Saturday, October 04, 2003


The Dead Sea is dying as its dark salty waters retreat (The Telegraph)
(Filed: 04/10/2003)

Human exploitation is forcing the surface level down by three feet each year, reports David Blair

The jagged cliffs of the Judaean desert mountains, where John the Baptist wandered and Jewish fighters made their last stand at Masada, once sloped directly into the Dead Sea.

Today, many of those cliffs descend into ugly mudflats covering much of the basin marking the lowest point on Earth. For the Dead Sea is in retreat as human intervention forces the water level downwards by more than three feet per year.

Over the last 50 years, the Dead Sea has shrunk by a third and its surface has fallen 88ft, from 1,280ft below sea level to 1,368ft. At this rate of decline, the salt waters between Israel and Jordan will disappear completely within the next century.

"THE OTHER JESUS MOVIE" is, of course, The Gospel of John. This Beliefnet article (via Mark Goodacre) is by Professor Alan F. Segal (Barnard College, Columbia University), a Jewish specialist in early Christianity and ancient Judaism who was on the committee of academic advisors for the movie. He is one of my colleagues on the steering committee of the Society of Biblical Literature's Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism Group. As Mark says, it's encouraging to see academics and filmmakers working together on a project like this. Alan's next book, coming out in the spring, is Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion.

Friday, October 03, 2003

"WAS JESUS MARRIED?" asks Deborah Caldwell, Beliefnet's senior religion producer. Answer: well, maybe. Maybe not too. We'd expect that he would have been but there's no positive evidence he was. We've been over this before, but this article spells out the relevant evidence in some detail and consults a number of specialists about the problem.
"CUNEIFORM AND THE BIBLE" is a new essay, by Leslie Adkins, at the Bible and Interpretation website. It appears to be a summary of Adkins's book, Empires of the Plain: Henry Rawlinson and the Lost Languages of Babylon, a review of which I noted in August. The essay is more about the decipherment of cuneiform - in itself a very interesting topic - than about connections between cuneiform and the Bible.
WHY ARE THERE SO FEW ARAMAIC TARGUMS AT QUMRAN? Just two Job targums (4Q157 and 11Q10) and perhaps one of Leviticus (4Q156) out of 800+ manuscripts. Randall Buth asked this question in "Where Is the Aramaic Bible at Qumran? Scripture Use in the Land of Israel" at the website, which article I mentioned here in June. I happened to look again at the site today (this wasn't part of my Google search) and I noticed that two more articles on the same subject have been posted. Jack Poirier has written "The Qumran Targum of Job as a Window into Second Temple Judaism: A Response to Randall Buth" and now Buth has replied in "More on the Absence of an Aramaic Bible at Qumran: A Response to Jack Poirier". Enjoy the debate.
HUGOYE: JOURNAL OF SYRIAC STUDIES is a journal that gives full texts of its articles online, many of which are of interest to ancient Judaism. I have to admit I've never heard of it before. Here's the table of contents for the current issue:

Volume 6, Number 2 (July 2003)

Kudos to Four Outstanding Scholars.
George KIRAZ, Beth Mardutho: The Syriac Institute
In Memoriam

Fr. Fran�ois Graffin.
Bernard OUTTIER, Biblioth�que du Caucase.

Gabriel of Qatar's Commentary on the Liturgy.
Sebastian BROCK, Oxford University

Towards automatic transcription of Estrangelo script.
William F. CLOCKSIN, Oxford Brookes University, and Prem P.J. FERNANDO, University of Cambridge

The Doctrina Addai as a Paradigm of Christian Thought in Edessa in the Fifth Century.
Sidney GRIFFITH, The Catholic University of America

Patriarchal Funerary Inscriptions in the Monastery of Rabban Hormizd.
Amir HARRAK, University of Toronto

Ms. Sch�yen 2530/Sinai syr. 3 and the New Testament Peshitta.
Andreas Juckel, University of Munich

Brief Articles

Some Further Notes on Thecla in Syriac Christianity.
Catherine BURRIS, University of North Carolina and Lucas VAN ROMPAY, Duke University

Publications and Book Reviews

Ephrem-Isa Yousif, Les Chroniqueurs Syriaques.
Amir HARRAK, University of Toronto

Daniel Caner, Wandering, Begging Monks: Spiritual Authority and the Promotion of Monasticism in Late Antiquity. The Transformation of the Classical Heritage 33.
Robert KITCHEN, Knox-Metropolitan United Church

Fran�oise Petit, La Cha�ne sur l'Exode I. Fragments de S�v�re d'Antioche. Texte grec �tabli et traduit. Avec un glossaire syriaque par Lucas Van Rompay. Traditio Exegetica Graeca, 9i.
Edward G. MATHEWS Jr.

J.F. Coakley, Robinson's Paradigms and Exercises in Syriac Grammar 5th ed..
Robert R. PHENIX Jr., The Institute for the Christians of the Orient

Perrin, Nicholas, Thomas and Tatian: The Relationship between the Gospel of Thomas and the Diatessaron.
Paul-Hubert POIRIER, Universit� Laval

Robert F. Shedinger, Tatian and the Jewish Scriptures: A Textual and Philological Analysis of the Old Testament Citations in Tatian's Diatessaron.
William L. PETERSEN, Pennsylvania State University

Peter J. Williams, Studies in the Syntax of the Peshitta of 1 Kings, Monographs of the Peshitta Institute, Leiden.
Richard A. TAYLOR, Dallas Theological Seminary

Conference Reports

ARAM Society: Twentieth International Conference on Alcohol , 7-9 July 2003.
David G.K. TAYLOR, University of Birmingham

North American Syriac Symposium IV, 9-12 July 2003.
Edip AYDIN, Princeton Theological Seminary

IVth International Forum on Syriac Computing, 11 July 2003.
Thomas JOSEPH, Beth Mardutho: The Syriac Institute


IXth Syriac Symposium and VIIth Conference on Christian Arab Studies, 20-25 September 2004.

Gorgias Book Grant in Eastern Christian Studies.


Beth Mardutho Amazon Associates

Gorgias Press

ATLAS Digital Journal Project

There is also an e-mail discussion group called Hugoye-list, which is devoted to the academic study of Syriac.

In case you're wondering, I'm doing Google searches on a Syriac subject at the moment.

ARAM is an independent, non-political, inter-religious, non-profit-making society concerned with all aspects of Syro-Mesopotamian cultures. ARAM draws its name from Aramaic, which was a focal point of Ancient Syro-Mesopotamian cultures. However, ARAM does not confine itself solely to Aramaic culture, but attempts to deal with all cultures of the geographical area influenced by Aramaic culture, i.e. the Syro-Mesopotamian region, or the so-called Fertile Crescent. Consequently, ARAM aims to study any subject related to Syro-Mesopotamian cultures, from the beginning of history up until the present time.

The website includes tables of contents of the journal Aram, lists of past and forthcoming conferences, and more.
MORE ON PETER FLINT'S lecturing on the Dead Sea Scrolls in Wyoming:

Dead Sea Scrolls scholar speaks in Kemmerer (Kemmerer Gazette)

What lies beneath
Oct 2nd 2003
From The Economist print edition

New �non-destructive� sensing technologies are transforming archaeology

SINCE its emergence as a science, archaeology has wrestled with a paradox: discovery involves destruction, and investigation requires intrusion. An archaeological dig cannot be undone. Once a layer has been stripped away, any information not recorded is lost. Most archaeologists have had the experience of trying to discover something new about a site that has been completely excavated, only to find that the question they wanted to ask had not occurred to the original diggers.

So knowing what lies beneath the surface before the trowel hits the soil has long been the dream of many an archaeologist. As well as saving time in determining where to dig, it would enable archaeologists to answer questions with a minimum of destruction�and potentially none at all. This dream is slowly becoming a reality, as a result of improvements in non-destructive surveying techniques. Archaeology has never been a wealthy discipline, but by borrowing tools developed for more well-endowed professions, archaeologists are developing X-ray vision�or, to be precise, infra-red, microwave and magnetic vision, which are even better.

Such tools enable archaeologists to identify and target small areas of interest, and to move away from the complete excavation of sites towards a more selective approach. This method, known as the �conservation model� of archaeology, means that archaeological resources are maintained for future generations, who will be armed both with novel technologies and new questions. As sensing techniques improve, archaeologists are also benefiting from the tumbling price of computing power, which enables them to combine, overlay and analyse data from multiple sources, yielding further insights.

Seeing through new eyes

To demonstrate the potential of such techniques, a group of archaeologists from the University of Arkansas, led by Fredrick Limp and Kenneth Kvamme, have been investigating the site of Army City in Kansas. Established in 1917, it was a bustling town, complete with hotels and theatres. In 1921 it burned to the ground, leaving no trace of its former existence. Or so it appeared. But last year, when the archaeologists began to map what is now an empty hayfield, they found that they could see the precise locations of roads, pavements and rooms of buildings. They could even trace the sewage system. �It was almost as though the soil was transparent,� says Dr Limp.


Another technology that archaeologists are taking to is thermal imaging. This employs high-resolution cameras that are sensitive to the so-called near infra-red. This part of the infra-red spectrum, with wavelengths close to that of visible light, carries heat energy. Thermal imaging thus records slight differences in temperature. Such differences at the surface are often tell-tales of what lies beneath. A stone foundation, for instance, retains heat differently from a pit that holds moisture.


Such advances in sensing techniques are certainly welcome, and are helping to change the nature of archaeology. But Dr Limp reckons that there is just as much scope for improvement in using computers to integrate different sorts of observation. He and his colleagues have made a start on this at Army City, where they are creating a system that will swallow, digest and combine data from satellites, aircraft and ground-based sensors, aligning them in a single, computer-based model of the site. The system, he says, should be fully functional next year.


Thursday, October 02, 2003


The Sunday Telegraph published the following:

Why I fear for the safety of Iraq's historic monuments (via the IraqCrisis list and Francis Deblauwe)
By John Simpson
(Filed: 28/09/2003)

Last week, the magnificent and still largely unexcavated ruins at Nimrud, near the Iraqi city of Mosul, were declared a world heritage site. The next day the small detachment of American troops which had been guarding Nimrud from looters was withdrawn. Four thousand years of history and art now lie almost unprotected.


A neat, white-haired man introduced himself: he was Taha Ahmed Taha, one of the curators of Nimrud, and he showed us around the site. The damage had not been too bad: the curators had managed to rally the watchmen who protected the site, and chased the looters away. But not before the looters had chipped away the massive head of Ashurnasirpal from one of the major reliefs in the palace.


Now the Americans will be replaced by another group of watchmen. They will know the looters personally and the looters will know them. "They will be back," said Mr Taha. "They are only waiting for the Americans to go. Then they will take everything. And the watchmen will be too frightened to stop them."

* John Simpson is the BBC's World Affairs Editor

But the following was posted yesterday to the IraqCrisis list in response:

Dear Friends of Nimrud,

In response to the sensationalistic article in Sunday's Telegraph, we did some research into the security situation at Nimrud. Here are our findings:

According to the 101st Airborne�s Public Education Team assigned to
facilitate Ministry of Culture issues in Nineveh Province, where Nimrud is located, the US troops were only moved from the site after ample
alternative security had been arranged. That security consists of 30
Iraqi Facility Protection Service guards, who are well trained and very
reliable, plus the 7 Antiquities Department contract guards already at the site. The site is also checked on by the Antiquities Authority of Nineveh Province and by US Army patrols. I believe that this constitutes ample security, and should problems arise, help is close at hand.

I should also note that John Simpson's Telegraph article did not quote either of the antiquities officials with oversight responsibility for Nimrud, namely Manhal Jabr, Chief Antiquities Inspector for the Nineveh Archaeological Directorate, and Muzahim Mahmud, Overseer of the site of Nimrud. I do not know the authority or responsibilities of the person who is quoted, but I do not believe he is in a position to assess the security situation at Nimrud. Instead, it appears to me that his observations are included primarily in order to publicize the BBC program.

Please distribute this news as widely as you wish.

John Russell

Deputy Senior Advisor
Ministry of Culture
Coalition Provisional Authority

If I may say it, this is not untypical of the sloppy and biased reporting of the once great BBC. The Telegraph/BBC article is lazy: the writer did not contact the actual authorities in charge of the area to find out the details of the new guard; he simply talked to someone on the site, and on the basis of that person's self-certification and comments, wrote the article.

UPDATE (4 October): Anders Bell also commented on the original news story in his blog Phluzein. In the comments section I noted my post here and this has led to an interchange with a journalist named Rupert. I don't know if we'll ever come to a meeting of minds on this one, but I'm grateful to Rupert for taking the time to disagree with me.

UPDATE: My saving this post briefly as a draft while I added the first update seems to have yanked it from its original spot from a couple days ago and made it a current posting. I think I have it back in the right place now. Sorry for any confusion

(This has nothing to do with ancient Judaism, but I figured many readers would like to know.)
RONALD S. HENDEL takes on the Jewish-temple deniers in his column "Was There a Temple in Jerusalem?", in the October issue of Bible Review, and gives them a well deserved thrashing. Excerpt:

One of the chief negotiators of the Oslo accords, Saeb Erekat, states bluntly the current position of the Palestinian Authority: �For Islam, there was never a Jewish temple at Al Quds [Jerusalem].�1 This is one of the reasons why the Palestinians wouldn�t accept a compromise about Jerusalem during the Camp David negotiations. I was floored when I read this. What a whopper!

To say that there never was a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem is a breathtaking revision of the past. It means that the sacred texts of Judaism and Christianity are a pack of lies, since the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament have abundant descriptions and testimony about the Jerusalem Temple�built by Solomon, restored by various Israelite kings, sermonized at by Jeremiah and other prophets, destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and rebuilt by the Jewish returnees from the Babylonian Exile. In the New Testament, Jesus visits the Temple precincts, overturns the tables of the moneychangers and predicts the Temple�s destruction. According to Erekat�s claim, all this is false, and so too the abundant testimony outside of the Bible, including Iron Age inscriptions referring to the �Temple of Yahweh,� Josephus�s detailed description of the Temple, the briefer accounts of Tacitus and other Roman historians, the picture of the Jerusalem Temple on coins of the Second Jewish Revolt, and more.

But, perhaps unacknowledged by the revisers of history, according to this position not only is the Bible a lie, but so is the Quran, the sacred scripture of Islam, and so are the authoritative Islamic commentaries on the Quran.

The current issue also has lots of other goodies, including an article by William H. C. Propp on Who Wrote Second Isaiah? and a review by Sidine White Crawford of James C. VanderKam and Peter Flint, The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Go check it out.

UPDATE: Mark Goodacre comments on the issue.
MICHAEL THE ARCHANGEL is in the news. The Arlington Catholic Herald has the following column:

St. Michael the Archangel

By Fr. William P. Saunders
Herald Columnist
(From the issue of 10/2/03)

I have recently moved to the area, and have noticed that several parishes (including my own) recite the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. Could you explain where this devotion comes from? � A reader in Great Falls

St. Michael the Archangel, whose name means, "one who is like God," led the army of angels who cast Satan and the rebellious angels into Hell; at the end of time, he will wield the sword of justice to separate the righteous from the evil (cf. Rv 12:7).

The early Church Fathers recognized the importance of the angels and archangels, particularly St. Michael. Theodoret of Cyr (393-466) in his Interpretation of Daniel wrote, "We are taught that each one of us is entrusted to the care of an individual angel to guard and protect us, and to deliver us from the snares of evil demons. Archangels are entrusted with the tasks of guarding nations, as the Blessed Moses taught, and with those remarks the Blessed Daniel is in accord; for he himself speaks of �the chief of the Kingdom of the Persians,� and a little later of �the chief of the Greeks,� while he calls Michael �the chief of Israel.�" The Church Fathers would also posit that St. Michael stood guard at the gate of paradise after Adam and Eve had been banished, and he was the angel through whom God published the Ten Commandments, who blocked the passage of Balaam (Nm 22:20), and who destroyed the army of Sennacherib (2 Chr 32:21)..

St. Basil and other Greek Fathers ranked St. Michael as the Prince of all the Angels. With the rise of scholasticism and the exposition of the "nine choirs of angels," some said St. Michael was the prince of the Seraphim, the first of the choirs. (However, St. Thomas Aquinas assigned St. Michael as the prince of the last choir, the angels.)


Fr. Saunders goes on to summarize the importance of St. Michael in Catholic tradition. For a detailed rundown of Michael traditions in the Jewish and Islamic traditions see the rather good "Michael the Archangel" article in Wikipedia. We just missed the feast day of St. Michael, which was 29 September.

THE PSEUDEPIGRAPHA APPEARS IN GOOGLE NEWS AGAIN - and the Apocrypha too. This is a press release from the African News Agency:

From Worldwide Faith News
Date Wed, 01 Oct 2003 12:00:52 -0700

P. O Box, 66878, 00800 Westlands,
Tel: 254-2-4442215 or 4440224; Fax: 254-2-4445847, or 4443241;

AANA Bulletin Bulletin APTA
Editor -Elly Wamari Editor - Silvie Alemba

AANA BULLETIN No. 38/03 September 29, 2003 (b)


Discovering The Origin And Meaning Of Apocrypha

At the recent state-funeral held for the Late Kenyan Vice-President, Michael Wamalwa, many Kenyans were baffled when a Biblical text was read from the Roman Catholic Bible's book of Wisdom. Understandably in a country where 43 percent of citizens are Protestant, this was bound to cause curiosity. The book of Wisdom is contained in the little known Apocrypha, which our Correspondent Janet Adongo, explains.

In Africa, where Christians are the majority, the major versions of the Bible that are in use are the New International Version, the King James Version, the Revised Standard Version and the Good News Bible.

All these translations exclude the Apocrypha, in which the book of Wisdom is contained. It is in this regard that an attempt is made to discover the origin of the Apocrypha, and why some religions choose to erase them from their versions of the Bible.

According to the Encarta Reference Library, Apocrypha (Greek apokryphos, "hidden"), is a word coined by the 5th Century biblical scholar, Saint Jerome, for the biblical books received by the Church of his time, as part of the Greek version of the Old Testament, but which were not included in the Hebrew Bible.


Protestants and Jews customarily use the term "Pseudepigrapha" to describe those writings that Roman Catholics would term Apocrypha, that is, late Jewish writings that all scholars consider extra-canonical.

Such works include the Book of Jubilees, the Psalms of Solomon, the Fourth Book of Maccabees, the Book of Enoch, the Fourth Book of Ezra, the Apocalypse of Baruch, and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, all of which are ascribed to canonical worthies of the Old Testament, and have not been preserved in their original Hebrew or Aramaic.

With the growth of a historical perspective in biblical studies during the 19th Century, the value of the Apocrypha as historical sources came to be generally recognised. Derived from 300 BC to New Testament times, the Apocrypha shed valuable light on the period between the end of the Old Testament narrative, and the opening of the New Testament.

They are also important sources of information on the development of belief in resurrection and other questions of eschatology, as well as the increasing impact of Hellenistic ideas on Judaism.


Although a lot of attention is paid to the Old Testament Apocrypha, little is known and even mentioned about the "lost books" of the New Testament. The Apocryphal New Testament is a title that refers to more than 100 books written by Christian authors between the 2nd and 4thCenturies.

The books have two characteristics in common. In general form, they
resemble New Testament writings, many of them falling into the literary categories of gospel, acts, letter, and apocalypse. Secondly, they belong neither to the New Testament canon nor to the writings of the recognised Fathers of the Church.


You never know where this stuff is going to show up.
DOLORES O'RIORDAN of the Cranberries will be singing a Latin song acapella for Mel Gibson's The Passion. Follow the link for the Irish Post article, which quotes her as follows:

"It is sung in Latin, which I feel is going back to my roots, because I did Latin at School."

Goats to the Slaughter (The Forward)

'And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the Lord and the other lot for the scapegoat.... And the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make an atonement with him and to let him go for a scapegoat unto the wilderness."

This passage from Leviticus 16 stands at the heart of the Yom Kippur service � both of the Yom Kippur service in the Temple in Jerusalem, at whose climax the high priest slaughtered one goat while releasing a second to the desert, and of the Yom Kippur service in the synagogue, in which Leviticus 16 is read from the Torah and retold in the Musaf prayer in a poetic description of the Temple ceremony.

And yet when you think of it, something isn't logical. Why is the goat that was not slaughtered � "the goote on which the lotte fell to [e]scape," in William Tindale's 1530 English Bible translation, from which the 1611 King James Version coined the new word "scapegoat" � the one that has come to signify an unfairly chosen victim who is made to take the blame for others? Shouldn't it be the other way around?


The answer, it would appear, lies in the continuation of Leviticus 16, in which we read: "And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness. And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited." Even though, in other words, the scapegoat was allowed to live, it was banished to the desert because of the sins of others.

It is likely, indeed, that by the 19th century, when our contemporary meaning of "scapegoat" first entered English, readers of the Bible no longer recognized the archaic verb "scape" to be a form of "escape," or else took it to refer not to the goat but to the children of Israel, who "escaped" punishment by means of the goat.

There's more, including how the term is used in other European languages and what Azazel really meant.

Fringe Movement: A Biblical Blue Makes a Comeback (The Forward)
A Dye Born in the Glands of a Snail Colors the Corners of Prayer Shawls

The color purple � well, something related to it � is making a comeback, but its significance goes far beyond the favor of frum fashionistas.

� newly recovered biblical process of extracting the purplish blue dye from a Mediterranean mollusk is changing the way the commandment to wear tzitzit � the ritual fringes worn on the four-cornered prayer shawls � is being observed by some Modern Orthodox Jews and chasidim.

After a millennium and a half, it is now once again possible to include a blue (tekhelet) thread among one's fringes, in accordance with God's instructions to Moses in Numbers 15:38-39:

Speak to the Israelite people and instruct them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout the ages; let them attach a cord of tekhelet [blue] to the fringe at each corner. That shall be your fringe; look at it and recall all the commandments of the Lord and observe them.

How could a low-lying mollusk become the harbinger of innovation? In the biblical era, tzitzit fringes had one component dyed the color tekhelet. Associated in ancient times with royalty and the priestly caste, tekhelet was one of the few permanent dyes of the biblical era, made from a glandular secretion of the Murex snail called dibromoindirubin, which, after five to 10 minutes of exposure to air and sunlight, turns what's called "biblical blue."


The dye's revival is due in large part to the initiative and imagination � not to mention networking prowess � of several young Modern Orthodox professionals now living in Israel, mostly graduates of Yeshiva University's science departments. Tekhelet has gained a following numbering in the thousands and the support of a diverse group of religious scholars, scientists and a few deep-sea-diving Croatian fishermen, looking to enhance their local economy.

Dr. Ari Greenspan is a resident of Efrat with a thriving dental practice in nearby Jerusalem and one of the founders of P'til Tekhelet Foundation (, which seeks to promote and distribute tekhelet. He told the Forward that his interest in tekhelet emerged from the desire to meld his creative urges with his interest in hidur mitzvah, or beautifying the ritual practice. Greenspan, an energetic 40-year-old who immigrated to Israel in 1988 from New Jersey, drew a particular pleasure from applying his manual dexterity to the fulfillment of Jewish law.


After hearing about [Rabbi Eliyahu] Tevger's deep-sea dives along the northern Achziv coastal region in Israel, Greenspan grew excited. In no time, he found himself on a self-described "whim," facedown and up to his elbows in the Mediterranean, searching for the mollusk alongside Tevger and physicist Baruch Sterman.

"To make a long story short," Greenspan said, "we found something." Using earlier historical research as their point of departure, Greenspan and a team of roughly a dozen confirmed that this was the same species of snail from which the original tekhelet dye had been made in biblical times.

Tracing the biological research of medieval dyers and talmudic celebrities such as Pliny the Elder, they were able to produce within a year "the first historical blue dye from the snail in over 1,500 years," Greenspan said.

Today, tekhelet is created by extracting a yellowish "juice" from the Murex snail, which the foundation fishes in Europe. It takes about 10 to 30 snails to make enough dye for one set of tzitzit. The remaining snail parts are given to the local population gratis, to eat.


Objections to tekhelet fringes tend to fault the foundation's historical research for incorrectly tying tekhelet to the Murex snail. A 2001 article published in the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and posted on the, says that the Murex-produced tekhelet does not meet the standards set out in the Gemara and faults the foundation's research as "inconclusive."

For his part, Greenspan is quick to note that as a Modern Orthodox Jew, he is "unencumbered by the same fear of integrating the old and the new."


There's more at the P'til Tekhelet Foundation website.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

ANCIENT JEWISH ACCOUNTS OF JESUS is another page of Alan Humm's website. It contains translations of various accounts of Jesus including the Testimonium Flavianum, the Toledoth Yeshu and other Jewish accounts and alleged Jewish accounts in Rabbinic texts and the Church Fathers.
RADIOCARBON DATING OF ANCIENT POTTERY is now possible, thanks to scientists at the University of Bristol, who have developed a technique for dating ancient pottery using the animal fat it contains. Pottery is normally dated by placing it in a relative typological sequence, based on its shape and composition, and establishing absolute dates only when specific pottery types are found in strata that can be dated on other grounds. Cumulatively, typological dating of pottery is very accurate and useful, but this new method could be an important cross-check of the old and could also date potsherds that aren't yet established in a typological sequence. And, as you can see below, it has the potential for dating other artifacts besides pottery. This is an exciting development. Here's one of the articles on the new method (via Bible and Interpretation News):

On the antiquity of pots: New method developed for dating archaeological pottery (EurekaAlert!)

The contents of ancient pottery could help archaeologists resolve some longstanding disputes in the world of antiquities, thanks to scientists at Britain's University of Bristol. The researchers have developed the first direct method for dating pottery by examining animal fats preserved inside the ceramic walls.


The researchers analyzed 15 pieces of pottery � mostly cooking jars and bowls � ranging in age from 4,000 B.C. to the 15th Century A.D. They assigned a date using the new method and then compared their findings to the historical date verified previously by association with organic artifacts. In all cases, their results were in good agreement with the sample history.

The analysis requires partial destruction of the artifacts, but the researchers didn't run into much opposition along the way. "Museum curators require some convincing before they let you take their pottery away," Evershed says. "However, most of this pottery is not display quality material, but is stored in bags and boxes in the museum archive."

[Richard] Evershed [Ph.D., a chemist at the University of Bristol] and his colleagues also plan to use the technique to study mummies. "A lot of Egyptian mummies were exported out of Egypt by the Victorians, and they often applied modern treatments to preserve them," Evershed says. The researchers hope to distinguish between a modern treatment and the original embalming agent.

The method could eventually be used for a variety of other analyses. "Potentially, you could date any other material that has preserved organic compounds," like pitches from wood products or collagen from bones, according to Evershed. "You could even isolate individual amino acids by this preparative GC approach, but no one's tried that. That's the next step."

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

CRUCIFIXION AGAIN: Mark Goodacre points to this 1973 article by James Charlesworth, "Jesus and Jehohanan: An Archaeological Note on Crucifixion," which suggests that the hapless Jehohanan was crucified in a crouching position with the nails going through his forearms. (Incidentally, this interpretation seems to be the source of the position in which Willem DaFoe is crucified in The Last Temptation of Christ.) But this more recent article by Joe Zias (who is a specialist in ancient osteology), "Crucifixion in Antiquity: The�Archaeological�Evidence," takes the damage to the forearms to indicate that they were tied, not nailed, and also takes the victim to have been crucified in an upright position with the feet on either side of the cross. Either way, not very pleasant.
SONG OF SONGS INTERPRETATION SAMPLES, a page from the website of Alan Humm, contains excerpts of passages from Jewish and Christian authors which interpret the Song of Songs. And don't miss his link to Jay Treat's Sights and Sounds of the Song of Songs page, which includes Jay's own translation of the Aramaic Targum of the Song of Songs.

Albertz, Rainer and Bob Becking, eds.
Yahwism after the Exile: Perspectives on Israelite Religion in the Persian Era: Papers read at the First Meeting of the European Association for Biblical Studies, Utrecht, 6-9 August, 2000

Vander Kam, James C.
The Book of Jubilees

Vines, Michael E.
The Problem of Markan Genre: The Gospel of Mark and the Jewish Novel

Wire, Antoinette Clark
Holy Lives, Holy Deaths: A Close Hearing of Early Jewish Storytellers

Monday, September 29, 2003



in its 41st year
an Interdisciplinary Humanities Seminar
under the auspices of the
Department of Religious Studies
201 Logan Hall
with support from
the Penn Humanities Forum

TOPIC FOR 2003-2004: Parabiblical Prosopography (in the footsteps of Lost Apocrypha by M. R. James,)

Chair and Coordinator:
Robert Kraft (University of Pennsylvania)

T.J.Wellman (University of Pennsylvania)

THE INITIAL MEETING OF 2003-04 will be held on Thursday, 9 October 2003, from 7-9 pm in the Second Floor Lounge, Logan Hall at the University of Pennsylvania. For some backgrounding on the topic (which is a continuation of the previous year's topic), see the PSCO web page (URL below) and especially (with links to electronic versions of M.R.James Lost Apocrypha and similar materials with early Christian focus).

Persons wishing to dine with other participants prior to the meeting
should meet at 6 pm at Logan Hall, Second Floor Lounge (southeast of Locust Walk and 36th Street Walk) or go directly to the Food Court in the basement of Houston Hall (just east of Logan, along Spruce Street), where an international variety of food choices is available at reasonable prices.


Robert Kraft, University of Pennsylvania (PSCO chair/coordinator)
"Introduction of the Project with Selected Examples (e.g. DANIEL, GOSPEL OF MARY)"

Michael E. Stone, Hebrew University
"Armenian Developments of Biblical Traditions: Transmission and Creativity" (with a focus on Adam and Eve, Ezra, and a few others)


Once again, PSCO will meet just prior to the SBL/AAR annual meetings in Atlanta, on Friday evening 21 November 2003, 7-8:30 pm, at the Atlanta Mariott Marquis Hotel, Amsterdam Room (Convention Level).

A panel drawn from experts attending the annual meetings will be asked to focus on the question "To what extent do popular narratives/reports about parabiblical identities (supposed authors and focal figures) assist us in understanding how the 'parabiblical' literature was read/understood and transmitted/preserved prior to the modern period?"

Meetings are also being planned for late January, mid March (probably at Princeton), and late April or early May. Details will be announced later, and will be included on the PSCO web page (which also contains links to the PSCO archives, directions to Logan Hall, etc.)

Robert A. Kraft, Religious Studies, University of Pennsylvania
227 Logan Hall (Philadelphia PA 19104-6304); tel. 215 898-5827
MORE ON CRUCIFIXION: Mark Goodacre mentions some other movies that get the crucifixion right and asks for others. I've already mentioned Stigmata, Conan the Barbarian, and The Last Temptation of Christ. Add to those The Body, which never shows the wrists of the skeleton, but twice the characters mention specifically that the nails went through the wrists. I've been meaning to post something on the last, which I watched a few weeks ago. Suffice to say that the book is silly, but a pretty good read if you can still find it - it's out of print. The movie is far lamer than the book and I wouldn't bother with it. One spoiler regarding the movie: All I will add to the movie review I linked to above is that I'm convinced that Father Lavelle (Derek Jacobi) threw himself over the parapet of the monastery to his death not because his faith had been destroyed by the discovery of "The Body," but because he realized that he had referred to the Book of "Revelations" in the previous scene.
PROFESSOR CHRISTIAN BRADY of Tulane University e-mails in response to my comments last week on his Christianity Today article, "What Do the Stones Cry Out?":

I just wanted to point out that I am well aware of the texts you site, but I still insist that such differences do NOT have serious bearing on the meaning of the text from a theological perspective. (And on that point perhaps I should have been more precise.) The issues raised by these differences in texts and MS traditions are very important for us and the work we do, but they do not significantly alter the landscape of Judaism and Christianity of today, or the last 2000+ years, to imply otherwise is somewhat misleading. Here is the point, in fact, at which I think people can often �miss the forest for the trees.� All of the evidence that archaeology and textual research can produce are interesting, useful, and often invaluable for certain types of study, but they have yet to offer any serious challenge to the biblical accounts or, more importantly for Jews and Christians, to the theological claims of the texts.

I am grateful to Chris Brady for taking the time to reply. A few comments in response.

If he is saying that the textual state of the Bible is such that no basic theological doctrines taught in the various books are obliterated or thrown into doubt by textual criticism, I quite agree and did not mean to imply otherwise. (Whether the books themselves are internally consistent on such matters - even important ones - is quite another matter, but that's another discussion.)

I think I do disagree with the last sentence (although see below). Archaeology has certainly offered serious challenge, for example, to the biblical picture of a lightning conquest of the land in the generation after Moses at around 1400 B.C.E. Maintaining that the archaeological record supports this story can only be done by admitting that one of the biblical accounts got the date wrong by between one and two centuries, which is what Professor Brady does when he suggests that the numbers in 1 Kings 6:1 which put the Exodus in the mid-fifteenth century can be disregarded. That's a pretty significant error (and talk about "perfect numbers" doesn't make it less of an error - at best the author of 1 Kings didn't know the right date and made a highly inaccurate guesstimate), but the alternative to accepting the error is to accept that there's no evidence of a violent conquest when there should be. Even then, the evidence for a thirteenth century conquest is hardly without problems (such as the case of Ai).

Another serious challenge: if the Pentateuchal stories and texts about and attributed to Moses were composed in the Mosaic period, they ought to be written in something like Ugaritic, not the late Judean Iron-Age Hebrew in which they are written (and even with updating over time much of the earlier language ought to survive). No one who doesn't have a theological agenda takes these texts (apart from a few possibly early poetic pieces) to be from the time of Moses, in part because of the archaeological evidence for what 15th-13th century B.C.E. Northwest Semitic actually looked like.

As for textual criticism, what I was objecting to is the tendency of Evangelical biblical handbooks and popular works by Evangelical scholars to gloss over difficulties in order to assure their audience that scripture is reliable (textually and historically, which is taken pretty much as prerequisite to arguing that anyone should take it seriously theologically). Because Evangelical laypeople are rarely told the details about the biblical texts in the Qumran library, they tend (in my experience) to have the impression that the biblical text was transmitted pretty much without copyist errors during its history. Showing them the critical apparatus of a Greek New Testament can shock some of them. If scholars would simply say something to the effect that the manuscripts we have do have a considerable number of copyist errors in them but, using textual criticism, we can usually weed these out (nearly always with the New Testament and often, but by no means always, in the Old Testament), this would express the actual situation more clearly and forthrightly.

I would love to see an article in Christianity Today that grappled from an Evangelical perspective with some of the more interesting variants in, say, the Cave 4 Samuel manuscripts and 4QJoshuaa, and with the two editions of Jeremiah. And I bet the target audience would find it challenging and interesting too. It might upset some of them, but in the long run it would do them good. How about it Chris?

I was just about to post this when I received another message from Chris Brady:

If I may clarify one more point, archaeology does offer challenges, some serious, just not insurmountable from my perspective. Now of course, as I note in the article, if one is predisposed to viewing the biblical account as largely fiction then no amount of archaeological evidence supporting it will validate the Bible. (The same is true of course for those who insist that the Bible is the inerrant and infallible word of God.)

My primary focus in that article was the argument found in popular articles like Lazare's that state that "archaeology disproves the Bible." I know of very few colleagues who would go that far.

As to the first paragraph, I'm not sure why we need to think in terms of "surmounting" problems with the Bible unless it's already part of the agenda that they need to be surmounted. That language makes me wary: my agenda is to try to work out what actually happened in the history of the ancient world and I don't care one way or another about which sources turn out to be accurate or not about what. I agree that if one is determined to find a specific outcome in advance, the evidence will be made to fit.

I agree with the second paragraph. I would, however, say that the most reasonable working hypotheses, based on archaeology and critical analysis in general, hold that a fair bit of the Bible is historically inaccurate.

The following information has been e-mailed to me by the organizer.

�The Samaritans:
Current State of Research �


An International Symposium
July 5-8, 2004

The University of Haifa, the Departments of Jewish History and Multidisciplinary Studies, announce the International Symposium: "The Samaritans: Current State of Research." The Symposium will take place in Haifa, on Monday through Thursday, July 5 -8, 2004.

The Program Committee of the Symposium: Florentin Moseh, Tel Aviv University, Mor Menachem and Rappaport Uriel, University of Haifa, Seeks proposals from presenters in all fields related to Samaritan Studies: History, Languages, Religion and Folklore, Archaeology and Art; Prayers and Music. Law and Politics, etc.

Those selected to participate in the Symposium will be expected to make original oral presentations of their material. Presenters must also submit written forms of their papers in a scholarly format; selected papers will be published in the proceedings volume.

The language of the conference will be English.

The Lecturers at the symposium will have twenty minutes to deliver their papers, and ten will be given for discussion.
For further information, please contact: Menachem Mor ( Proposals, which must include a 200-word abstract and a complete CV, are due to Mor by February 15 2004, and may be submitted via e-mail, mail, or fax. The mailing address is Menachem Mor, Chair, Dept. of Multidisciplinary Studies, University of Haifa, Mount Carmel, Haifa 31905, Israel; 972-4-8249118 (phone), 972-4-8249155 (fax).

Sunday, September 28, 2003

MEL GIBSON'S THE PASSION is the subject of a news roundup in an article in the Toledo Blade. There's now a petition website for Mel supporters. And an interesting tidbit: Gibson's hands make a cameo appearance as the ones that drive the nails into Jesus' hands. "He said it�s because of his transgressions against the Lord." Okay, but I still wish he had paid some attention to where the nails are supposed to go. (I don't doubt the sincerity of the statement he's making, but the error is distracting.) Also, based on the New Yorker interview, the article confirms that the movie will have subtitles.