Saturday, September 27, 2003

"WHY WE DIG THE HOLY LAND" - is another essay for Christianity Today's "archaeology week." This one is a reprint from 1995, which encourages Evangelical Christian institutions to put more effort and money into biblical and Middle Eastern archaeology. I'm very much in favor of this as long as the funding comes with no strings attached regarding the outcome of the research. But the tone of the article does make me worry:

We urge evangelical Christian institutions to stand in the gap, to create academic programs and cooperate in field archaeology ("digs") and to promote the importance of biblical archaeology in our churches. This is an expensive, but necessary undertaking.

It is necessary because biblical archaeology has not only enlightened our reading of Scripture (the recently discovered Tel-Dan inscription, for example, illuminates the character of David's dynasty) but has often confirmed the Bible's historicity.

It is necessary because, over the past 10 to 15 years, Middle Eastern archaeology has shifted from interpretation of the evidence in the light of the written records (including Scripture) to a bias against giving Scripture the benefit of the doubt. [Archaeologist William] Dever himself bears responsibility for much of this secularization and has alienated the constituency most likely to cheer and financially support the archaeology of the Middle East: committed Jews and Christians. Believers must once again firmly grasp the task and conduct original research in a faith-friendly manner.


Evangelicals are committed to fostering a belief in the trustworthiness of Scripture. That requires both argument and evidence. And the evidence, buried in the tells of the Middle East, requires painstaking excavation and analysis. Who will provide the funds? Who will lead the way?

Archaeology involves learning about the past through the surviving remnants of its material culture. Relating it to surviving texts passed down from antiquity is useful, if ultimately a spin-off, and harder to do than people often realize. But if conducting "original research in a faith-friendly manner" means anything besides going without preconception wherever the evidence leads the researcher, then it isn't acceptable. This has to be made crystal clear to any funders in advance. I hope this is what the writer was thinking too, but I'd be happier if he had made it explicit.
SIX HARVARD MUSEUMS are having a free-admission "Museums Community Day" tomorrow. The highlights include:

Preview tour of the upcoming exhibit "The Houses of Ancient Israel: Domestic, Royal, Divine" (opening Nov. 12) at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. at the Semitic Museum, 6 Divinity Ave. The exhibit explores everyday life in Iron Age Israel (ca.1000-600 B.C.) and features a full-scale replica of a fully furnished, two-story village house. A tour of the "Nuzi and the Hurrians" Mesopotamian exhibit and "Ancient Cyprus" gallery is offered from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Founded in 1889, the Semitic Museum holds artifacts that comprise over 40,000 items, including pottery, cylinder seals, sculpture, coins, and cuneiform tablets, many from museum-sponsored excavations in Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Cyprus, and Tunisia.


Friday, September 26, 2003

"YECHI ADONENU MORENU verabbenu melech hamoshiach leolam voed." - "May our master, teacher and rabbi, the king messiah, live forever."

Waiting for the Messiah of Eastern Parkway (New York Times)

This long article from 21 September tells the fascinating story of the Lubavitcher community that believes that its rebbe, who died in 1994, is the Messiah and that he will come again. The parallels with Jesus and other messianic figures such as Shabbetai Zvi are obvious. I'll excerpt some interesting bits and add a few comments, but you should definitely read it all. (It was brought to my attention by a reader whose name I don't have, because the message didn't forward properly from my office. But I'll note it later when I can get at my office e-mail again. LATER: It was Steve Oren. Thanks Steve!)

It looks almost like a rain dance, only instead of precipitation, these Lubavitchers are trying to hasten the arrival of the messiah. There's just one problem. The words of the accompanying song -- ''May our master, teacher and rabbi, the king messiah, live forever'' -- refer specifically to a man who died nine years ago: Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the grand rabbi and spiritual leader of the Lubavitch movement from 1951 until 1994. The Yechi, as it is known, is sung as a demonstration of faith that their beloved rebbe will be back soon -- rising from the great beyond in a manner more befitting Jesus Christ than the savior of the Jewish people.

So if Yechi -- ''May he live'' -- is a demonstration of faith to some, it borders on a profane outburst to others. A swath of Lubavitchers are not only unwilling to utter the Yechi; they also refuse to be present in synagogues or at gatherings where it is chanted. To understand the concern of these so-called anti-messianists, consider that only a few men in Jewish history have been revered as the messiah after their deaths. One was Jesus. Another was Sabbatai Zevi, who won hundreds of thousands of followers across Palestine and Eastern Europe after publicly declaring himself the messiah in 1665. (Zevi's death was, relatively speaking, a small challenge to his adherents, who had already chosen to stick by him after his conversion to Islam.)

For the anti-messianists, their messianic brethren present a public-relations disaster of epic proportions. They worry that their Hasidic movement, which is 300 years old and has survived pogroms, Communism and the Holocaust, will become confused with a cult. What's more, they can hardly ignore the obvious Christian overtones of messianism: what kind of Jews believe in a second coming?


What started as a fissure between the community's messianists and anti-messianists has gradually opened into a canyon, with each side insisting that it is the true heir to the rebbe's vision. Over the years, the conflict between the two factions has also become one of propaganda, with rival publishing houses, magazines and bookstores. There are also endless semantic distinctions between the two factions, the most common of which is that anti-messianists write ''Of Blessed Memory'' after the rebbe's name, while messianists insist on ''Long Live King Messiah.'' There is even a Lubavitch version of the school-prayer debate, over whether the yeshivas should encourage students to sing Yechi. (Some do, some don't.)


Thirty-five years old and skinny, with long kinky black hair and a Frank Zappa goatee, Baruch Thaler left the Lubavitch movement several years ago, but his mother, stepfather and five siblings are all still very much a part of it.


A promising student in the local yeshivas, he had been on track to spread the rebbe's teachings as a Lubavitch emissary when he found himself among the throngs outside 770 on the day after the rebbe's death. Forcing his way to the front of the crowd, Thaler, who was 25 at the time, managed to grab the rebbe's coffin as it was being carried out of the building and into the car that would transport it to a graveyard in Queens. Because Jewish law requires that corpses be returned to the earth and most New York cemeteries mandate that dead bodies be fully enclosed, some Jewish coffins are made with a thin wood panel on the bottom that slides out when they are lowered into the ground. Reaching up to lift the coffin, Thaler found himself pushing directly up into that layer of plywood. As he shuffled toward the street, he could feel the shifting weight of the dead rebbe pressing into his bare hands. ''Later, people would insist that the casket was empty,'' he says. ''But this was total reality -- physical-touch confirmation.''

After the rebbe was buried, Thaler pulled away from the movement.

Empty casket - empty tomb? It looks like something along those lines is getting started here. There was an empty tomb tradition about Shabbetai Zvi as well just a few years after his death.

The biggest difficulty in trying to figure out what the rebbe really wanted is that he, too, was aware of his movement's image and thus sent different signals to those inside and outside the community. This was more than a mere P.R. gesture. The rebbe seemed to believe that bringing secular Jews back into the fold was a critical part of the process of redemption and was thus understandably wary of scaring people off with messianic zealotry.

What does seem clear is that the rebbe was, for many years, eager to quell the tide of messianism when it began to rise. But as he grew older, he became more reluctant to do so. Among the messianists' abiding articles of faith are two videotapes of the rebbe in his later years. One shows him smiling as a crowd of Lubavitchers sing Yechi around him; in the other, he is accepting a petition signed by thousands that identifies him as the messiah.

In the late 80's and early 90's, the rebbe, no doubt increasingly aware of his approaching mortality as well as of his lack of progeny, began speaking more and more frequently about the messiah -- not explicitly nominating himself but nonetheless encouraging a messianic urgency among his followers and even occasionally hinting that the messianic era had already begun.

This reminds me a little of how Jesus frequently talks in the Gospels about "the Son of Man" in an ambiguous way that could be taken to refer either to him or to someone else. (Not to downplay the horrendous complexities and problems of the whole Son of Man tradition, but the parallel is still interesting.)

In this context, it's possible to see the rebbe as a postmodern religious leader, one who intended for his followers to make their own decisions about his identity as the messiah. This would be in keeping with the tradition of Hasidism, which itself began as a populist effort to wrest Judaism from the grip of an elite group of Talmudic scholars. ''I think the rebbe wanted to dismantle his movement in a way,'' Max [Kohanzad] says. ''He realized that in order for people to be redeemed, they have to redeem themselves. The current mess is part of the rebbe's attempt to empower people.''

Or maybe there's another way of looking at it. Perhaps the rebbe was trying to walk the fine line between discouraging cultlike fanaticism among his followers and wanting to avoid shattering their hopes for imminent redemption.

I have my doubts about the rebbe-as-deconstructionist theory, but who knows?

Here's an article on Shabbetai Zvi with links to more information. Here are some notes on Shabbetai and Sabbatianism from Eliezer Segal's ever-useful website. And here, from the also very useful Livius website, is a collection of articles on the concept of messiahship and on more than thirty Jewish figures throughout history who (more or less) made messianic claims or had such claims made about them. Spot-checking some of the articles, I'd say the quality is high, although there could be more secondary literature cited.
L'SHANAH TOVAH, year 5764. Tonight at sundown Rosh haShanah, the Jewish new year, begins. This article explains some of the basics. This holiday marks the beginning of the High Holy Days or ten Days of Awe. Also, the opening of this new year coincides with the sabbath, which creates some halakhic difficulties. This article discusses how some passages in the rabbinic literature dealt with them.
ARCHAEOLOGY AND THE BIBLE - Christianity Today weighs in.

What Do the Stones Cry Out?
Beware of claims that archaeology disproves�or proves�the Bible is true.
By Christian M.M. Brady | posted 09/24/2003

This is an article aimed at Evangelical Christians and proceeds from their assumptions. I'm not interested in debating these, but I do have a few points to raise about one section:

At times archeology can even substantiate claims about the text itself. The Dead Sea Scrolls offer a good example. For over a hundred years prior to their discovery, it had become commonplace for some scholars to dismiss the integrity of the biblical text. The assumption was that preserving the precise wording of such a large and diverse group of texts as the Hebrew Bible (not even considering the New Testament at the moment) could not have been transmitted from scribe to scribe over the millennia without all manner of errors creeping in. The fact that our oldest complete manuscript of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, the Masoretic Text (MT), only dated to the 10th century A.D. did not offer much assurance to those who believed that traditional scribes were as precise as they had professed to be.

Then came the famous discovery of the Bedouin in 1947. Suddenly our oldest texts of the Bible pre-dated the advent of Jesus. Scholars have now dated most of the biblical texts found at Qumran to the 2nd or 1st century B.C. (All books of the Hebrew Bible except Esther are attested, in addition to many extrabiblical texts). In this instance, a fortuitous archaeological find has demonstrated that the scribes had done a remarkable job of preserving the text. The differences between the biblical texts at Qumran and those of the Masoretic tradition are important only to linguists and textual scholars and have no serious bearing upon the meaning and context of the text. The changes are relatively slight.

This is typical of what is still found in conservative Bible handbooks, but it's an overstatement and is somewhat misleading. It is true that, say, the Isaiah manuscripts from Qumran Cave 1 show relatively trivial differences from the Masoretic Text (although these include some rather interesting readings that may be original). But the Samuel manuscripts from Cave 4 have considerably larger differences; often whole phrases were miscopied or left out of the MT. Then there are two very different editions of the book of Jeremiah known from Qumran. The longer one is the one found in our Hebrew Bible today. Another version, shorter by about 1/7 and a somewhat different order, was known from the Greek Septuagint. It used to be possible to argue that the Greek version was a mutilated perversion of the original Hebrew by an overzealous translator. But now Hebrew fragments of both editions have turned up at Qumran. Which version belongs in the Bible? I submit that this question is of interest to anyone for whom the Bible is important and that it does indeed have serious bearing on the meaning and context of the text.

I could go on at length along these lines but, to put it briefly, the Dead Sea Scrolls do indeed show that the Masoretes transmitted one biblical text-type very carefully, but this one - the MT - wasn't the only text-type that existed in antiquity and often it wasn't the best or most original.
THE SOCIETY OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE has revamped its website, giving it a spiffier look and adding some new content. Go and have a look at it. Note the articles on the King James Version of the Bible in the SBL Forum section on the main page, including Leonard Greenspoon's piece on "The KJV and the Jews". Also look at the Resources section, especially the Biblical Fonts, Electronic Books, and Web Resources pages.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

ARE THE APOSTLE PETER'S BONES IN ROME? Tom Mueller doesn't think so. Me, I have no idea. (Via Bible and Interpretation News.)

A glass fragment from the fourth century, one of the world's oldest Judaica exhibits, will go on show starting next week at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The fragment, which contains a gold leaf on which there are sketches from the Temple, was apparently the bottom of a cup. It was found in the catacombs of Rome and was kept in the basement at the Vatican.

Click on the link to see a photograph of the object.
MY ARCHIVE IS BACK. We apologize for the inconvenience.
"MADONNA IS COMING UNDER ATTACK for preaching her new religion to children. The singer has penned a much-hyped kiddie�s book 'The English Roses,' a tale about the hazards of jealousy." (MSNBC).

Horrors, no! Teaching children religion! Next they'll be teaching them about magic and wizardry. Oh, wait . . .

By the way, Binah is the Hebrew word for "understanding," not "wisdom." (The latter is Hokhmah.) (The article above is via the Yada, Yada, Yada Blog.)

This guy, however, gets a little carried away with his claims for Kabbalah:

The Luckiest Generation on Earth (PRWeb/eMediaWire)


Tel Aviv, Israel (PRWEB) September 23 2003 - For thousands of years, the secrets of the universe were passed down to a chosen few from generation to generation. Ours is the first generation on earth to have complete access to the sacred sources that explain every phenomena in the world.


According to the Israel-based Kabbalist Michael Laitman, a bio-cyberneticist by profession, Kabbalah is not about researching an ancient mystical body of knowledge, but is rather the most modern science closest to man. It is the science of the 21st century that researches the forces that we do not see, forces that govern our world and influence every moment of our lives. This is a science that will change the future of each and every individual, and all of mankind. The sources explain very clearly that once this process is underway, the entire world will gradually elevate itself to a higher state of being.


Since a Kabbalist is a person who has attained the spiritual realm, they are completely aware of the processes influencing our world. They essentially hold the key to safeguarding the future of the entire human race. Yet only people who have reached a certain stage of development will feel drawn to studying the construction of the universe, and are doing the work for the rest of humanity.

Sorry, but Kabbalah is about researching an ancient body of mystical knowledge and, as such, it's kind of cool. And, as I've said before, if people get something out of it today, good for them. But as someone who's an expert on early Jewish mysticism and who knows a good bit about Kabbalah, I can assure anyone who is in doubt that Kabbalah is not science and it doesn't explain every phenomenon in the universe. Physicists are working on that but they have a long way to go. Still, their work and its technological benefits are pretty exciting - much more exciting than bogus New Age science. If Michael Laitman really thinks Kabbalah can do everything he claims, he needs to go home and unplug his refrigerator for a reality check.
MEL GIBSON'S THE PASSION finds a distributor, at least in Australia:

While it has been confirmed that Mel Gibson's controversial film, The Passion, will be released in Australia in March through Icon Film Distribution, the Aramaic-language feature has yet to secure a distribution deal in the US. Gibson co-owns Icon with Bruce Davey.
TALMUD STUDY IS ALIVE AND WELL IN MARYLAND, although historians aren't going to buy the claim that the method is three thousand years old.

Tribe follows mix of customs
DNA: Genes support a tribe's belief that it migrated 2,500 years ago from the Holy Land.
(Baltimore Sun)

By John Murphy
Sun Foreign Staff
Originally published September 25, 2003

TSHINO, South Africa - The Jewish community in this dusty mountain village has some unorthodox customs to mark the Jewish new year. They slaughter a cow, eat its intestines, take snuff to expel demons and then, during an all-night ceremony held inside a hut with a cow dung floor, they dance, drink and sing, summoning the spirits of their ancestors for guidance in the year ahead.


The 50,000 Lemba scattered among the foothills of the Soutpansberg Mountains in South Africa's Limpopo region have a number of traditions that have always set them apart from other African tribes.

They practice circumcision, they don't eat pork or mix milk with meat, as prescribed by Jewish dietary laws. They keep one day of the week holy, and they bury their dead with their heads facing north, toward Jerusalem.

According to Lemba oral traditions, the tribe was led from the Holy Land more than 2,500 years ago by a man named Buba, to a city in Yemen, and later crossed the Red Sea into East Africa, following a star that eventually brought it to present-day South Africa.

They say they adopted local customs during their journey, like other members of the Jewish diaspora. They intermarried with African tribes, embraced African rituals and forgot many Jewish rituals and scriptures. European colonizers later converted many of the Lemba to Christianity. The Lemba don't have rabbis, synagogues or copies of the Torah.

But their dietary laws and cultural practices, nearly identical to those in Jewish communities around the world, survived generation to generation, as did their belief that they share an ancestry with the Jewish people.

For years the outside world dismissed the Lemba's claims as sheer fantasy. That changed in 1999, when geneticists from the United States, Great Britain and Israel discovered some backing for the claims.

The researchers found that Lemba men carried a DNA signature on their Y chromosome that is believed unique to the relatively small number of Jews known as the Cohanim, who trace their ancestry to the priests of the ancient Jewish Temple and, ultimately, to Aaron, brother of Moses.

The genetic discovery might have had a greater impact on Jewish communities that had rejected the Lemba's claims than on the Lemba, who never doubted their ancestry.


"The tribe as a whole is pretty ambiguous about what it is," says Tudor Parfitt, director of the Center for Jewish Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. "Its identity is fractured. They don't have a language that is their own. They don't have any formal leadership. They are shaky when it comes to what they are."


Parfitt was the first historian to attempt to verify the Lemba's claims. At the urging of the Lemba's spiritual leader, Matshaya Mathiva, who died last year, Parfitt retraced their journey across Africa back to Yemen and discovered signs of the city where the Lemba claim their ancestors had lived.

Parfitt recounts his travels in his book, Journey to the Vanished City.

His research along with the DNA evidence have been key to helping the world understand the Lemba's origins. Still, he cautions, the question of whether the Lemba are Jewish has not been answered conclusively: "DNA itself doesn't make anybody Jewish. All it can do is say something about their ancestry."


Wednesday, September 24, 2003

ANOTHER "TOP TEN" LIST of archaeological discoveries pertaining to the New Testament, this one by Ben Witherington III in Christianity Today. It's a rather different list from the one produced by Crossan and Reed (the link is currently down while Blogspot fixes something). I imagine Witherington is going to get a lot of flack for including not only the "James Ossuary," but also the Shroud of Turin. He calls into question the C-14 dating of the latter, but there are more indications that it's a medieval forgery. (See my earlier post for a genuine first-century shroud from Jerusalem.) Witherington suggests looking for bone fragments in the ossuary and then testing their DNA against the stains on the Shroud. Well, we'd have nothing to lose by trying it, but I wouldn't bet on the exciting result he hopes for. Nor would I bet that those determined to find the Shroud genuine (and I'm not putting Ben in that category, but there are plenty of them) would be deterred by a negative result.

He also argues that the "James Ossuary," if it's genuine, proves a belief in the resurrection of Jesus. Well, maybe. The "honor and shame culture" argument seems simplistic to me. Jesus' followers could also have believed that Jesus was a martyr or that Jesus had been vindicated in heaven with much the same result.

UPDATE: Mark Goodacre comments on the article.

UPDATE: Since my archive is down, here is the link to the abstract of Shimon Gibson's paper "A First-Century Burial Shroud at Akeldama in Jerusalem, the Turin Shroud and the so-called �James� Ossuary" at July's International SBL meeting in Cambridge (scroll down to session 23-12). And here's more on the Jerusalem shroud. And here's an article on it from the Telegraph. And here's my summary of his Cambridge paper just after I heard it (rescued from Blogspot oblivion via the Google cache):

Shimon Gibson spoke on "A First-Century Burial Shroud at Akeldama in Jerusalem, the Turin Shroud, and the So-Called 'James Ossuary.'" (See abstract at SBL site - see Saturday's last post for a link.) Read the abstract, but note the following additional items. Gibson reports that he has reason to believe that the "James Ossuary" was looted from this tomb in 1998. (Incidentally, I hear from more than one source that Mr. Golan, the owner, has been arrested.) He also reports that the shroud is quite different from the Shroud of Turin, but matches the description of Jesus' shroud in one of the Gospels (John, I think).

John 20:6-7.
AN INTERIOR WALL has collapsed on the Temple Mount near the Islamic Museum. Damage was not extensive and there were no injuries. Few other details are available.
ARAMAIC STUDIES 1.2 has just come out and the table of contents and abstracts of the articles are available online. (Noted by Bas ter Haar Romeny on the Aramaic Discussion List.)
A NEW ISSUE OF BIBLICA (84.1) has just come out online and there are several articles pertaining to ancient Judaism. (Noted by Jim West on Ioudaios-L.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

THE AUTHENTICITY OF THE "JAMES OSSUARY" is defended by Ben Witherington in Christianity Today (pointed out to me by a postgraduate here at St. Mary's College):

Bones of Contention
Why I still think the James bone box is likely to be authentic.

The article concludes:

In late July the Israeli police arrested Oded Golan, the owner of the ossuary, on "suspicion" of forgery. They released him soon afterward and have yet to press formal charges. Clearly if he is a forger, they should prosecute him. But Andr� Lemaire says Golan does not have the knowledge or skill to be a forger. If the James ossuary is a forgery, then as Frank Moore Cross said in the Discovery Channel special, the forger is a genius, so skillful that he fooled the world's leading experts in various fields (paleographers, archaeologists, biblical scholars, and others). Furthermore, there is no evidence that Golan has made any money or attempted to make any money on the James ossuary or the Jehoash inscription (another artifact he brought to light, but one that is certainly not authentic). Yet making money is what forgery is all about.

This soap opera will continue to run for some time. Whatever happens with Golan, the authenticity of the James ossuary inscription does not stand or fall with him. That must be determined by the experts.

But until all the experts gain access to the IAA's data, I can affirm that Andr� Lemaire and the Toronto scholars and I have not yet found any smoking gun in the IAA's report. I am still convinced the inscription is likely to be genuine, and will be vindicated as even further study and testing is done. In the meantime, let the scholarly debate continue, and let no one think that the IAA report is anything like the definitive word on this issue. Only God has the last word.

The ossuary still cries out to us, as Jesus once said the stones of Jerusalem would do�and what it says is James, and what it says is Joseph, and best of all what it says is Jesus. The ossuary is just possibly the Word made visible.

UPDATE: Andre Lemaire also still stands by the inscription's authenticity. He is going to lecture on it in Alabama (via Bible and Interpretation News). Only he's an epigrapher, not an archaeologist. Trust me, this matters to epigraphers and archaeologists. Excerpt:

"The members of the committee, I know some of them," Lemaire said. "They are not specialized in inscriptions; when you read their report carefully, they disagree between themselves. Their conclusion is not clear; it's not justified. It could have been cleaned. They just mention that possibility, then they forget it."
BLOGSPOT IS BACK. Or, at least, whatever the problem was, it's fixed.
ANOTHER BENEFIT of a Classical education:

Settlers entrust security to geese (
From correspondents in Jerusalem
September 23, 2003


According to the Yediot Aharonot daily, the residents of Adei Ad in the West Bank were inspired by tale of how geese helped protect ancient Rome.

According to legend, when the Gauls invaded Rome a detachment clambered up the hill of the capitol so silently that they went unchallenged. But while striding over a rampart, they disturbed some sacred geese and awoke the garrison leading to their defeat.

Now, the residents of Adei Ad have posted their web-footed friends at the remotest areas of their settlement.

I CAN'T ACCESS PALEOJUDAICA.BLOGSPOT.COM. Our server is having problems, so it may be us, although otherwise the glitch has only been with e-mail and I seem to be able to access any other web page. So maybe it's Blogspot's server. In any case, if you're reading this the problem is presumably either local or solved. Meanwhile, I'll keep posting as the spirit moves me, on the theory that the posts are going somewhere besides the void.
SPEAKING OF BIBLE AND INTERPRETATION, there's a new essay up on the site:

Gerd Ludemann, "The Life of Jesus : A Brief Assessment"
THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS were the subject of lectures at Casper College in Wyoming by some scholars of ancient Judaism. The name Peter Flint is well know in Qumran circles and Mark Elliot and Paul Flesher run the marvelous Bible and Interpretation website.

Monday, September 22, 2003

HERE'S A GUIDE TO THE SITES OF ANCIENT ISRAEL from Archaeology Magazine. It's from 2001, but I've never mentioned it before here - and today's a very slow news day.
IRAQ'S ANCIENT CITIES are still being looted on a massive scale and nobody seems to be doing much about it. (Via Archaeologica News.)

Sunday, September 21, 2003

EMIL FACKENHEIM, the controversial Holocaust theologian, has died at age 87. There are obituaries in Ha'aretz and the Jerusalem Post. Excerpt from the latter:

Fackenheim, a refugee from Nazi Germany, was most known for formulating a post-Holocaust "614th commandment" for Jewish survival that declared, "Thou shalt not award Hitler any posthumous victories." Behind that seemingly simple statement lay a lifetime of work examining how Judaism and Jewish existence could remain meaningful in the shadow of the death camps.

Whatever one makes of his work, it was always thought provoking and challenging. May his memory be for a blessing.
A 450-YEAR-OLD TORAH SCROLL that survived the Holocaust has been recovered and has made its way to Berkeley.
THEY AREN'T GOING TO FIND MOSES' GRAVE, but at least they've found love. And it does appear that they've found something that's archaeologically interesting.
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and other biblical laws in American history and law are discussed in this article:

Even before recent controversy, Ten Commandments have history with country's legal system (Kansas City Star)
The Dallas Morning News


But what the Commandments actually say makes them an unlikely symbol for American jurisprudence.

Worship of idols or other deities, making false oaths in God's name, coveting your neighbor's wife or possessions -- neither Justice Moore nor his supporters would suggest those need to be punished by a trip to the hoosegow.

Even the old "blue laws' that limited Sunday shopping as a way to keep a Christian Sabbath have all but vanished.

Other parts of the Bible seem to have offered more concrete inspiration for the Founding Fathers. Deuteronomy 16, for instance, has instructions about how to appoint judges, and it tells the judges not to accept bribes.

Those Commandments that did make it into American law -- do not bear false witness, for example -- can be found in other ancient codes that don't depend on the Jewish or Christian deity.

The Code of Hammurabi, for example, was law in Babylon more than 3,800 years ago. It outlaws murder, theft, adultery and perjury -- and even suggests that honoring parents is a good thing.


Most American law is based on the English common law. Debates about the importance of religion -- and the Commandments -- in shaping that legal tradition are at least 1,000 years old, said Daniel Dreisbach, professor of justice law and society at American University.

"King Alfred said that common law started with the Ten Commandments," he said.

Many of the American colonies incorporated the Commandments directly into their early laws. The Massachusetts Bay Colony, for example, considered worship of other deities a capital offense, said Perkins of the Family Research Council.

Even the Constitution has one almost-invisible nod to the Commandment about the Sabbath: Article 1 gives the president 10 days to decide whether to sign a bill into law -- Sundays excepted.

Then there's this:

Back in 1946, E.J. Ruegemer was a juvenile court judge in Minnesota. He told the Minneapolis Star Tribune recently that he had a delinquent boy come to his bench back then who didn't know what the Ten Commandments were.

Judge Ruegemer had the idea of printing up copies for courtrooms and classrooms. His project, taken up by an organization called the Fraternal Order of Eagles, eventually got the attention of director Cecil B. DeMille, whose epic "The Ten Commandments" hit the theaters in 1956.

The two men found Catholic, Jewish and Protestant scholars willing to come up with a new version of the Commandments that incorporated all three traditions. (The DeMille list appears to have 11 commandments, unless the edicts about honoring parents and keeping the Sabbath are combined as one.) About 4,000 granite slabs were placed in towns across America.

The stars of the movie, Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner and Martha Scott, attended many of the dedications, Ruegemer recalled.
FRANK RICH has a new essay on Mel Gibson in the New York Times (via Open Book). No response on his dowdification of Mel which I pointed out last month, and about which I also e-mailed him. I'm going to have to dig up this New Yorker article; it sounds pretty interesting.

UPDATE: The New Yorker interview is excerpted and summarized here. (It seems to be the New Yorker's own summary.) If the whole article is available anywhere online, I can't find it. Interestingly, it sounds as if Gibson's much quoted wish to kill Frank Rich and his (nonexistent) dog was supposedly overheard by Gibson's marketing director. If that's true, it's not an entirely irrelevant point and none of the articles I've seen that repeated the quote put it in that context. We all say outrageous things to ourselves which we don't really mean when we think no one is listening - not least when we think someone is insulting a family member. It's a pretty horrible thing to say, but if he said it to himself and was overheard, it's not the same as saying it to an interviewer. If anyone has seen the whole article and thinks my reading is incorrect, please e-mail me and let me know.

UPDATE: On the basis of the New Yorker article, Abraham Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, says that Gibson holds anti-Semitic views.

UPDATE: Nope, I was wrong. Gibson made the comment about killing Frank Rich to the interviewer. The marketing director overheard it and tried to put a damage-control spin on it. I've tried to be sympathetic to Gibson, especially since he does seem to get a lot of hassle from the media - some of it unfair. But in this case he lost it; there's no excuse for what he said and it makes him and his whole project look bad.

A reader has alerted me to a complete copy of the New Yorker article (whose title is "The Jesus War") online at a site called I'm not entirely sure where this stands vis � vis copyright law: a fair use defense could be made for it, since it's followed by extensive commentary and discussion (for which, by the way, I take no responsibility). But I'm a little uncomfortable about linking to a whole long article that's been extracted from its source, so I'll leave it to you go to the site and do a search for it yourself if you want to.

Esther M. Menn

Andrei A. Orlov

Review of Books

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