Saturday, November 28, 2009

JESUS IN ENGLAND (NOT): In the Daily Mail, Peter Stanford examines the historical evidence and realizes it adds up to very little. Well done. Excerpt:
Another version of the story claims Joseph [of Arimathea] went to Glastonbury with Jesus before his 'nephew' started preaching in public.

Legend has it that the 20-year-old Messiah built a church from mud and wood there and dedicated it to his mother. It stood in the grounds of what went on to become Glastonbury Abbey.

The new film, which cites the second story, includes testimony from the sixth-century St Gildas that just such a building existed in Glastonbury.

But while the claim is fantastic, it was made more than 500 years after any possible visit and hardly counts as an eye-witness account of Jesus toiling over the construction of an English chapel.

And besides, in medieval times, they rarely let facts get in the way of a good story. After all, a visit by Christ, however fanciful, would have been a major draw for a location's pilgrimage trade, sucking money into the coffers.

But the film does uncover some fascinating details - and provides plenty of circumstantial evidence that Britain was the centre of learning for any wealthy young Palestinian in the 1st century AD.

Even so, Rome was a whole lot closer to Nazareth than England, and it is hard to imagine why a knowledge-hungry Jesus would bypass the centre of arguably the greatest civilisation the world has ever seen in favour of a small town in Somerset.

It is also doubtful that Druids made gentle schoolmasters. After all, most contemporary references to 1st century Druids describe them as bloodthirsty warriors rather than the Mr Chips of the Dark Ages.

Roman historian Tacitus, for example, describes the imperial army clashing on Anglesey with Druids who 'poured forth horrible imprecations' and performed 'barbarous rites' at altars 'stained with the blood of their prisoners and the entrails of men'.

We do know that some ancient religious traditions encouraged scientific exploration, but if it was maths Jesus wanted to find out about - as the film claims - he really would have done better heading for India.

Arithmetic, including squares, cubes and roots, are all to be found in its sacred Vedic texts dating to 1,000 BC.

And anyway, why maths in particular? It is not as if once he began his public ministry, Jesus preached the parable of the accountants.

What all these speculative efforts rather depressingly reveal is a penchant in human nature for concentrating on the superficial rather than the profound.
Background here.

Friday, November 27, 2009

JESUS IN ENGLAND? I don't think so.
Jesus 'may have visited England', says Scottish academic


Jesus Christ could have come to Britain to further his education, according to a Scottish academic.

Church of Scotland minister Dr Gordon Strachan makes the claim in a new film entitled And Did Those Feet.

The film examines the story of Jesus' supposed visit, which survives in the popular hymn Jerusalem.

Dr Strachan believes it is "plausible" Jesus came to England for his studies, as it was the forefront of learning 2,000 years ago.

This story is making the new rounds, although I have not been able to find the original press release. Yes, it is possible that Jesus visited England, insofar as England existed when Jesus lived and it was physically possible to get from the one place to the other. But, like the suggestion that Jesus visited India, there is no evidence for it apart from much later legends. And what's this about England being the "the forefront of learning 2,000 years ago?" Ever heard of Alexandria and Rome? Specialists in the study of the historical Jesus have enough difficulty inherent in their work and they will not thank someone whose expertise obviously lies elsewhere (Dr. Strachan is not listed as an academic staff member at the Edinburgh University School of Architecture, but he has taught courses there on "Sacred Geometry" and "Edward Irving and his Circle") muddying the water of the public arena with this sort of wild speculation. Naturally, the media lap it up utterly uncritically.

The hymn is cool, but let's not get carried away.
THE INVENTION OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE by Shlomo Sand is reviewed in the Independent by Stephen Howe:
Shlomo Sand clearly intended his book as an explosive device, a big bang demolishing the myths of Jewishness on which both communal identity and Israeli state policies rest.

His hostile critics react as if it were a deadly bomb, a kind of literary-political terrorist attack. Actually, The Invention of the Jewish People is less a single detonation than a string of firecrackers, erupting or just fizzling in uncertain succession. Ranging across several millennia but with its main aim on Israel's political present, the book has too many diffuse themes and purposes quite to start the kind of fire Sand wants. It doesn't help that a few of his incendiary gadgets almost entirely fail, while others prove to be worn out from previous use.

That sounds harsh: perhaps unduly so. Sand's political purpose is (in my view) an admirable one, and many of his historical claims probably more right than wrong. But at least the mixed response this review will convey might help break away from the pattern of reactions the book is receiving: it has already been published in French and Hebrew. They are starkly divided between uncritical enthusiasm and total condemnation. The blogosphere has been buzzing with wild charges and vulgar abuse against Sand's book – most repeatedly, predictably and depressingly, calling it anti-Semitic.

We seem to have been reading different reviews (and I certainly can't claim to have looked at all of them). The ones I have seen have usually been critical, but thoughtfully so.

Here's another one by David Goldberg in the Jewish Chronicle. Excerpt:
Sand is not immune to similar zeitgeist factors. He rightly excoriates Zionist historiography that posits an unbroken continuum between the ancient Jewish homeland and its modern inhabitants in order to justify ownership of all the biblical territory. His particular beef is with geneticists who have “discovered” such ludicrous “facts” as the Jewish gene that is shared by Ashkenazim and Sephardim, or make the even more preposterous claim that a single chromosome is common to over 50 per cent of men surnamed Cohen.

But because Sand’s political ideal would be “the creation of a democratic bi-national state between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan”, he is too cavalier in dismissing all of our standard historical narrative as an “invention”. Shared folk memories, totally accurate or not, have been a vital ingredient in Jewish survival.
Background here. Some more recent information about genetic markers for the Jewish priesthood is here and here.
YU Professors Fine and Tawil Make Mark on Jewish Studies Literature Scene

Yaelle Frohlich (The YU Observer)
Issue date: 11/25/09 Section: News

Dr. Steven Fine, a professor of Jewish history at Yeshiva University (YU) and director of the YU Center for Israel Studies, was recently awarded a Jordan Schnitzer Book Award by the Association for Jewish Studies. Fine's book, "Art and Judaism in the Greco-Roman World: Toward a New Jewish Archaeology," explores Jewish art and its relation to Jewish identity in the Greco-Roman period. Described as "the first historical monograph on ancient Jewish art in forty years," it won in the category of "Jews and the Arts."


Meanwhile, Yeshiva College Professor Hayim Tawil's Akkadian lexicon, "An Akkadian Lexical Companion for Biblical Hebrew" is being released this month. The work demonstrates the relationship between Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic and Akkadian, once the main language spoken in what is now known as the Middle East. ...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

DO TELL. Scientist says to be 'very careful' when interpreting writing on Shroud of Turin.
Dr. John P. Jackson, director of the Turin Shroud Center of Colorado, told CNA, “you have to be very careful when interpreting these things.” He cited the example of an image on the Shroud thought to have been the rope which led Jesus to Calvary which, under scientific investigation, turned out to be nothing more than a watermark.

“I'm not trying to demean someone else's work that I'm not familiar with,” Jackson said. He did, however, point out that “there is a long history of people finding things on the Shroud which are tied into subjectivity.”
Background here.
Eugene Ulrich (ed.), The Biblical Qumran Scrolls (VTSup 134; Leiden: Brill, 2010) (Not yet on Amazon. Includes my work on the Cave IV Genesis-Exodus manuscripts.)

Bernard A. Taylor et al., Analytical Lexicon to the Septuagint: Expanded Edition (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2009) (review copy)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

GOOD SBL 2009 CONFERENCE. The best part is always catching up with the people, although this year the food gave them some competition. I lived in New Orleans for a few years a long time ago and on this trip I made sure to visit some of my favorite places. I've been posting food pictures on Facebook, but I'll spare you that.

One of the most interesting things that happened at the conference was this morning, when I saw Stephen Pfann in the book display area and he showed me pictures of the inscribed stone cup from the Mt. Zion excavation. Most of it is written in one or more cryptic scripts, one of which is related to Cryptic A from Qumran. Most of the text remains undeciphered as yet, but what can be read at the beginning has some resemblance to Psalm 26. That's all I'm free to repeat at present.

Background here (and follow the links back) and here.

I'm in the New Orleans Airport right now and my first flight leaves in a little over an hour.
THE INVENTION OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE by Shlomo Sand is reviewed by Patricia Cohen in the NYT. Excerpt:
Despite the fragmented and incomplete historical record, experts pretty much agree that some popular beliefs about Jewish history simply don’t hold up ...

But while these ideas are commonplace among historians, they still manage to provoke controversy each time they surface in public, beyond the scholarly world. The latest example is the book “The Invention of the Jewish People,” which spent months on the best-seller list in Israel and is now available in English. Mixing respected scholarship with dubious theories, the author, Shlomo Sand, a professor at Tel Aviv University, frames the narrative as a startling exposure of suppressed historical facts. The translated version of his polemic has sparked a new wave of coverage in Britain and has provoked spirited debates online and in seminar rooms.

Professor Sand, a scholar of modern France, not Jewish history, candidly states his aim is to undercut the Jews’ claims to the land of Israel by demonstrating that they do not constitute “a people,” with a shared racial or biological past. The book has been extravagantly denounced and praised, often on the basis of whether or not the reader agrees with his politics.

The vehement response to these familiar arguments — both the reasonable and the outrageous — highlights the challenge of disentangling historical fact from the sticky web of religious and political myth and memory.
Again, I haven't read the book, but this looks like a careful and dispassionate treatment of it.

Background here.

Monday, November 23, 2009

AN ARABIC TRANSLATION of a book on the Dead Sea Scrolls:
Yarmouk University DSS

The Jordanian Dead Scrolls Project and the Publications Office of the Faculty of Archaeology and Anthropology/Yarmouk University published the Arabic translation of David N. Freedman and Pam Fox Kuhlken's Book: What Are The Dead Sea Scrolls and Why Do They Matter? Translated by Ikhlas Qanaweh.

The publications of the Faculty of Archaeology and Anthropology are available for exchange. Please send your publications to the following address:

Publications Office
Faculty of Archaeology and Anthropology
Yarmouk University
Irbid – Jordan

For more information please write to:
Well done! I hope we see more of this sort of thing.

(From the Agade list.)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

ENOCH SEMINAR NEWS: There are three new initiatives of the Enoch Seminar in the works.

1. 4 Enoch: The Online Encyclopedia of Second Temple Judaism Research.
The Encyclopedia aims to offer a comprehensive introduction to scholarly research in Second Temple Judaism (or from the Babylonian Exile to the Bar-Kokhba Revolt). It includes biographies of Scholars and Authors as well as abstracts of scholarly and fictional Works on the period, from the 16th century to the present.
2. A sixth Enoch Seminar is planned for 2011. The Chair, Matthias Henze of Rice University, informs me that:
Our topic will be "2 Baruch and 4 Ezra: Jewish Apocalypticism in Late First Century Israel." The Seminar will take place June 26-30, 2011 (i.e., one week before the international SBL in London) in the Villa Sacro Cuore in Triuggio, just outside of Milan, Italy. The opening evening will be at the Ambrosiana Library, where we will be shown the famed Syriac manuscript that contains 2 Baruch, as well as several other treasures.
Attendance is by invitation only.

3. The Third Enoch Graduate Seminar will be held in Budapest, Hungary on 19-24 JULY, 2010 and is currently accepting paper proposals from postgraduates. A fourth Enoch Graduate Seminar is also planned for 2012 at the University of Notre Dame.

For further information on the Enoch Seminar and Enoch Graduate Seminars, see the Enoch Seminar website.