Saturday, August 30, 2008

METATRON WATCH: Here's some New Age advice in the Llewellyn Journal for invoking the Archangel Metatron. It has no particular historical interest and I'm not encouraging this sort of thing, but it is notable evidence that a version of the Metatron cult is still alive and well today.

I've been swamped today and, as you may have guessed, news is slow. I'll be just as busy or busier tomorrow, but I'll do my best to slip in some blogging.

Friday, August 29, 2008

But there is an exquisite edge to the discovery of this Epicurean library in Herculaneum, and it is honed not so much by the knowledge of what has been found as the fear of what might be lost. An alliance of mainly British and American scholars, convinced that more texts remain to be found at the Villa of the Papyri, are calling for its urgent excavation. They cite the threat posed to the villa, which has never been completely liberated from its prison of rock, by a further eruption of Vesuvius. The volcano's bellows were heard as recently as 1998.

Richard Janko, head of classical studies at the University of Michigan, believes the Villa of the Papyri promises to yield the greatest number of new texts since the discoveries in the 16th century that nourished the High Renaissance and fashioned Western secular humanism. "This is the only place in the world where we know for certain that a Greco-Roman library was entombed in a manner that ensured its preservation," Janko says.

"There are almost certainly more books to be found there."
This is curious, because I thought new excavation at the site had already started. Does anyone out there know what the story is?

Background at that last link and here.

UPDATE: The Australian has the much longer original article (via the Agade list). This part is of interest:
When I meet the archeological superintendent of the region, Pietro Giovanni Guzzo, at his office in Pompeii, the curtains are partly drawn across a hard, bright Neapolitan sky. The author of several books on the region's antiquities, Guzzo is a genial man with a professorial air who speaks in heavily accented English.

"So you have seen the villa," he says, lighting a pipe, a lifted brow accenting his playful tone. "They make this cavity, this cave. It is not soclear, and they bring into view only a small part. And when they finish we have to manage the cave."

The chief impediment to further excavation, Guzzo adds, is not so much financial as political. "Our task is to preserve what is found but it is very difficult to project an entire excavation. Digging at the villa, that's a huge undertaking. We would have to change streets, demolish houses and change the lives of thousands of people in Ercolano and Portici. It is a problem for the mayors. It is a political decision in the true sense of the word."

Guzzo points out that barely half of the scrolls found at the villa have been read by scholars, and questions the motivation of those pushing for an excavation in search of antiquity's lost works. "For me they must open and read all the papyri they have had for centuries, before we look for others," he says. "If I want to eat a meal at my home I don't go to the supermarket if I have a full fridge."

He concedes, on the other hand, the strong possibility that more remains to be found in "parts of the villa where the ancient diggers don't go". And this seems to add weight to the claim by scholars such as Fowler and Janko that another wing of the library, perhaps a separate Latin collection, awaits discovery.

Vesuvius last erupted in 1944 as Allied soldiers were thrusting up the Sorrentine coast against the retreating Reich. It remains a restive, brooding presence. Scholars with a passionate concern for the Villa of the Papyri hear the ticking of the volcano's geological clock.

Guzzo, however, regards the threat with a combination of Neapolitan fatalism and incorrigible pragmatism. "Earthquakes are possible," he says. "But they are not. What can we do about nature?

"Today I think the method of archeology is not to find treasures," he concludes. "It's to solve historical problems."

Janko, not surprisingly, bridles at the likening of his scholarly impulse to the exploits of a tomb raider. "It is amazing to claim that it is treasure hunting when one asks to have the papyri excavated before Vesuvius buries them definitively," he says. "If lava flows over the site again, I doubt we will ever have access to them.

"As for the publication of all the papyri being demanded before more are excavated, might one ask that the whole of Pompeii and Herculaneum be properly published before anything more there is unearthed? It seems to me to be arrogance to deny future generations the opportunity to read more such books, just because there are at present very few classical scholars with the competence and the energy to decipher and bring out those that we do have."
I take Superintendent Guzzo's point, but I think it has to be balanced against the importance of getting any remaining scrolls out of the ground and into the hands of conservators before those scrolls deteriorate further. It's going to take a long time to edit them all in any case, but that has been true of many major manuscript discoveries, including (somewhat unfairly infamously) the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Cairo Geniza, and the Oxyrhynchus papyri. The editing of the last two sets of texts is nowhere near finished. That said, in the coming years new technology is likely to speed the process up considerably.
A GREEK STUDY DAY at Cambridge University:
7th Annual Greek Study Day, 15th September 2008
Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge

Bookings now being taken! The Greek Study Day is aimed at those teaching New Testament Greek in universities and colleges. It provides an opportunity to hear about different methods and textbooks, to share experiences and to develop new ideas and approaches for teaching. To attend, please complete the form below

and send to:

Jane McLarty
Lucy Cavendish College
Cambridge CB3 0BU

PLEASE NOTE: a formatted electronic version is available for download under 'files' at

Modern approaches to teaching Ancient Languages
Seventh study day for teachers of Greek for students of Theology and Religious Studies
Monday 15th September 2008, 10.30 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. at Lucy Cavendish College
With the support of the Philosophical & Religious Studies subject centres of the Higher Education Academy, and the Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge, we enclose the programme and details of a study day at Lucy Cavendish College.

What kind of day?
This will be a practical day with presentations and discussions aimed both at those teaching beginners and also those teaching intermediate students. It is the seventh such day, and the previous days have been highly valued by participants.
We will have a presentation from an experienced teacher of modern languages; from a member of the ‘Reading Greek’ team; and from a colleague on how clause analysis can help students approach the language.
We are also looking forward to a visit to Trinity College’s Wren Library to view holdings of interest to New Testament scholars.

What will happen?
We encourage those attending to bring examples of materials, handouts or ideas they have successfully used with students to share with others, especially those which relate to the topics of the presentations. We are keen to draw out ‘good practice’ ideas to improve the learning experience of all of our students. Please tell us on the booking form what you will bring.

How do I book?
The cost for the day, to include coffee, a buffet lunch, and a cup of tea is £20.00. Payment should be sent with your booking. Cheques should be payable to Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, which is handling the booking arrangements (see contact below). Booking forms should be sent to: Jane McLarty at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge (details on the booking form) as soon as possible since places are limited. You can post, fax or email it (but in the latter two cases you will need to post your cheque separately). The final date for receipt of bookings for the study day is Monday 8th September 2008.

This year we are meeting at the Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge; for directions please go to

If you have any questions about the day, please contact one of the organising team:
Dr Steve Walton (London School of Theology; tel: 01923 456326; email:
Ms Jane McLarty (Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge)
tel: 01223 332197; fax 01223 764435; email:
Mr Geoffrey Williams (Spurgeon’s College, London)
tel: 01992 581339; email:

For the attention of Jane McLarty (Admissions Tutor. Lucy Cavendish
College, Lady Margaret Road, Cambridge CB3 0BU; tel: 01223 332197; fax
01223 764435; email:
Modern approaches to teaching ancient languages
A study day for teachers of Greek
at Lucy Cavendish College, Monday 15th September 2008
I shall come to this study day and enclose a cheque for £20.00 payable
to Lucy Cavendish College
 Please tick here if you require a receipt
Name: ____________________________________________________________
Address for contact:

Telephone: ____________________________________________
Email address: ___________________________________________________
Main Greek teaching interests:
I will bring with me the following examples of resources, handouts or ideas which I have used successfully with students:
Please tell us below if you have particular dietary needs (e.g. vegetarian)

Modern approaches to teaching Ancient Languages
Seventh study day for teachers of Greek
Monday 15th September 2008
10.30 a.m. to 4.00 p.m.
at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge
Time What Who
1030 Arrival and coffee
1045 Welcome
1100 Reading Greek and adult beginners Janet Watson
1200 Learning from modern language teaching Tina Hodgett
An experienced secondary school teacher of inflected languages; now in the Anglican ministry
1300 Lunch
1330 Parsing’s Purpose David Palmer
1430 Visit to the Wren Library Dr Jonathan Smith Trinity College
1600 Coffee and depart
From the British New Testament Society e-mail list.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

THE PROJECT TO REPHOTOGRAPH the Dead Sea Scrolls is, not surprisingly, getting a lot of media attention, some of which includes some new information. From CNN:
"Just by applying the latest infrared technologies and shooting at very high detail, lots of resolution, we are already opening up new characters from the scrolls that are either extremely indistinct or you just couldn't see them before," said Simon Tanner, director of King's Digital Consultancy Services.

Tanner, who has worked on previous digital projects involving antiquities, is on a team that also includes Greg Bearman, who recently retired as principal scientist with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Bearman pioneered archaeological digital imaging and owns a company, Snapshot Spectra, that makes the imagers.

"To switch over to digital is really the way to go, and people were resistant to it initially, because it was a new way of doing stuff," he said. "They want their light table and their magnifying glass."

But with digital imaging, Bearman said, "You can see where the ink has broken away and you can see the texture of the animal skin, so you can see more detail than you can see with the naked eye."

Another benefit of the imaging process, Bearman said, is that it enables scientists to determine the amount of water present in the parchment.

That will help authorities determine whether the parchment is too wet or too dry, and enable them to keep the scrolls in conditions that are perfect for conservation.
More on the last point from the APF:
"I believe that by using spectral photography we will succeed, through non-invasive means, to determine the amount of water present in the parchment from which the scrolls are made," said Greg Berman, an imaging expert who recently retired from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory research centre.

"Data such as this has added value for conservation and preservation issues. If, for example, we discover that the parchments are too dry, it will be necessary to modify the conditions in which they are maintained," said Berman, one of several international experts who have worked alongside IAA staff.
From the Guardian:
The detailed colour photographs of papyrus fragments may help to identify pieces that fit together and fragments written by the same scribes. Scholars hope that this information will enable them to piece together more of the fragments and so come closer to putting complete sections of the scrolls together.
And the Telegraph has pictures.

Background here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: There is dissent among the Ultra-Orthodox on whether it is permissible to visit the Temple Mount.
Reclaiming Judaism's holiest place
By Nadav Shragai (Haaretz)
Tags: Israel

The police at the Mugrabi Gate, at the entrance to the Temple Mount, are used to the sight. Every few days a group of ultra-Orthodox Temple Mount Faithful congregates in front of the gate. A few of them wear the black kneesocks and tasseled tie belt of the Belzer Hassidic sect, while others are American youths, students from the Mir Yeshiva. Occasionally they are joined by Gerer Hassidim, and of course national-religious Jews, with their crocheted skullcaps. Only after a thorough check of the worshipers' bags, to make sure they contain no prayer books, prayer shawls or phylacteries, do the police allow them to enter the Temple Mount compound.

This unusual "coalition," which has been visiting the mount at least once a week for years, is defined in the ultra-Orthodox world as somewhere between eccentric and untouchable, but primarily as rebelling against a halakhic prohibition stating that today there is theoretically no greater sin than entering the Temple Mount; that anyone who violates this ruling is doomed to an untimely death.

THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS are being rephotographed with the aim of putting the photos online:
Israel to Display the Dead Sea Scrolls on the Internet

Published: August 26, 2008

JERUSALEM — In a crowded laboratory painted in gray and cooled like a cave, half a dozen specialists embarked this week on a historic undertaking: digitally photographing every one of the thousands of fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls with the aim of making the entire file — among the most sought-after and examined documents on earth — available to all on the Internet.

Equipped with high-powered cameras with resolution and clarity many times greater than those of conventional models, and with lights that emit neither heat nor ultraviolet rays, the scientists and technicians are uncovering previously illegible sections and letters of the scrolls, discoveries that could have significant scholarly impact.


The entire collection was photographed only once before — in the 1950s using infrared — and those photographs are stored in a climate-controlled room because they show things already lost from some of the scrolls. The old infrared pictures will also be scanned in the new digital effort.

Very good news.

UPDATE (28 August): More here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

THE SHROUD OF TURIN is going to be subjected to new authenticity tests at Oxford University.
Age of shroud of Turin disputed again
John Follain (London Times)

A LEADING expert on the shroud of Turin has won the support of an Oxford University laboratory for new carbon dating tests on the venerated but controversial relic, which was dismissed two decades ago as a fake.


John Jackson, a physicist at Colorado University and a prominent expert on the relic, has argued that the tests were skewed by 1,300 years because of high levels of carbon monoxide. He said many other elements of the shroud, including details of the image, indicate that it is much more ancient.

“It’s the radiocarbon date that, to our minds, is like a square peg in a round hole. It’s not fitting properly and the question is ‘Why?’,” Jackson told an interviewer.

Oxford has agreed to work with Jackson to reassess the age of the shroud. He will now try to demonstrate through experiments in his laboratory that the results were flawed, in the hope that this could prompt new tests on the relic itself.

This was already reported last May, but it does not seem that any of the new tests have actually been done yet.

(Via the Agade list.)
Chronological Study Bible stirs interest, skepticism

By BOB SMIETANA • Staff Writer (The Tennessean) • August 24, 2008

Like most versions of the Good Book, the new Chronological Study Bible from Thomas Nelson starts with "In the beginning," and ends with "Amen."

Everything else is up for grabs.

Entire books, like the Psalms, have been chopped up and mixed in with other sections of the Scripture, while others have been combined into nine story arcs, known as epochs.

Editors at the Nashville-based Christian publisher say their remix of the Protestant Bible's 66 books will give readers new insights to the Scriptures. But some scholars believe the project will lead to confusion, not enlightenment.


The concerns that at once occurred to me are laid out later in the article:
The new Bible's chronology is based on the setting of each text — when the events in it occurred — rather than when it was written.

That's a problem, says Doug Knight, Buffington professor of Hebrew Bible at Vanderbilt Divinity School.

Many books of the Bible, he said, were written long after the fact. For example, Knight says, the book of Joshua is set in the late Bronze Age, but was probably composed several hundred years later. Inserting notes about the historical context of a Bible passage won't help if that text was written hundreds of years later, he said.

"Why would that be relevant, if the author is not living in the Bronze Age?," he said. "What's happening in the author's own time is relevant."

That's especially true of a book like Daniel, Knight said.

That Old Testament account is set in the 6th century B.C., at the time when the Jews had been conquered by the Babylonians. But it was probably written in the 2nd century B.C., when Israel was ruled by a tyrant named Antiochus Epiphanes, and was written to encourage the Jews to keep their faith, despite being persecuted.

"It's a powerful account if you put it in the time period of Antiochus Epiphanes," Knight said.

Monday, August 25, 2008

VISION OF GABRIEL WATCH: April DeConick has some pertinent questions and observations. And Israel Knohl has responded here.

(Background here.)
THE PHOENICIA has an Expedition Artist:
Painter will document attempt to circumnavigate Africa

August 24, 2008 (LA Times)

SOUNDING like it was lifted from a Rudyard Kipling novel, "expedition artist" may be one of the world's most intriguing job titles. And Tujunga painter Danielle Eubank will be doing just that aboard the Phoenicia, documenting Philip Beale's attempt to circumnavigate Africa in a replica of a 600 B.C. Phoenician cargo ship.


Having just returned from the boat's launch, where she spent the previous month helping build the ship with other crew members, Eubank, 39, will set to work on her first round of paintings. She'll rejoin the crew for the Kenya-to-Tanzania and Gibraltar-to-Tunisia legs, shooting pictures and sketching, either with charcoal and pencils or with the same oils she uses for her final paintings.

Background here.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A NEW JESUS MOVIE – to be filmed in New Zealand – is in the works:
Shroud of secrecy around movie
South Canterbury | Saturday, 23 August 2008 (Timaru Herald)

TWIZEL'S Falstone Camp will become Capernaum, a 3000-year-old fishing village, and Lake Benmore the Sea of Galilee in the biblical movie Kingdom Come to be shot next year.
A CONFERENCE ON ANCIENT LIBRARIES is being held by the School of Classics at the University of St. Andrews on 9 to 11 September.
Libraries operate as the core foundation of research and study in the modern Western world. Historically, they have enabled the preservation and transmission of knowledge from antiquity to the Middle Ages, to the contemporary era. Yet in the diachronic history of the library, we still lack fundamental facts about its institutional role, organisation and mode of operation in the ancient world. This is especially acute as both archaeological research and the study of ancient literary texts have enabled significant advancement to our knowledge and understanding of ancient written culture and its various loci of production and dissemination.

One of the ‘Science and Empire’ project’s principal research objectives is to examine the institutional contexts associated with the production and dissemination of ancient scientific, technical, and encyclopaedic writing. Our conference, accordingly, aims to re-open discussion of the role, function and users of ancient libraries. We are keen to explore the shifting conditions under which the library operated as a physical and institutional entity, but also as intellectual and symbolic space over the long span of antiquity. In addition, we wish to investigate a variety of scholarly practices and social and intellectual networks that developed within the domain of the ancient library. We thus hope to illuminate the relationship between the library and the broader culture of reading, writing and intellectual exchange in antiquity.

The conference will bring together literary scholars, historians and archaeologists of all periods of Graeco-Roman antiquity specialising in the above fields.
FUN FACT (unverified): Syriac and Amharic (Ethiopic) are "each spoken by more than 31,000 persons" in the United States.