Saturday, June 28, 2003

NOW HERE'S A COINCIDENCE. Dr. Eugene Fisher, Consultor to the Holy See's Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, gives an interview with Zenit on Jewish-Catholic relations after Vatican II. Here�s an excerpt:

In the wake of the Holocaust, and with a growing understanding of how the traditional anti-Judaic teaching of the Church had rendered Christians all too vulnerable to the attacks against Jews by modern racial anti-Semitism, "Nostra Aetate" wisely went to the source of the problem in Christian teaching.

The problem was serious misunderstandings of the New Testament that began to infect the writings of the Fathers of the Church as early as the second century.

These misunderstandings revolved around the idea that the Jews as a people and all their descendants bore collective guilt for the death of Jesus. As "proof" the protagonists of this charge of "deicide" against the Jews would take various phrases from different Gospels and put them together to tell a "story" that none of the four evangelists would have recognized in their own versions of the Gospel.

The cry, "his blood be on us and on our children," for example, is recounted only in the Gospel of Matthew, but there it is the cry of a small "crowd" of people in Pilate's courtyard and not at all representative of the whole Jewish people.

But if one takes from the Gospel of John the phrase, "hoi 'Ioudaioi" -- "the Judeans" or "the Jews" -- which is a generalization used only in John, and attaches it to the Matthean text, as in "the Jews cried, 'His blood be upon us ...,'" one has an implication of collective guilt for Jesus' death not found in any of the Gospels, but only in the manipulation, conscious or unconscious, of the text.

Around this fundamental misunderstanding of the Gospel texts there arose over the centuries what has been called a "teaching of contempt" against Jews and Judaism -- for example, the notion that Jews were cursed by God for "their" crime, and suffered the destruction of the Jerusalem temple and perpetual wandering as divine punishment for it.

Interestingly, so pervasive was this negative teaching that no previous council of the Church had ever formally taken it up, though the Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent had argued that "our sins made the Lord Christ suffer" and that "our crime in this case is greater in us than in the Jews," since what the Jews of Jesus' time who were actually involved did was done in ignorance. "We [Christians], however, profess to know him, and when we deny him by our deeds, we seem in some way to lay violent hands on him," says the Roman Catechism 1, 5, 11.

The Second Vatican Council restated this ancient but obscured tenet of our faith in entirely unambiguous fashion, stating that one cannot blame all the Jews of Jesus' time "nor Jews today" for Jesus' death, and adding that "the Jews must not be spoken of as rejected by God or accursed," as if this followed from sacred Scripture. The council then formally rejected any form of anti-Semitism as contrary to the spirit of Christ.

While rejecting definitively the negative teachings against Jews and Judaism of the past, the Second Vatican Council simultaneously laid the doctrinal groundwork for an entirely positive theological appreciation of God's "irrevocable" covenant with the Jewish people, in our time no less than in biblical times.

It did this especially by recalling the positive implications of the New Testament text, Romans 9-11, that most thoroughly looks at the Mystery of Israel on its own terms after the time of Christ, translating in the present "theirs are the covenants and the promises," and calling on the Church to change its posture toward the Jews and Judaism from one of judgment into one which seeks a dialogue of "mutual esteem."

Worth reading in full.
I VIDEOTAPED STIGMATA last week and finally watched it over the last couple of evenings. Here are some thoughts on it. I'm usually the last person in the western hemisphere to see any movie, so I'll allow myself a few spoilers. If you haven't seen it yet and don't want the experience sullied by advance knowledge, read no further.

1. I know that Hollywood movies are supposed to have lame, unimaginative plots, but really, Father What-A-Waste and the Tempting, Beautiful, Secular Woman vs. the Evil Vatican Conspiracy? Was there no other rack on which to drape the Aramaic Gospel of Thomas?

2. If, as the movie notes at the end, the Gospel of Thomas was already discovered in the 1940s, albeit in Coptic translation, and anyone in reach of a good bookstore or library has had access to the English translation since the 1970s, tell me again why having the Aramaic original is such a big deal? (To philologists it would be, of course: we'd descend on it in a slavering pack. But for the spiritual lives of normal people? We already know what it says, near enough.)

3. Assuming this Lost True Gospel was different from the Coptic translation, what exactly was its Explosive Revelation that the Evil Vatican Priests were try to suppress? Near as I can tell from the movie, it was "Do your own thing."

4. What about that vision of the woman who drops her baby into the traffic? Did we ever come back to that? What did it mean again?

5. The movie has been criticized for writing all the Aramaic in paleo-Hebrew script, since in the time of Jesus the newer square script was in normal use and the paleo-Hebrew script was only used rarely for extremely authoritative works like books of the Pentateuch (of which a few copies in this script were recovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls). But this was one thing that didn't bother me. If the book in question was actually the One True Gospel of Jesus, I can see the Aramaic-speaking, first-century Jewish author writing it in the Paleo-Hebrew script to make a statement on how authoritative it was. Of course, I'm probably being too generous to Hollywood, but at least I could work out a rationale for this one.

6. The Vatican divides up the noncanonical gospels from its Secret Archive and Hoard of Looted Manuscripts among the three priestly orders so that none of them knows too much and they don't get into tiffs over who gets what, and each translator only gets every third page. That's a lousy way to do it and would result in translations that aren't nearly as good as they could be. For example, who translates the fragmented sentences at the beginning and end of each page? I've worked enough with fragmentary texts in ancient languages to be sure that many of those sentences will be completely opaque to both translators until they can see the whole sentence. But I guess this is part of the price of running an Evil Vatican Conspiracy.

7. At one point Father What-A-Waste, who resourcefully had his miniature tape recorder running when Frankie started spouting glossolalia during one of her fits, played the tape through the telephone to his translator-priest friend at the Vatican. On the basis of hearing one sentence on a scratchy tape over the phone the translator-priest immediately pronounced the language to be first-century Galilean Aramaic. Not Judean, not Syrian, not second century. Right.

8. Okay, some of the photography and some of the music were cool. And the casting of the three cardboard cut-out main characters was pretty good. It's a tolerable evening's entertainment, if disengaging your brain that long doesn't give you a cramp.

Friday, June 27, 2003

JANE C. WALDBAUM, President of the Archaeological Institute of America, writes the following on the IraqCrisis list about two bills before Congress which pertain to Iraqi artifacts:

Dear List Members,

Pasted below is a statement from the Archaeological Institute of America comparing the relative merits of House bill H.R. 2009 and Senate bill 1291. We urge support of the former but NOT of the latter. Instead, urge your senators to introduce a bill that tracks H.R. 2009. And tell your friends and colleagues to do the same.

For the rest of the message, with details on the two bills, go to the list archive here.

UPDATE (28 June): For more information on this just go to the link and keep following the links to the messages that come after.
NEW BOOK REVIEWS from the Review of Biblical Literature:

Hachlili, Rachel
The Menorah, the Ancient Seven-armed Candelabrum: Origin, Form &

Tov, Emanuel
Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible

Loader, William
Jesus' Attitude Towards the Law: A Study of the Gospels
DAMN BLOGGER! Will someone please tell them that people who live in a Greenwich Mean Time zone have daylight savings time like everyone else!
BEN WITHERINGTON makes his case for the authenticity of the "James Ossuary."

AUTHENTICITY IN QUESTION (Lexington Herald-Leader)


But Witherington, 51, co-author of The Brother of Jesus, a book about the burial box, said scientific tests performed by two independent sources indicate the inscription is genuinely ancient and not a fake.

"Any high stakes artifact is going to be subject to controversy and an amazing amount of rhetoric and debate," said Witherington, a New Testament professor at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore.

The fact the box was sold to a collector by an antiquities dealer is part of the reason the Israelis wish to discredit the find, Witherington said. The argument is that anything bought from an antiquities dealer is suspect because it may have been looted from an ancient site, or, worse, it may be a forgery.

"The problem with that is, a large amount of the biggest finds in modern history have come to light through the antiquities market and not through some approved archaeological dig," Witherington said.


Well, okay, maybe. But this is an ad hominem argument and doesn't lead us anywhere useful. Whatever anyone's agenda, either the inscription is a fake or it isn't.

Then there is the film or patina on the box that the Israelis said could have been created only in modern times. The implication is that this was an attempt to make the inscription look old.

But the box's owner said the film is the result of his well-meaning mother attempting to clean the inscription and make it clearer, Witherington said.

"She took out some kind of hot water and cleansing solution and started scrubbing away," Witherington said. Neither he nor The Brother of Jesus co-author Hershel Shanks dispute that there might be a modern film on the box.

"But as far as we're concerned, that proves nothing about the antiquity of the inscription," Witherington said. "It's not an attempt to make it look like a forgery. It was an attempt to clean the thing."

This argument is more interesting. Surely it would be possible to distinguish modern cleaning from a modern deliberately-faked patina. The Archaeology Magazine article says "Strangest of all was the "James Bond," the chalky material that coated the letters. It contained numerous microfossils called coccoliths, naturally occurring as foreign particles in chalk, but not dissolved by water. Hence it was clear that this was not a true patina formed by the surface crystallization of calcite, but rather powdered chalk--microfossils and all--that was dissolved in water and daubed over the entire inscription." Does a modern household cleaner have chalk in it? With microfossils? I don't know.

[Authority Deputy Director Uzi] Dahari said the Authority decided to examine the ossuary's authenticity "because the whole world was talking about this, and a lot of innocent people could be hurt if you're trying to fool them to make money." Experts have estimated the value of an authentic James ossuary at $1 million to $2 million.

Witherington argues such speculation doesn't make sense.

"Nobody has made any money on this James Box," he said. "The antiquities dealer in Jerusalem who bought it in the mid-70s from a private person paid $200 for it" and the present owner paid perhaps $500.

"If either one of those persons had known what they were getting, it would have cost a whole lot more money," Witherington said.

Fair point, although Altman thinks the forgery was done in the last couple of years and would presumably call the whole story of its discovery in the 70s into question.

Witherington suggests there may be theological agenda for the attempt to discredit the inscription, which he calls "an indirect testimony to the resurrection of Jesus."

He said it's unusual for burial boxes to bear the names of deceased brothers, so this brother must have been someone extremely important.

"The fact that Jesus is mentioned on the box in a laudatory way -- that's the only reason to put a brother on an ossuary, because he is more notable and honorable than the deceased," Witherington said.

"If crucifixion had been the end of Jesus' life -- that's the most humiliating and shameful way to die in antiquity, right? If that had been the end of the story of Jesus, there's no reason on God's green earth why anybody would be bragging about being related to Jesus. You don't brag about the black sheep in the family who was executed. So what it reflects is that those who buried James strongly believed that Jesus was raised from the dead."


Besides being ad hominem again, this is a very indirect argument and I really can't see the Israeli authorities being worried about it.

The article says that the IAA report is coming out this week and I assume it will be online as well. I'll be very busy for the next few days and then in Venice next week and I probably won't have time to worry about it. But I'm reserving judgment until I see the report and have time to digest it.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

I'M NOT IMPRESSED so far with Blogger's new publishing interface, which came online today. Twice already I've tried to publish something and the system has jammed hopelessly so that I had to shut down the browser and start over. Not a great opening performance.

UPDATE: Just got a double posting, so it appears that the jamming was just a long delay - very long: in one case I let the system oscillate for an hour or so before I shut it down. (I am doing some work here, you know: this week I've been writing my paper for the upcoming Bible and Anthropology conference. I'll let you see a draft in due course.)

( BW)(TX-SALEM/KLTY-FM)(SALM) 94.9 KLTY's ``Celebrate Freedom'' To Have First Ever Public Viewing of Dead Sea Scrolls Outside of a Museum (Business Wire)

Entertainment, Feature Editors & Religion Writers

DALLAS--(BUSINESS WIRE)--June 26, 2003--94.9 KLTY-FM, the leading contemporary Christian music station, announced a special display of an authentic fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls dated to 200 B.C. to be held at "Celebrate Freedom" this Saturday, June 28. This will be the first ever U.S. public display outside of a museum. "Celebrate Freedom" is the largest Christian music concert in the U.S., with over 200,000 people expected to attend.

The fragment will be displayed to promote the upcoming "Dead Sea Scrolls to the Forbidden Book" museum exhibit coming to the Biblical Arts Center in Dallas, Texas, beginning September 5, 2003. This once-in-a-lifetime collection of artifacts, manuscripts, and Bibles from around the world will come together to complete the history of the Bible. The fragment to be displayed at "Celebrate Freedom" is a piece of the Old Testament book of Isaiah, chapters 26 and 27, regarding the resurrection, "your dead shall live again and their bodies shall rise."

Dr. William Noah, Exhibit Curator, and Lee Biondi, Exhibit Coordinator, with host a booth at "Celebrate Freedom" to answer questions about the scroll fragment and upcoming exhibit. Tickets will be raffled off throughout the day to concert goers who register at the booth. Free pictures with the scroll fragment will be taken for those who purchase exhibit tickets at "Celebrate Freedom."


Entrepreneurial, eh?

I've been meaning to get to this for the last few days. This is a new ground-penetrating radar technique that could be extremely useful for archaeologists everywhere:

New device offers a peek at our deeply buried past (Miami Herald)


Mark Grasmueck can see underground and, without hardly anyone noticing, he has been peeking below downtown Miami.

Grasmueck, a University of Miami geophysicist, is quietly working with archaeologists on the planned One Miami development in the heart of Miami just north of the Dupont Plaza hotel -- a site that almost certainly harbors ancient treasure.


Grasmueck, 36, has developed a device that he slowly and methodically pulls backward like a reverse lawn mower, each time targeting a four-inch strip of ground.

A particularly sophisticated form of ground-penetrating radar, the device visually slices the earth into fine layers. When reassembled, the exquisitely thin images create a movie that takes the viewer on an underground tour.

He tested his ground-breaking technology two years ago near Coconut Grove, creating a one-minute subterranean view of Ingraham Terrace Park.


Now, he and noted archaeologist Robert Carr are fine-tuning the device in downtown Miami, hoping it will help them find ancient pottery, primitive tools and other artifacts below the six acres of parking lots north of the Dupont Plaza.

A 24-second movie produced by Grasmueck already has identified promising archaeological targets there, perhaps evidence left by the now extinct Tequesta Indians who carved the Miami Circle on the other side of the Miami River.

The film shows a possible pattern of post holes and even possible burial sites, though other explanations -- including natural solution holes -- are possible. More precise analysis of the images is under way, and Carr is preparing to ''ground-truth'' the findings by digging up areas pinpointed by the film.

A WEB PAGE OF LINKS TO ARTICLES ON THE "JAMES OSSUARY" AND THE "JOASH INSCRIPTION", going back to when they were first announced, has been collected by Professor Airton Jose da Silva (as noted on Ioudaios-L).
UPDATE ON IRAQ MUSEUM LOOTING: An important new account of the looting and its context, based on interviews with numerous eyewitnesses, has been published by Roger Atwood in ARTnews online. Scroll down or follow the link to my "About That Hague Convention" post and keep scrolling down to the 26 June update for a link, excerpts, and comments.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

LARA CROFT AT THE TOMB OF EZEKIEL! I'm not making this up:


The Prophecy marks a new chapter in Lara's tapestry of epic quests to decipher the mystery behind a legendary, mystic power. Believed to be hidden within the depths of The Tomb of Ezekiel, Lara sets out to the icy, Swedish mountains (where the adventure begins) to find the Black Stone - the source of the "real magic". However, dark mages also seek to acquire the powerful stones and Lara will soon discover that she's battling against time (and yet another clich� storyline) to prevent a prophetic cataclysm before it's too late.


My emphasis.

Okay, I guess it isn't that Tomb of Ezekiel. Ain't Google amazing?

UPDATE: Here's more on legends about the tombs of Ezekiel and Baruch, which evidently are supposed to be side-by-side (from Louis Ginzberg's Legends of the Jews). Nothing about Lara, though.
THE TRAILER for Mel Gibson's coming movie, The Passion, hasn't been released yet, but someone named (or called) "Rosary Guy" has seen it.

The Trailer for Mel Gibson's The Passion Seen!


Despite my Christian enthusiasm, it was indeed a powerful trailer. There was no English spoken in the scenes shown and the actors were all speaking Latin and Aramaic, as reported (Guess all those hypothesis that Gibson was pulling another of his infamous practical jokes was wrong). The scenes that stuck out the most was the gratuitousness of the scourging of Jesus before his Crucifixion, Mary stepping on the head of snake, and the slow motion scene of the Pharisees throwing a bag of silver clear across a room to Judas Iscariot, who has trouble catching it and coins spill all over the floor. They also showed many images of the Crucifixion itself, which definitely reminded me of the end of Braveheart and how much Gibson went for realism. They showed the end of a nail being placed in Jesus' palm, pushed down, and then the hammer about to strike, but stopped short of actually showing the piercing. I won't be surprised at all, though, if they do show that in the movie.

As I said, it looks really, really powerful. Now that I've seen the trailer, I'm in complete agreement that subtitles are unnecessary.


We'll see.
THE ST. SHENOUDA THE ARCHIMANDRITE COPTIC SOCIETY WEB PAGE has lots of useful reference material for Coptic studies, including a Manual of Coptic Studies (incomplete, but note especially the Coptic Manuscripts-Overview page), a Coptic Language page with a Grammar of Boharic (requires the downloading of fonts), and much more.
HERE'S MORE ON THE TALMUD THEY DIDN'T FIND. A controversial embedded reporter in Iraq got the information from Ahmed Chalabi's people:

Embedded Reporter's Role In Army Unit's Actions Questioned by Military

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

New York Times reporter Judith Miller played a highly unusual role in an Army unit assigned to search for dangerous Iraqi weapons, according to U.S. military officials, prompting criticism that the unit was turned into what one official called a "rogue operation."

More than a half-dozen military officers said that Miller acted as a middleman between the Army unit with which she was embedded and Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi, on one occasion accompanying Army officers to Chalabi's headquarters, where they took custody of Saddam Hussein's son-in-law. She also sat in on the initial debriefing of the son-in-law, these sources say.

Since interrogating Iraqis was not the mission of the unit, these officials said, it became a "Judith Miller team," in the words of one officer close to the situation.


As for MET Alpha's seeming independence, this officer said: "The way McPhee phrased it for [staff] consumption was, 'I know they have gone independent, I know they have gone rogue, but by God at least they're doing something.' But if they're doing something, where's the meat? It didn't pan out."

That wasn't for lack of trying. In early May, Miller reported on MET Alpha's search for an ancient Jewish text that wound up unearthing Iraqi intelligence documents and maps related to Israel. In this case, too, [Chalabi aide Zaab] Sethna said, the information was passed from Chalabi's group to Miller. "We thought this was a great story for the New York Times," Sethna said. "She discussed it with her team. . . . That came from us."


My emphasis. There's lots more about Ms. Miller and her doings but that's all it says about the Talmud.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

I'M OFF to our School garden party in honor of graduation. One of my doctoral students has just received her Ph.D. Congratulations Julia!

Robert Kraft e-mails:

It may be of interest to the paleojudaica site that a problematic precedent has been set (or perhaps merely expanded) by the auction on 20 June 2003 of 29 published papyri fragments from Oxyrhynchus, including POxy 1351 LXX Leviticus, that had been donated in the early 20th century to Crozer Theological Seminary (now part of Colgate Rochester Divinity School) by the Egyptian Exploration Fund (now the Egyptian Exploration Society). The materials were divided into 9 lots, and brought a staggering total of $646,000. The most prized piece in terms of bids was Poxy 1780, from the Gospel of John, which went for $350,000. The tiny parchment Leviticus fragment brought "only" $30,000. The names of the successful bidders are unknown to me.

Fortunately, not only were all these papyri already published in the Poxy volumes, but they had recently been included in the American Theological Library Association "Cooperative Digital Resources Initiative" and thus can be viewed publicly on the internet -- (Search the DataBase, Limit by Collection, check off Oxyrhynchus Papyri and "Submit," keyword "Oxy," click on descriptions and images). The images and descriptions can even be offloaded ("Save As").

The situation was discussed at some length on the PAPY scholarly electronic list, and some late attempts to stop or delay the sale were addressed both to the sellers (the Trustees at Colgate Rochester Divinity School -- the Library that housed the fragments apparently was not complicit in the sale) and the legal department of the agent (Sotheby's in New York City). Egyptian Exploration Society officers issued a statement that emphasized the intent of EES that the materials were for public use, through museums and libraries. I'm not aware that the Egyptian authorities were apprized of the situation or issued any statement, although it could be argued that ultimately, this is Egyptian property. Some have questioned the right of a not-for-profit institution (CRDS) to sell to the highest bidder materials obtained by "donation" from a not-for-profit organization (EEF). It clearly seems to be a "moral" issue, even if its "legal" status remains murky; and a very questionable precedent!

I agree!
PAUL FLESHER (University of Wyoming) already had had doubts about the the authenticity of the "James Ossuary" on philological grounds. Mark Elliott (spelling sic; the other "Wyoming scholar," editor of the Bible and Interpretation website) and Rochelle Altman also figure:

Wyoming scholars help expose ossuary (Billings Gazette)


Paul Flesher, director of the Religious Studies Program at the University of Wyoming, and Laramie County Community College Professor Mark Elliot arrived at the same conclusion months ago.

Last fall, a leading French archaeologist, Andre Lemaire, claimed that the ossuary held the body of James, the brother of Jesus. His evidence included writing on the ossuary that says, "James, the son of Joseph, the brother of Jesus."

Flesher was one of the first to analyze the dialect of the inscription and concluded that it was more appropriate for Galilee of the third through the seventh centuries than for Jerusalem of the first century.

"While this point does not indicate the inscription cannot be what was claimed, it suggests it was more likely to be from another time and place," Flesher said.

Elliot, who runs a Web site called "Bible and Interpretation," published an analysis of the inscription.

The analysis was done by Rochelle Altman, an expert in styles of carving and writing letters in ancient Israel.


Flesher has published a number of essays on the Ossuary on the Bible and Interpretation website.

Iraq's Plundered Past: Picking up the pieces in Baghdad

In the current (July/August) issue of Archaeology Magazine the editoral by Jane C. Waldbaum, President of the Archaeological Institute of America, is a model of what to say and do about the tragic cultural looting in Iraq. She explains simply and clearly why the looting is still important even thought it was on a smaller scale that originally thought, she deplores the disaster without making unjustified accusations, and she goes through the positive steps that the AIA is taking to help with the reconstruction. Well done, Jane and the AIA.
ROCHELLE ALTMAN, who has been in the news lately about the "James Ossuary," has a new book coming out in July. You can order it now through Amazon:

Absent Voices: The Story of Writing Systems in the West
A LATE ANTIQUE CONVENT in Jerusalem is being investigated by archaeologists, reportedly with the usual interference from the Ultra-Orthodox:

Israeli archaeologists uncover nearly intact convent (Catholic News Briefs)

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- Israeli archaeologists have uncovered a monastic complex believed to be a convent used from the fifth to eighth centuries. "We have found a lot of monasteries, and many we don't know if monks or nuns lived there," said Uzi Dahari, deputy director of archaeology for the Israel Antiquities Authority. "Here we know for sure this was a convent because of an inscription we found in honor of the mother superior and the female skeletons we found in the underground crypt." The inscription was written in Greek as was the custom of the time, he said. Archaeologists believe that some 20 nuns and novices lived in the convent, Dahari said. He said archaeologists found "many skeletons" in the crypt, but they were prevented from continuing with the excavations by a group of Orthodox Jews, who, because of religious reasons, oppose disturbing the graves and bones of the dead.

ANTIQUITIES IN THE HOLY LAND - at last, some coverage of their current plight:

Holy Land turmoil puts cultural heritage at risk
War imperils evidence of historic land claims

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

WASHINGTON -- While Israeli and Palestinian officials spar over the future of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the past that both sides share is rapidly being lost to neglect, looting and development.


While the search for historic truths has been clouded by modern politics, it has been thoroughly stymied by the current conflict. Recent cultural tragedies include the abandonment and burning of Joseph's Tomb in Nablus during the early days of the intifada, the siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and charges by Israel that the Palestinians are destroying archaeological evidence of Jewish temples as they renovate and expand the Al Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem.

The civil unrest last year prompted 22 archaeological teams to cancel excavations, reducing the usual force of international volunteers and researchers who dig in Israel by about 1,000.

The cutbacks even halted work at what many believe is the ancient site of Armageddon, the scene of cultural clashes for thousands of years and, according to the Book of Revelations, the site of the final climatic battle between good and evil in the world.


I'm glad all this is finally receiving some attention but - dammit! - it's the Book of Revelation, not "Revelations"! Why can't reporters ever get this right?

Monday, June 23, 2003

McGUIRE GIBSON, in an interview with Archaeology Magazine, has the following exchange with the interviewer:

In your meeting with Department of Defense officials on January 24, what did you tell them about protecting Iraq's heritage and what did they say to you?
We pointed out the importance of Mesopotamia. It's not just a desert. Iraq is not just a desert. It's the place where civilization began, it's the longest surviving continuous tradition of civilization in the world, it's earlier than Egypt, it's earlier than any place else. And that it is the foundation of all ideas of civilization, for Western civilization as well as Eastern. And that we trace our own cultural roots back to Mesopotamia.
We also talked about the great number of sites in Iraq, that every hill in southern Iraq is artificial, there are no natural hills, these are ancient sites, 99 percent would be ancient sites. That there's very great danger in war that sites would be disturbed and destroyed, especially if armies dig-in on the high points, which these would be. And I told them we could supply them with the exact coordinates of several thousand sites. I was able to deliver, I think it was the next day, a list of 4,000 sites. We later sent another 1,000. I know they put those into their computers, into their mapping systems. And I know they made an effort not to destroy sites. They had a special list of 150 sites on a "do not target" list that included all the famous sites one would think of and a lot of others. I came away from that meeting and subsequent email messages with various people in the military that they were aware of ancient sites, they were aware of the importance of the museum. In fact, I made the point the museum was the single most important archaeological location in the country, and they said we are aware of it and it would be heavily safeguarded and it won't be targeted. My understanding was they were going to take it and safeguard it.

Obviously that didn't happen. Where did things break down?
I think it had to do with the fact that they just had too few troops on the ground, and the commander of the troops in Baghdad has said that. They just didn't have the people to do it.


My bold-font emphasis.

(Via Archaeologica News)

UPDATE: Scroll down to the bottom of yesterday's "About That Hague Convention" post for some comments on a specific accusation of American war crimes against the Baghdad Museum.

Why I Am Not Yet Convinced the Ossuary Inscription Is a Forgery (Beliefnet via Bible and Interpretation News)


The recent conclusion of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) is essentially the view of one person, Professor Yuval Goren of Tel Aviv University. The decision of the IAA purports to be by unanimous agreement of a 15-person committee, each of whom had been named by the IAA. It appears, however, that the only one on the committee with any geological and chemical knowledge on which the conclusion is based is Yuval Goren. He managed to convince the rest of the five-person (sub-)committee of his scientific conclusions based on materials in which they are not expert and which they have no more than a laypersons' knowledge. This (sub-)committee convinced the other scholars of the conclusion of the five-person scientific committee. The committee of other scholars has even less scientific expertise.


All this is not to say that the IAA's conclusion is incorrect. What it says is that we must be patient and see what evaluations can be made of the IAA report when it comes out.

Yuval Goren replies here:

Shanks' Assertions are Simply Incorrect and Misleading
(Bible and Interpretation News)


The patina sub-committee included at least one more member whose knowledge in geology and geochemistry was by far greater than mine. Dr. Amos Bein, Director of the Geological Survey of Israel (GSI), appointed Dr. Avner Ayalon to officially represent the GSI in this special committee. In his letter to the IAA dated March 9, 2003, Bein declares: �by your request, I appoint Dr. Avner Ayalon as a member of the scientific committee for the examination of the [James] ossuary. Dr. Ayalon has broad expertise in the operation of the equipment required for the examinations, and long experience in the application of the geochemical and petrographic methods that are required for the identification and characterization of materials�. Hence Shanks� assertion that �the committee never called in the scientists from the two other teams � the Geological Survey of Israel and the Royal Ontario Museum�� is simply incorrect and misleading.

FRANK CROSS (my doctoral supervisor) weighs in on the "James Ossuary": "If this is a forgery, the forger was a genius." (Time Magazine)

Sunday, June 22, 2003

ROCHELLE ALTMAN thinks that the "James Ossuary" is not just a modern forgery, it's a twenty-first century one. An essay that takes no prisoners.

"Updates on the Ossuary of Ya'acob bar Yosef and the Temple Tablet"
(Bible and Interpretation News, via Jim West on Ioudaios-L)


This is a follow-up to my post last week, "When Scholars Cry Wolf." I'm assuming you've read this and will not include here every link that you can find there. I was intending for this to be just a few short remarks but I'm afraid it has turned into another editorial. My comments apply in the first instance to the Baghdad Museum, but I also deal with the cultural looting in general later in the essay.

This is the opening text of a resolution passed by MELCOM (via the Iraqcrisis list):

MELCOM, the European Association of Middle East Librarians, assembled in Beirut at its 25th annual conference, unanimously

Deplores the destruction and theft of Iraqi libraries, archives and their contents following the US and British led invasion and occupation of Iraq in April 2003. This occurred in breach of the United Nations Convention on the protection of cultural property of countries under military occupation.


My emphasis. Well, I deplore it too, but I suggest that people who want to assert a "breach" of international law by allied forces read the U.N. Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict a little more carefully. Here is my reading of it.

Article 4, on Respect for Cultural Property, says:

1. The High Contracting Parties undertake to respect cultural property situated within their own territory as well as within the territory of other High Contracting Parties by refraining from any use of the property and its immediate surroundings or of the appliances in use for its protection for purposes which are likely to expose it to destruction or damage in the event of armed convict [sic: read "conflict"?]; and by refraining from any act of hostility directed against such property.

2. The obligations mentioned in paragraph 1 of the present Article may be waived only in cases where military necessity imperatively requires such a waiver.

3. The High Contracting Parties further undertake to prohibit, prevent and, if necessary, put a stop to any form of theft, pillage or misappropriation of, and any acts of vandalism directed against, cultural property. They shall refrain from requisitioning movable cultural property situated in the territory of another High Contracting Party.

4. They shall refrain from any act directed by way of reprisals against cultural property.

5. No High Contracting Party may evade the obligations incumbent upon it under the present Article, in respect of another High Contracting Party, by reason of the fact that the latter has not applied the measures of safeguard referred to in Article 3.

My emphasis. It is well established that Iraqi forces used the Baghdad Museum grounds as a base from which to fight U.S. forces from 7 April for three days. This is a case of imperative military necessity and the U.S. forces could not have been expected to protect the site during this period (when, evidently, some looting was already going on). (It may be that the Museum would count as a site put under "special protection," in which case Articles 8-11 apply, which say much the same thing.) It isn't clear to me exactly when the situation in Baghdad moved from "warfare" to "occupation" � I imagine it varied from location to location. The crucial period from about 10-12 April (after which, remember, the report for some time was that the Museum had been completely gutted) could be argued to fit either. If there were still hostilities going on in the immediate vicinity, paragraph 2 may still apply. (Paragraph 3 is obviously trumped by paragraph 2: if the parties to the conflict are allowed to use cultural property for purposes that might expose it to damage if it is a case of imperative military necessity, they can hardly be expected to protect it from theft, pillage, or vandalism under the same circumstances.) If not, and the area was now "occupied," the relevant part of Article 5, on Occupation, reads:

1. Any High Contracting Party in occupation of the whole or part of the territory of another High Contracting Party shall as far as possible support the competent national authorities of the occupied country in safeguarding and preserving its cultural property.

2. Should it prove necessary to take measures to preserve cultural property situated in occupied territory and damaged by military operations, and should the competent national authorities be unable to take such measures, the Occupying Power shall, as far as possible, and in close co-operation with such authorities, take the most necessary measures of preservation.

My emphasis. The occupying power should take measures for preservation as far as possible. It is not enough simply to show that some antiquities were looted or destroyed, which is not in doubt here. To assert violation of the Hague Convention it is necessary to show that the occupying troops did not take whatever steps were reasonable given the situation, the whole array of things that were calling for their attention, and the manpower and resources they had available. This, I submit, has by no means been demonstrated.

(I don't have the patience for a detailed exegesis of the 1999 Second Protocol to the 1954 Hague Convention and I doubt that many would have the patience to read it if I did. Suffice to say that Chapter 2, Articles 6-9, and all of Chapter 3 cover the same ground in more detail and build on the 1954 Protocol without changing anything I have said above. By the way, I am aware that the United States has not ratified either the Convention or the Protocol, but it has gone on record as recognizing much of the Convention as "customary international law." For a primer on archaeological ethics and international law, go here.)

In the case of the Baghdad Museum it is unrealistic to suggest, as it was by a museum official on the day the looting was announced, that one tank and two soldiers could have kept away the looters. A commander with any sense would not place two of his men in so vulnerable a position to secure an important site. There were still bands of Fedayeen loose in Baghdad and there was the danger of a determined mob of looters. Two men and a tank would not have been a sufficiently intimidating presence to be sure of keeping looters at bay, which meant the soldiers might have had to fire on the looters in contravention of the rules of engagement. It would have taken a large contingent of troops occupying the museum to secure it. I pointed this out on 13 April.

Was there such a contingent to spare during the crucial days of 10-12 April? I don't know. But I bet you don't either. It is clear that the troops were mopping up armed resistance, securing the Ministry of Interior and the Oil Ministry, being called upon to help figure out if their were prisoners underground dying of thirst, and (at the same time or shortly thereafter) trying to keep a zoo full of animals alive while they got a supply line of food going. Not to put too fine a point on it, but all of these actually were a higher priority than securing the Museum. The decision to allot resources to them makes sense. We do need all the military intelligence we can get: we're fighting a war on terrorism and, although Saddam had nothing to do with the September 11th attacks, he was in bed with a number of terrorist groups. We needed to keep as much information as possible which would help us preserve the oil infrastructure for the rebuilding of Iraq. And can you imagine the condemnations we'd still be hearing today if we'd let all the zoo animals starve or if there had been underground prisons and we'd let the prisoners die? And I don't know what other urgent needs were present, but I bet there were quite a few. Robert Fisk makes much of the ministry buildings that were not protected, but doesn't their number indicate that troops and resources for protecting them were rather scarce in comparison to the need? Were there indeed other resources that were wasted? Again, I don't know. Maybe there were units off wasting time somewhere who should have been protecting the Museum and all those other ministry buildings and hospitals, etc. But if so, I'd like to see the evidence. Remember, Baghdad was not yet "secured." I would like an account of what Lieutenant-Colonel Schwartz's men were doing after the Battle of the Museum. If it can be shown that were doing things that were obviously less important than securing the Museum and that the things they were doing were unreasonable choices by comparison at the time, then there may be a case for saying they violated the Hague Convention. If ASOR or MELCOM want to present evidence that this is so, I am willing to listen.

This is obviously just the most publicized and best-known site that suffered some looting or destruction. There were reports early on that the Mosul Museum was seriously looted but it seems these were exaggerated. Various libraries and archives were burned or looted or both. The most recent information I can find on these is here. (pointed out to me by Francis Deblauwe). About these I will say just two things. First, we know even less at present about exactly what was lost in them than we know about the Baghdad Museum and about what was happening at the same time in the same vicinities. There is at least one report that some of the holdings of the National Library and Archives had previously been removed to safety. Given that a good bit of what was originally reported destroyed in other collections had actually been saved earlier (such as the majority of the holdings of the Ministry of Endowments & Religious Affairs Central Library), I'm hoping that most or all of the old and rare holdings in the National Library and Archives will turn up safe too. Second, there are certainly an awful lot of libraries and archives. Is it really realistic to argue that they all should have been heavily guarded? Again, I don't know whether it was feasible to put a heavy guard around the National Library and Archives on 14 April. I'm not sure it would even have occurred to me that the Iraqis themselves would burn it down. And once Robert Fisk reported to the U.S. troops that the Koranic Library was burning, with flames shooting a hundred feet into the air, what were they supposed to do? Did they have fire-fighting equipment? Would even that have made a difference at that point?

I am not trying to support anyone's agenda or propose a simplistic interpretation of very complex and confusing events. I want to know what happened too and if it can be shown that there was negligence on the part of the troops and the occupying powers, then they should be called to justice. But the point I am making is that we still know very little about what actually happened and that negligence has by no means been established and it can only be established by a full accounting not only of what the troops didn't do, but also what they did instead and why. If allied forces had gone to the Baghdad Museum, packed up its contents and sent them back to museums in the States, we would all be talking about violations of the Hague Convention. If they had burned down the National Library, we would all be talking about war crimes. They did no such thing and no one claims that they did. They are being accused, rather, of neglecting to prevent looting and burning by the local population, a much more nebulous charge that is correspondingly harder to prove and that should be advanced with due caution. If ASOR, MELCOM, etc. think they can make a case for negligence, let them speak up. Let them call for a formal investigation. Let them present a full array of evidence to the public. If the case is strong, there will be support for an investigation. But so far it looks to me as though the Hague Convention is being invoked purely on the grounds that antiquities were looted. This is not adequate, based on what the Convention actually says. Accusing someone of a war crime is a serious matter and ought to be done only if the accuser offers a detailed and convincing case. In the meantime, the accused should be regarded as innocent until proven guilty. ASOR, MELCOM and others have jumped to conclusions and are embarrassing us all in the public arena as a result. This was not necessary. You have only to look at the Statement of Concern of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (which invokes the Hague Convention in a sensible way) and the Statement on destruction of Cultural Heritage in Iraq by the World Archaeological Congress to see that it was perfectly possible to express concern about the situation and to call for action without resorting to overblown rhetoric and unsupported accusations.

UPDATE (23 June): In this article (originally published 7 May in German, English translation via Francis Deblauwe's website), Professor Walter Sommerfeld makes some specific and serious accusations that, if true, would indicate that American troops blatantly violated the Hague Convention and committed war crimes. According to the article, after the fighting around the Baghdad Museum the troops broke into the Museum and brought out unidentified objects, then incited the crowd to loot the treasures of the Museum. However, the account is presented as based on anonymous reports by Museum staff and local residents, "as they are afraid of repercussions and will be forced to work with the Americans in the future." There are also alleged quotations from three local residents who say not only that the American troops looted the Museum, but that they brought Kuwaitis with them and together they carried off seven truckloads of artifacts while protected by armored cars! Certainly Americans as well as anyone else would want to know if all this is true. I have to say that at this point I am not inclined to give great weight to anonymous accusations. If there had been blatant looting by American troops on this scale, surely the newspapers would have been all over it - it could hardly have been covered up or escaped their attention. The National Geographic report on Iraq's antiquites deals at length with the Iraq Museum and shows no awareness of any accounts or rumors of this kind. Nor does Professor McGuire Gibson, one of the team members who visited the Museum in May, say anything about any such rumors in his interview in the current (July/August) issue of Archaeology Magazine, even when asked how the looting happened. So we have some specific and serious accusations but no verification or indication that people in the know or with the means of finding out are taking them seriously. I remain to be convinced.

UPDATE (26 June): Roger Atwood has published an article in ARTnews online, "Inside Iraq�s National Museum," (via the Iraqcrisis list and Francis Deblauwe) which gives a detailed account of what happened in and around the Museum during the crucial days before, during, and after the looting, based on interviews with museum workers, U.S. troops who were present, and eyewitness bystanders. The Museum was "turned into a major military defensive position by Iraqi forces."

Three U.S. Army platoons, with four tanks and 16 soldiers each, rolled into the immediate vicinity of the museum that day under heavy fire. It was a big force, attesting to the importance of the junction and the strength of Iraqi resistance. The commander of the operation was Captain Jason Conroy.

I asked Conroy why his troops didn�t make more of an effort to guard what he must have known would be a tempting target for looters.

"That building was being used as a defensive position. They were fighting out of it. It wasn�t like you came here and there was no enemy. The area was completely saturated by enemy positions, and they weren�t abiding by the rules we were abiding by," he said. An engaging, articulate man, Conroy seemed more bewildered than angry at the charges that his troops could have stopped the plunder. "I mean, you�re talking about one little building. Yes, it�s an important building, but you have to think back to what point we were at. We were just moving into Baghdad, and just to get to this area was a major undertaking."


Behind the battle lines, looting was well under way by Thursday, April 10. According to Abbas, a group of seven men smashed open the museum�s glass front door and went inside. Most of the shelves were empty, but there were still some choice works, like the Warka Vase, a copper bull from the Tell Ubaid site, and a 4,400-year-old diorite statue of an early Babylonian king.


More looters had gotten in through a back entrance.

By Saturday, April 12, other employees began returning to the museum and chased out some of the looters. Abbas put up a large sign in the entrance saying in Arabic: "The American army is in control of the museum. Those who enter will be killed." It was a lie, of course, but it helped. They were able to block the doors and hold looters at bay.

George and Khalil, meanwhile, were getting nowhere in their efforts to gain U.S. military protection for the museum, they said later. On Sunday, April 13, they ventured out of their homes and went to the Palestine Hotel, where there was a U.S. command post, and got what they thought was a commitment from a U.S. Marine colonel to get troops to secure the building. None came. By then, the marines had largely withdrawn from the west side of the Tigris, where the museum was located, and the U.S. Army had taken over all operations in that area.

Conroy said his forces took sporadic fire for four more days, until Tuesday, April 15, when they withdrew to refuel. The next day, with news of looting all over the world�s media, he finally received orders to return and "secure" the museum, but by then the battle was over and the pillage had ended. They returned expecting to find Iraqi armed defenders and instead found only reporters. Conroy told me that he had no idea the museum had been looted. He, George, and Khalil inspected the museum for booby traps, finding none but coming across discarded Republican Guard uniforms.


This is an extremely important account, so please do follow the link and read it all. Needless to say, it bears no resemblance to the version published by Walter Sommerfeld and commented on in the previous update. Also, David Nishimura (Cronaca) comments briefly on my posting and discusses the same ARTnews article here.