritable army of scribes, who will combine traditional techniques with modern technology.

“This will be the first institute of its kind in the world,” declared Rabbi Chaim Kaplan, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Safed.

SATAF is an interesting historical reconstruction project in Israel.
Ancient Agriculture
Sataf - A Reconstruction

It is a serene place on the terraced slopes of Mt. Eitan, where ancient mountainous agriculture is practiced as it was by the Israelites thousands of years ago. The 250-acre (1000 dunam) site is maintained by the Jewish National Fund, as a reconstruction of ancient agricultural methods. All the work is done by hand, or with the help of farm animals, without any machinery or use of pesticides. The place is Sataf, where the remains of a 4,000 BCE Chalcolithic village with some of the oldest agricultural traces in the region as well as the remains of a pre-1948 Arab village are clearly visible. Two springs, Ein Sataf and Ein Bikura flow into the Sorek riverbed, below.

Video here.
Biblical digs breathe life into class for Wofford’s Indiana Jones
Published: Monday, May 26, 2008 | Updated: 6:35 am

When Byron McCane’s daughter was 9 years old, she and some friends were watching “Raiders of the Lost Ark” when he overheard one of the girls say, “Isn’t your dad an archaeologist like Indiana Jones?”

“Yeah,” McCane’s daughter said. “Same stuff.”

McCane is the Albert C. Outler professor and chair of the religion department at Wofford College. He holds degrees from the University of Illinois, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Duke University.

His book, “Roll Back the Stone: Death and Burial in the World of Jesus,” has positioned him as a leading authority on early Christian burial customs.


Monday, May 26, 2008

DIVINE LANGUAGES: Sanskrit, Arabic, Syriac, Latin.
ANOTHER JESUS MOVIE from an Islamic perspective seems to be in the works. Not surprisingly, it is generating controversy:
Film about Jesus stirs controversy

By Ramadan Al Sherbini, Correspondent [Gulf News)
Published: May 26, 2008, 00:02

Cairo: Egypt's Muslim and Christian clerics have baulked at a plan by a Syrian director to make a film on Jesus Christ.

Filmmaker Mohammad Aziziah has unveiled a plan to start shooting The Arab Messiah, a film about Jesus from an Islamic perspective.

"I am going to file a lawsuit in the name of the Church to get the production of the movie stopped or to have the script changed," Najeeb Gabriel, an adviser to Pope Shenouda, Egypt's top Christian cleric, said.

Aziziah said in recent remarks he would not seek approval of his film from Egypt's Orthodox Coptic Church or Al Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world's most influential institution. "The film will not be shot in Egypt. It can be shot in Syria, Morocco or Tunisia," the filmmaker told the Egyptian independent newspaper Al Khamis earlier this month.


According to the Quran, Jesus was not crucified, but rather he was raised alive to Heaven.

The Arab Messiah is not only daring but very new. Hundreds of films have been shot depicting Jesus's life and mission in nearly every language. But this will be the first time such a film will have Jesus speaking in Arabic and he will no longer have blue eyes or yellow hair. He will be played by an Arab actor, according to Aziziah.


Sunday, May 25, 2008

THE 19 THINGS WE'VE LEARNED FROM INDY. They're all good, but here's just one:
2. Never Get Caught With a Sword in a Gunfight
Forget all your fancy maneuvers and impressive showmanship. The simplest solutions in life are often also the best. Sometimes, problems just aren't as complicated as we make them out to be.
JEWISH-TEMPLE DENIAL (ETC.) WATCH: An outfit called News Blaze has an article with lots of accusations against academics associated with the Palestinian Authority:
Anti-Semitism among Palestinian Authority Academics

By Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook

# One of the primary objectives of the Palestinian Authority (PA) after its establishment in 1994 was to delegitimize Israel. These efforts were evident throughout Palestinian society and involved various channels including television, schoolbooks, and culture. The delegitimization of Israel incorporated various hate messages, especially the denial of Israel's right to exist.

# The academic community was likewise recruited to this undertaking. Professors, religious academics, teachers, and schoolbook authors are all participating in this hate promotion. Certain academics are chosen by the PA to indoctrinate the people using such public venues as PA TV and, particularly, educational broadcasting.

# In 1998, PA historians held a conference in which they devised a policy of historical revisionism. The developing PA educational system would not aim to teach historical truth but rather to convey a political history aimed at denying Israel's right to exist in the Land of Israel. Palestinian academics, recognizing the futility of attempting to erase the documented history of the Jews, instead adopted a different solution of literally stealing the identity of the Jews by identifying ancient Hebrews as both Arabs and Muslims and denying their connection to today's Jews of the state of Israel. Another component of the negation of Jewish history is the denial of modern Jewish experience-including the horrors of the Holocaust.

# Many PA academics have gone beyond the theoretical "struggle." They teach that the killing of Jews by Muslims is a precondition of world redemption. Because Jews are inherently evil and an existential danger, their annihilation is justified self-defense, a service to humanity, and an enactment of God's will.

I know nothing about News Blaze and I can't confirm the specific accusations in the article. Some of the reported historical claims are not out of line with claims coming from the PA in the recent past (see, e.g., here, here, here, here, and here).
SOME ARCHAEOLOGISTS are not pleased with Indy either:
Real Archaeologists Don't Wear Fedoras

By Neil Asher Silberman (Washington Post)
Sunday, May 25, 2008; Page B01

After 17 years, Hollywood's most famous archaeologist is back in action. Now grayer and a bit creakier, Indiana Jones is again hacking his way through thick jungles, careering wildly in car chases and scrambling through dark tunnels to snatch a precious artifact from the clutches of an evil empire (Soviet, this time).

And I'm thinking, oh no. Here we go again. Get ready for another long, twisting jump off the cliff of respectability for the image of archaeology.

Don't get me wrong. I'm a fan of pop culture. But I have a problem with the entertainment tail wagging the archaeological dog. As someone who's been involved in archaeology for the past 35 years, I can tell you that Indiana Jones is not the world's most famous fictional archaeologist; he's the world's most famous archaeologist, period. How many people can name another? Whether I'm sitting on a plane, waiting in an office or milling around at a cocktail party, the casual mention that I'm an archaeologist inevitably brings up Indiana Jones. People conjure up images of gold, adventure and narrow escapes from hostile natives. And while "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" will almost certainly break worldwide box office records, it will also spread another wave of viral disinformation about what archaeologists actually do.


Of course, archaeologists have to reach out to the public to raise funds and gain attention for their efforts, but I'm convinced that there's something misguided and destructive in this academic love affair with IndianaJones. It's not just that the films are harmlessly caricatured visions of old-fashioned archaeology; they are filled with destructive and dangerous stereotypes that undermine American archaeology's changing identity and goals. At a time when our national political debates are centered on our relationships with other cultures, when the question of talking to rather than attacking perceived enemies has become a contentious presidential campaign issue and when claims for the repatriation of looted relics are being seriously addressed by courts and professional archaeological organizations, the thrill-a-minute adventures of Indiana Jones are potentially dangerous and dysfunctional models for both modern archaeology and American behavior in the world.

I have a lot of respect for Neil Asher Silberman and he makes good points. The films do perpetuate many destructive and grossly inaccurate stereotypes. But nothing archaeologists say is going to stop this sort of film being made (not just Indiana Jones, but The Mummy series and the like). Moreover, the films, notably the latest film, are so absurd that I can't believe that anyone is going to take anything in them seriously unless they are already beyond the reach of reason. But the films also fire up interest in archaeology, which can lead to many teachable moments for those still teachable. I dare say some good academics are in the field of archaeology today due to these movies and that there is more interest in and sympathy for archaeology as well.
THE RUSSIAN COMMUNIST PARTY is not happy with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull:
Indiana Jones and the wrath of the Communist Party
Tony Halpin in Moscow (London Times)

He has battled against Nazi villains, a Beduin swordsman and a pit of poisonous snakes. Now Indiana Jones can add the Communist Party of St Petersburg to his list of adversaries.

Party leaders accused the actors Harrison Ford and Cate Blanchett yesterday of promoting crude, anti-Soviet propaganda in their new film, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. They have urged Russian moviegoers to boycott the film and told Ford, 65, not to visit the country.

Dear me. Are they saying that they think parts of the film are inaccurate?