Saturday, April 25, 2009

RESEARCH ON SYRIAC IN KERALA is profiled in a PBS video, with emphasis on a project associated with St. John's Abbey (home of the St. John's Bible [Saint John's Bible]), of which I had been unaware.
BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: In southern India, in Kerala, there are millions of people known as St. Thomas Christians. Their ancestors, many believe, were converted by the Apostle Thomas in the first century. Portuguese missionaries later destroyed most of the ancient church writings, replacing them with their own. But now Benedictine monks at St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota are rediscovering the surviving texts. Fred de Sam Lazaro has a close-up view of all this. He is both our correspondent and journalist-in-residence at St. John’s University.
Background here.
JOHN MARKS, Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Studies, Emeritus, at Princeton University, has passed away:
John Marks, 39-year member of the faculty, dies at 85
Posted April 23, 2009; 05:30 p.m.

by Staff

John Marks, professor emeritus of Near Eastern studies at the University, died at his home in Princeton on Wednesday, April 15, at age 85. He had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

A specialist in Near Eastern cultural and political history, Marks was a member of the faculty from 1954 until his retirement in 1993.

Professor Marks summarized his interests on his own Princeton web page:
Near Eastern Studies at Princeton focuses on the Islamic Near East, and pre-Islamic studies are ancillary to the Department's primary intent. My teaching includes introductory surveys of pre-Islamic Near Eastern history, from the stone age to Alexander, and from Alexander to Muhammad, in addition to a basic Syriac language course and selected readings in Syriac literature. I am interested in the Christian doctrinal controversies of the fifth century as they reflect conflicting, traditional Near Eastern and Roman-Byzantine perceptions of human nature and destiny in the world. Syriac writings reveal both western and Near Eastern approaches to the problem. The popular conclusion that "East is East and West is West" seems to me already evident in those vigorous, destructive fifth century debates. Much of my work is with Seminary students and graduate students in religion from Princeton and elsewhere. My most recent Ph.D. supervision involved the translation of the Mystic Treatises of Isaac of Nineveh (7th century) by a graduate student from Temple University.
Requiescat in pace.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

St George's Day is commemorated on 23 April. St George is the patron saint of England and identified with the ideals of honour, bravery and gallantry. This renowned martyr was born in Cappadocia, Turkey, the son of God-fearing parents. His father suffered for Christ, after which his mother moved to Palestine. When George grew up, he went into the army, in which he rose, by the age of twenty, to the rank of tribune, and as such was in service under the Emperor Diocletian. The Emperor Diocletian (AD 245-313) began a campaign against Christians at the very beginning of the fourth century. In AD 303 George is said to have objected to this persecution and resigned his military post in protest. George tore up the Emperor's order against Christians. This infuriated Diocletian, and George was imprisoned and tortured - but he refused to deny his faith. George was told his life would be spared if he would offer sacrifice to the Roman gods. The people assembled to see him do so, but instead George prayed only to the Christian God. Immediately, fire came down from heaven, an earthquake shook the ground, and idols and the temple buildings were destroyed. Eventually he was dragged through the streets of Diospolis (now Lydda) in Palestine and beheaded. It's said that Diocletian's wife was so impressed by George's resilience that she became a Christian and that she too was executed for her faith.
I know it's a stretch for PaleoJudaica, but the story is that he was martyred in Palestine in the fourth century, so close enough. Plus we like dragons. More on St. George's day and Lod here.

I've been at a Heads of School Away Day all day, so this is my first chance to blog. Tomorrow is likely to be very busy too.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Duke Conference April 23-24 to Examine Archaeology, Politics and the Media in the Middle East

Relations between scholars, archaeologists and the media are the focus of Duke conference

Monday, April 20, 2009

DURHAM, N.C. -- What happens when a discovery relating to the life of Jesus becomes the subject of a movie before it is properly assessed by historical scholars? The implications of this scenario and the complex relations between scholars, archaeologists and the media are the subject of an April 23-24 conference at Duke University.

The event is free and open to the public.

Speakers at the conference, “Archaeology, Politics and the Media: Re-visioning the Middle East,” will address such topics as cultural property and the role of antiquities dealers; the implications of media coverage of archaeological finds before scholarly vetting and peer review; and issues related to subsidizing archaeological enterprises. Conference participants also will seek to better understand the way archaeology and reporting affect the daily lives of lay communities in the United States and, specifically, Israel and Palestine.

ROBERT ALTER is receiving an award for his biblical literary criticism and translations:
Poetic Master of Biblical Translation Receives Award


Robert Alter is the 2009 recipient of the Robert Kirsch Award, a lifetime achievement award named after my late father and given each year by the Los Angeles Times. It will be my honor to hand the award to Alter, a role I have been asked to perform on a few memorable occasions over the years. But never before have I discharged my duties with a greater sense of pleasure, admiration and enthusiasm. Alter is, as I once wrote in a review of his work in the L.A. Times, “one of the living masters of biblical criticism and translation.”

Alter's translations of the Torah/Pentateuch and Psalms have been mentioned frequently in PaleoJudaica.

Monday, April 20, 2009

I'M BACK IN ST. ANDREWS. I'll try to do some blogging in the next day or two, but unpacking and catching up at work will take precedence.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

HEADING BACK TO ST. ANDREWS TODAY. I've been blogging from the airport as we wait for our commuter flight to Los Angeles. Look for me again sometime on Monday afternoon or evening, Scotland time. Sorry for the lulls in blogging in the last fortnight, but I needed the break.
PALEOJUDIACA just got its 600,000th individual visitor. The counter stands now at 600030. Welcome, whoever you were.
LOST BOOKS WATCH: In honor of World Book Day (23 April), Stephen Marche reflects in the Wall Street Journal on lost books. Two paragraphs merit excerpting. This one is spot on:
Classical literature, like classical architecture, is a collection of delicious ruins. The destruction of the library at Alexandria was probably a larger disaster than we realize, simply because we don't know all that it held. It must have contained records of all the Greek works we're missing, and the complete versions of the classical texts that survive today only in fragments. What about the literature of pre-Roman Egypt? What about the literature of the Phoenicians? These are maybe the saddest missing books, the ones that we don't even know have existed. If we could have even one, even at random, what a light it would shed on our intellectual prehistory.
But this one is a bit boorish:
Maybe the most disappointing literary rediscovery, although no one will admit it, has been the Dead Sea Scrolls. As archaeology, they are the most incredible find, genuine early texts found in caves on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea buried for two millennia. Ever try reading them? They're like the boring bits from "Moby-Dick," only somehow more boring.
For my own wish list of lost books, see here, here, and here.
PRESIDENT OBAMA has gotten involved in the land dispute over the Syriac Mor Gabriel Monastery in Turkey:
Dispute over Syriac monastery turns into international row

(Today's Zaman)

A long-standing land dispute between the Syriacs of Midyat, a district in the southeastern province of Mardin, and the local village heads has finally turned into a legal battle attracting international attention.

The disagreement has been closely monitored by the European Union for some time, and US President Barack Obama also got involved in the dispute after he received a letter from the German Syriac diaspora on the matter and assigned one of his aides to follow the developments, effectively making the small district's land dispute a matter of international concern.


The [Turkish] government also has plans to send a representative to the region at the ministerial level and issue title to the Syriacs for the Treasury land, as historically, they have not held title to it. This move aims to send out the message to foreign observers that the Turkish state has nothing against the Syriacs.

Justice and Development Party (AK Party) deputy from Mardin Cüneyt Yüksel says this will be the first time in history that title to property will be issued to a Syriac community. “This has now become a judicial issue. The judiciary in Turkey is independent. The court ruling will now decide who the 285 hectares of land belongs to. Each side will present the information and documents they have. The existence of the 1,600-year-old monastery is extremely important for Turkey. Our only aim is to make sure that this conflict is resolved peacefully. The ceremony at which we’ll turn over title to the land will be an opportunity for us to mediate between the two sides. We are not taking sides, but we will do whatever we can for the villagers and the Mor Gabriel Foundation to reconcile this issue.”

The article has lots of background and there's more background here.
ARAMAIC WATCH - A rare American tourist encounters Nabatean (Nabataean) tombs in Saudi Arabia:
A highlight was a visit to Madain Saleh, a group of 131 monumental tombs carved into rock cliffs from the first century B.C. to the first century A.D. by the Nabateans, the same people who carved Petra in Jordan. They had two capitals, Petra in the north and Madain Saleh in the south. These tombs are remarkably well-preserved and include inscriptions in Aramaic.
BETTY ANNE CROSS, the wife of retired Harvard biblical scholar Frank Moore Cross, passed away yesterday. Jack Sasson has posted this note from Jo Ann Hackett on his Agade list.
I am writing with the sad news that Betty Anne Cross, Frank Cross's wife, died yesterday, apparently of a massive stroke. She died peacefully, with family at her bedside. Frank and Betty Anne would have celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary this June.

Besides Frank, she leaves three daughters—Susan, Ellen, and Rachel—and six grandchildren. If you would like to write to Frank, his address is:
The Highlands at Pittsford, 300 Hahnemann Trail, Apt. 25,
Pittsford, NY 14534.

The final arrangements have not yet been made, but there will be a
memorial service for Betty Anne in Cambridge, MA, in the near future.
Our hearts go out to Frank and the family. Betty Anne, requiescat in pace.