Saturday, August 16, 2003

IF ANY OF YOU THOUGHT THAT THE BOOK OF LEVITICUS IS IRRELEVANT to the twenty-first century, think again. At the moment it figures in about 127 Google News links, including here and here (the gay bishop debate); here (the same debate illustrated by the laws of kashrut, although the author gets his facts wrong: the no milk and meat rule comes from rabbinic exegesis of Exodus 23:19, 34:26, and Deuteronomy 14:21, it's not in Leviticus or the Bible); here (tattoos); here (Jehovah's Witnesses and blood transfusions); and here (house mold).

Just so you know.

Friday, August 15, 2003

THE AMERICAN JOURNAL OF ARCHAEOLOGY has a new article on archaeology in Jordan in 2002. Here's the abstract:

Archaeology in Jordan, 2002 Season

Stephen H. Savage, Kurt Zamora, and Donald R. Keller

The 10th season of excavations at the Petra Great Temple took place between 15 June and 3 August 2002. The Great Temple precinct is located in the center of Petra on the south side, fronting the Petra basin and the Colonnaded Street, a few meters east of the Temenos Gate of Qasr al-Bint. Most of the temple precinct has been excavated; however, certain areas, such as the propylaeum, and specific projects lying to the east and south of the temple, remain to be researched.

General Projects and Surveys
New Satellite Imagery and Digital Terrain Models of Jordan
Wadi Ziqlab Survey
Moab Archaeological Resource Survey
Wadi al-Koum Survey

Tell Johfiyeh
Tell Ya'amun
Jerash City Walls Project (JCWP)
Tell Zera'a
Tell el-Fukhar
Tell al-'Umayri
Tell Madaba
The Great Temple
The Small Temple
Petra: North Ridge Project
Petra: The Obodas Chapel
Jabal Har�n
The Roman Aqaba Project

The whole article is available as a PDF file on the same page, but the file takes up 9.9 megabytes, so I'm going to hold off downloading it myself until I can use the broadband connection in my office. I guess it must have lots of pretty pictures.
MEL GIBSON HAS "SOFTENED" THE PASSION STORY. I think this article (in JewsWeek) is saying that he's made changes in the movie in light of criticism, but it's not entirely clear.

Director Mel Gibson, under heavy fire from Jewish groups for his $25 million movie on the death of Jesus, has "softened the story" and made changes to make The Passion more palatable to critics, according to a spokesman. Scheduled for release next year during Lent, The Passion has some Jewish groups nervous it will resurrect old beliefs that Jews were responsible for the death of the Christian savior.

Paul Lauer, marketing director for Gibson's Icon Productions company, said Gibson has edited the film to show more "sympathetic" Jewish characters who were not calling for Jesus to be crucified. "We believe we have softened the story compared to the way the Gospel has told it," Lauer said in an interview. He pointed to Matthew 27:25, in which the Jewish mob calls for Jesus' blood "to be on us and on our children."

"That's in the Gospel," he said. "It's not in our film."

In addition, Lauer said the character of Simon of Cyrene, who was forced to carry the cross for Jesus, will be clearly labeled a Jew in the film. A shouting mob will include voices opposing the execution, Lauer said.

Faced with vocal Jewish opposition, Gibson is mounting a pre-emptive public relations offensive to counter his critics -- all for a film that is still being edited. After regional screenings, Gibson has lingered with his audiences to listen to their advice. In an effort to soothe concerns, Gibson is also hoping to launch "The Jewish Initiative" to recruit Jewish and Christian leaders to discuss the film's effects on Christian-Jewish relations.

"We've gone out of our way to accommodate this process because we felt it was necessary and important, and to show that we care and that we're not callously sitting back saying, 'Screw you, we're going to make the film we want to make,'" Lauer said.

Jewish groups, however, remain unconvinced. . . .
TO HELL WITH WORK! And to hell with blogging too. This is the last week of the school vacation and I'm taking my son and his friend to the beach for the sand castle competition. Meanwhile, if you'd like to read some things about the Nabateans, go to Professor Avraham Negev's website here.

More later, maybe.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

HERE'S A REPORT IN THE DARTMOUTH ONLINE on a lecture entitled "The Tale of Androgynous and the Unity of Jewish Culture" given at Dartmouth by Moscow State University professor Arkady Kovelman. The lecture was about changing literary genres in first- and second-century Judaism, the exegesis of the Genesis creation story by Philo of Alexandria, and the unity of Jewish culture. Also, he mentioned pornography, which, of course, made it into the headline.
CNN HAS A ROUNDUP of current opinions of Mel Gibson's The Passion.
THE SOCIETY OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE has released its online program for the November annual meeting in Atlanta, as has been noted on a number of e-mail lists in the last day. The following are sessions devoted in particular to aspects of ancient Judaism:

S24-4 Aramaic Studies Section
S24-102 Aramaic Studies Section

S23-3 Archaeological Excavations and Discoveries: Illuminating the Biblical World Section

S24-53 Biblical Lands and Peoples in Archaeology and Text Section

S24-8 Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah Section

S25-7 Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism Group
S24-10 Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism Group

S24-108 Early Jewish Christian Relations Section
S24-56 Early Jewish Christian Relations Section
S25-8 Early Jewish Christian Relations Section

S25-9 Hellenistic Judaism Section
S23-9 Hellenistic Judaism Section

S24-112 History and Literature of Early Rabbinic Judaism Section
S23-109 History and Literature of Early Rabbinic Judaism Section
S25-10 History and Literature of Early Rabbinic Judaism Section

S23-13 Josephus Seminar
S24-116 Josephus Seminar

S24-117 Late Antiquity in Interdisciplinary Perspective Section
S23-113 Midrash Consultation Consultation

S25-14 Literature and History of the Persian Period Group

S23-18 Paleographical Studies in the Ancient Near East Section

S23-117 Philo of Alexandria Group
S24-19 Philo of Alexandria Group

S24-63 Pseudepigrapha Section
S24-20 Pseudepigrapha Section

S24-64 Q Section

S23-67 Qumran Section
S22-112 Qumran Section

S24-59 International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies Affiliate

S24-66 Social History of Formative Christianity and Judaism Section

S24-67 Social-scientific Studies of the Second Temple Period Section
S22-70 Social-scientific Studies of the Second Temple Period Section

S23-72 Wisdom and Apocalypticism in Early Judaism and Early Christianity Group

I tried to include the JavaScript pop-up links directly to each session, but I couldn't get them to work. My JavaScript skills are, well, nonexistent, so if a Java-literate reader can tell me how to fit them into the Blogger interface I can redo this post with links. Also, there are plenty of other relevant individual papers scattered through the other sessions, so skim the whole program. And perhaps I should mention that, at least for me, the search engine was not recognizing some obvious keywords it should have known, such as "Judaism."

The World of the Aramaeans I: Biblical Studies in Honour of Paul-Eug�ne Dion
Daviau, P. M. Mich�le, John W. Wevers and Michael Weigle, editors
Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001

The World of the Aramaeans II: Studies in History and Archaeology in Honour of Paul-Eug�ne Dion

The World of the Aramaeans III: Studies in Language and Literature in Honour of Paul-Eug�ne Dion

All three reviewed by Joel S Burnett.
MICHAEL FISHBANE'S NEW BOOK, Biblical Myth and Rabbinic Mythmaking (Oxford University Press) is reviewed by Seth Sanders (who was at the St. Andrews Anthropology and Biblical Studies conference in July) in the University of Chicago Chronicle.

Is it blasphemous to say that myth is at the heart of the Hebrew Bible? What is more, what if rather than suppressing biblical myth, Jewish tradition actually deepened and even added to it?


Fishbane joins a recent wave of scholars of Judaism who are rethinking the meaning of biblical myth as well as scholars of comparative religion, such as Chicago�s Bruce Lincoln, the Caroline E. Haskell Professor in the Divinity School, who are reevaluating myth�s cultural force. Fishbane writes that his goal is �to retrieve, study and even reconstruct the phenomenon of monotheistic myth over the course of two millennia,� from the Hebrew Bible to the great works of Kabbalah.

Fishbane argues that from the start, one is at a disadvantage in understanding myth, since we inherit traditions, ranging from the Greek Sophists to medieval Jewish philosophers to the European Enlightenment, which rationalize it away. He discussed one of his working principles: �If something would be considered myth in an ancient Babylonian or Canaanite source, there is no reason to assume the same material would not have the same force in an Israelite or Jewish setting. These are variants of mythic elements that have gone through a monotheistic filter. This does not mean that imagery has been softened, just that it occurs in an ancient Israelite context. These images would not have been mere �metaphors� for the Babylonians, and neither would they have been mere metaphors for the Israelites.�


�The same principles affect my study of interpretation and storytelling in early Jewish Midrash. People assume monotheism implies the impossibility of myth. But what�s interesting is that certain Rabbinic myths, like God�s dragon-slaying or his abandonment of and lamentation for the temple, actually show a greater vibrancy than similar topics found in the Bible, matching that of the ancient Near East. There was an old and ongoing mythic tradition in Israel, much of which did not surface in the Bible. But much of it does surface in Midrash and later in Jewish religious culture.�

But the Rabbis� creativity does not stop there. Fishbane explained, �The other innovation within rabbinic material is the way interpretation both expands old myths and creates new ones.�

Certain images now appear that the Israelites might never have imagined. �Among the themes that only emerge in rabbinic interpretation are that of God actually enduring suffering and going into exile along with the Jewish people. The third section of the book focuses on this increasing boldness and creativity. One of the striking things about the first great Kabbalistic work, the Zohar, is the very ancient myth of God�s building the world on the slain dragon�s body. Here, a theme already known in Babylonian literature, but only hinted at in the Bible, is elaborated in the much larger and more complex world of Kabbalah.� In these instances, Jewish tradition has actually expanded its mythmaking power so that in the Zohar there is �virtually no word or image in the Hebrew Bible that is not a potential myth.�

Why have people been so reluctant to examine this rich legacy? Fishbane argues that this reluctance is defensive. In his analysis of earlier scholars who pose an imaginary but convenient break between polytheistic myth and monotheistic purity, he challenges a whole roster of the 20th century�s great Jewish thinkers, including Gershom Scholem, the most famous student of Jewish mysticism. Scholem and others have maintained that Kabbalah was a mysterious outburst of a mythology that had been cut off and repressed in mainstream Judaism. But, Fishbane argued, if its myths were truly alien or obscure, Kabbalah could not have won the massive and widespread acceptance that it did.


Bravo. Read it all.
THE JOURNAL OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE has a new issue (122.2) online. Some articles of interest include:

"Who Was the Chronicler�s Audience? A Hint from His Genealogies"

"Purity Beyond the Temple in the Second Temple Era"

Accessible by paid subscription only

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

I HAVE E-MAILED FRANK RICH about the "dowdified" quote of Mel Gibson in his New York Times essay. I'll let you know what comes of it.

UPDATE: He's on vacation through Labor Day, so it may be awhile.
WAS ODED GOLAN PART OF AN INTERNATIONAL CONSPIRACY? The Baptist Standard (via Jim West on Ioudaios-L) reports that Israeli authorities suspect he was. Excerpt:

Based on evidence seized in the late-night raid, investigators now suspect Golan may have been systematically counterfeiting antiquities and selling them for a number of years. They also believe other professionals, including possibly specialists from abroad, collaborated with him in the alleged scam of the James ossuary.

A panel of Israeli experts has determined the James ossuary inscription, along with a second inscription, supposedly written by King Joash of Judah in the ninth century B.C., both were fakes.

But the circle of inquiry now appears to be widening beyond Golan, said Amir Ganor, an Israeli Antiquities Authority officer.

"We now believe that he had partners who collaborated with him, people from the world of science, academia and also professionals," Ganor said. "We think we know who they are, but we are not willing to publish it at this point."

While most of the inquiry was focused in Israel, personalities from other countries also had been questioned regarding the alleged scam, Ganor said. But so far, the Israeli police have not officially turned to any police agency abroad in connection with a possible international conspiracy.

The Israeli police, in their raid on Golan's apartment, discovered a rooftop storage room containing various items that appeared to be in the process of being doctored, some with so-called "ancient" inscriptions, he said.

Although police had searched Golan's apartment six months ago, the rooftop storage room was a new discovery.

"We found in this room other inscriptions and antiquities that appeared to be in various stages of being counterfeited," Ganor said. "We also found a lot of equipment for the process.

"We are investigating suspicions that beyond the two artifacts that have received so much publicity, there was a process of counterfeiting antiquities that was going on for years," he said. "There are witnesses and evidence that support the suspicion that this is part of something systematic that happened over many years."

Is it so? I have no idea.
HERE'S A REVIEW OF A NEW BIOGRAPHY OF SIR HENRY RAWLINSON, diplomat, scholar, and decipherer of Old Persian and Babylonian cuneiform. The book is by Lesley Adkins and is called Empires of the Plain: Henry Rawlinson and the Lost Languages of Babylon.
THIS ISN'T THE BODY OF ST. ANDREW and it's not even the remains of St. Regulus, but it's archaeology and it's in St. Andrews, about a block from my office:

Dig discovers dozens of St Andrews skeletons (Glasgow Herald)

ARCHAEOLOGISTS have uncovered dozens of skeletons buried beneath the centre of St Andrews, casting fresh light on medieval attitudes to death.

Yesterday, they said the graveyard showed medieval Scots were less squeamish about living on top of the dead.

The remains were found during refurbishment of the public library next to Holy Trinity Church, in the town centre.

The centuries-old bones are believed to belong to people who attended the church, which was established in 1410.

Douglas Speirs, head of archaeology at Fife Council said it was a significant find.

"It shows us more about the evolution of one of Scotland's most well preserved medieval towns," he said.

Archaeologists have exhumed about 40 skeletons in the past fortnight and expect to find more by the end of their month-long excavation.

Tom Rees, of Rathmell Archaeology, who is leading the dig, said: "Research into this will have to be done, but what is known is that it wouldn't have made St Andrews a very attractive place to live."


Roop, Eugene F.
Ruth, Jonah, Esther

Moeser, Marion C.
The Anecdote in Mark, the Classical World and the Rabbis

Fitzmyer, Joseph A.

Reif, Stefan C.
The Cambridge Genizah Collections: Their Contents and Significance

Stone, Michael E.
Adam's Contract With Satan: The Legend of the Cheirograph of Adam

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

THE ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE'S Rabbi Eugene Korn has seen The Passion and didn't like it.

"The film unambiguously portrays Jewish authorities and the Jewish mob as the ones responsible for the decision to crucify Jesus," Abraham Foxman, the league's national director, said in a statement.

"We are deeply concerned that the film, if released in its present form, will fuel the hatred, bigotry and anti-Semitism that many responsible churches have worked hard to repudiate," Foxman added.


Korn said "The Passion" contains "many dangerous teachings" that Christians and Jews had worked to counter, and he added that the group hopes Gibson and his film production company will "consider modifying" the movie.

Here is a link to the ADL's press release on the movie, dated yesterday.
In the new issue of Vigiliae Christianae (57.3) there is the following article of interest:

Petri Luomanen

Requires paid individual or institutional subscription to access.
TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism has posted a new article:

David Marcus, "A Proto-Masoretic Gloss in the Prayer for the King (Psalm 61:7-8)?"

Monday, August 11, 2003

NO, I HAVEN'T READ THE IAA REPORT YET. For the last several days I've been "having a life" and even "having a summer" (involving, e.g., the Anstruther Fish Bar the beach at Elie, the swimming pool, the beach at Kingsbarns, the local Lammas fair, etc.). If I'm not careful, I may develop a tase for both.
UCHRONIA: THE ALTERNATE HISTORY LIST is a website (via David Nishimura at Cronaca) that lists thousands of printed works of "alternate history" (the history of what might have happened but didn't in our world), both fictional and scholarly. It happens that the book I am currently writing on Christian transmission of the Jewish Pseudepigrapha uses "alternate history" as a tool to help understand how the Pseudepigrapha were passed down. This site will be extremely useful to me. Thanks David!
THE FULL SET OF 2003 ABSTRACTS FOR REVUE BIBLIQUE is now available online in French and English. This volume includes Emile Puech's article on the Zachariah Inscription at Absalom's Tomb. The abstracts for the first issue of 2004 are also available, but so far in French only. A number of articles in 2003-04 bear on ancient Judaism.
THE JULY ISSUE OF NOVUM TESTAMENTUM IS OUT (available online by paid institutional or individual subscription only). Nothing of explicitly paleojudaic interest, but it has articles on Pauline nomos, ancient testimonia, and other things. The reviews are worth a look too.

Sunday, August 10, 2003

KAREN ARMSTRONG CRITICIZES MARINE GEOLOGIST ROBERT BALLARD for using Noah's Flood to promote his underwater archaeological expedition to the Black Sea. I've left this one alone so far, but I have to say she makes some good points. Read it all.

Believers in the lost Ark (via Archaeologica News)

Treating myth as fact misunderstands the meaning of religion

Karen Armstrong
Saturday August 9, 2003
The Guardian

The explorer who discovered the Titanic beneath the Atlantic in 1985 is setting out on another underwater expedition to document Noah's flood. The Black Sea was originally a freshwater lake that in ancient times became inundated by the salty Mediterranean. Robert Ballard believes that this was a cataclysmic event that occurred about 7,500 years ago, and was possibly the deluge described in the Bible.

Ballard's critics are sceptical: they argue that the infiltration of the Black Sea was a gradual process that occurred much earlier and over a long period of time. They accuse Ballard of using Noah to sex up his material for maximum publicity.

Christian fundamentalists will expect great things of Ballard's expedition. American creationists, who believe that the book of Genesis gives a scientifically accurate account of the origins of life, have long discussed Noah's flood. Some have even led archaeological expeditions to Mount Ararat in Turkey, in the hope of unearthing the Ark, and proving the literal truth of scripture once and for all.


Needless to say, Ballard does not subscribe to these ideas. Yet by mentioning Noah in the context of a serious scientific expedition, he is unwittingly helping to perpetuate a widespread but erroneous understanding of the nature of religious truth. The search for Noah's flood is as irrelevant as an attempt to find the "real" Middlemarch or Cranford. Like George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell, the authors of Genesis are not writing history, but are engaged in an imaginative investigation of the human predicament.


But the biblical writers would have been astonished to hear about a scientific expedition to find the "real" flood. In the premodern perspective, mythos and logos each had its own sphere of competence. If you confused them, you had bad science - like that of the creationists. You also had bad religion. Until we recover a sense of the mythical, our scriptures will remain opaque, and our faith - as well as our unbelief - will be misplaced.

When my son was four years old, he asked his mother if the babies at the time of the Flood were naughty.
HERE'S A REPORT on the four-minute clip of The Passion which was shown at the Christian "Harvest Crusade" in Anaheim on Friday night. It says that the offensive passage in Matthew 27:25 is left out. The writer of the article also thinks that Aramaic is a "dead language," which would be news to the Chaldean and Assyrian Christians. The Mandeans also use Aramaic in their religious rites, although I'm not sure that any of them speak it as a main language any more.