Saturday, October 11, 2003

THE TEMPLE MOUNT and Islamic, Christian, and Jewish eschatology: a potentially explosive mixture.

Ariel Sharon: Messenger of Abrahamic Apocalypse? (Beliefnet, via Bible and Interpretation News)
Consider his controversial visit to a contested Jerusalem holy site from a Muslim end-times perspective.

By Gershom Gorenberg

Excerpts (but read it all):

Fa'iq Da'ud was expecting trouble at Jerusalem's Temple Mount in 2000--or as he'd say, at al-Haram al-Sharif.

In fact, the violence that exploded at the world's most contested holy site this fall, and which ignited ongoing battles between Israelis and Palestinians, is only a pale glimmer next to Da'ud's apocalyptic visions--visions that shed light on a dangerous, often-ignored side of the Mount's place in the religious imagination of three faiths.

For Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, the 36-acre hilltop plaza is not only at the center of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, it is also center stage for the Last Days.Da'ud's book, "The Great Events Preceding the Appearance of the Mahdi," was on sale at Islamic bookstores around the West Bank last year. The cover of the Arabic tract shows an aerial photo of the Haram--Dome of the Rock mosque at the center, Al-Aqsa mosque to one side.Next to it is a picture of a model of the Jewish Temple, superimposed on the same site, replacing both mosques. Inside, Da'ud portrays a vast conspiracy of Jews and Christians that, he says, intends to build the Third Temple to prepare the way for the arrival of their shared messiah, who he says is the Antichrist. Yet he finds hope in the threat to Islam's shrines: It heralds history's final battles and the coming of the Mahdi, the true redeemer.

It's a dark fantasy but hardly unique.


To make sense of all this, picture apocalyptic believers seated in a triangular theater around the stage of Jerusalem. All agree that history's last act is being played out, but they hold different programs. Jewish Temple activists--bit players in real life--have starring roles in the Christian play; Jews and Christians alike unknowingly play in the Muslim script. Hope and fear are the sound system, wildly amplifying every word, every footstep. Small actions at the Temple Mount take on significance that nonbelievers--such as secular politicians and analysts--neither expect nor understand.


Viewing Jerusalem as the stage of the End warps perception of political events, creates expectations of absolute victories, makes battles glorious instead of tragic. But it is certainly not the only religious view of Jerusalem's sorrows.

Those who regard life as more sacred than soil, who believe that God commands us "to seek peace and pursue it," must reject the apocalyptic vision and insist that the faiths can live together in the Holy City.
VICTORIAN SEMITIC PHILOLOGIST MAKES GOOD: becomes the editor of the O.E.D. A New York Times review by William F. Buckley Jr. of THE MEANING OF EVERYTHING: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary. By Simon Winchester. Illustrated. 260 pp. New York: Oxford University Press. $25.


''I possess,'' the schoolteacher [James Murray] had written straightforwardly, ''that general lexical & structural knowledge which makes the intimate knowledge'' of any language ''only a matter of a little application. With several I have a more intimate acquaintance as with the Romance tongues, Italian, French, Catalan, Spanish, Latin & in a less degree Portuguese, Vaudois, Provencal & various dialects. In the Teutonic branch, I am tolerably familiar with Dutch (having at my place of business correspondence to read in Dutch, German, French & occasionally other languages), Flemish, German and Danish. In Anglo-Saxon and Moeso-Gothic my studies have been much closer, I having prepared some works for publication upon these languages. I know a little of the Celtic, and am at present engaged with the Sclavonic, having obtained a useful knowledge of Russian. In the Persian, Achaemenian Cuneiform, & Sanscrit branches, I know for the purposes of Comparative Philology. I have sufficient knowledge of Hebrew & Syriac to read at sight the Old Testament and Peshito; to a less degree I know Aramaic Arabic, Coptic and Phenecian to the point where it was left by Gesenius.'' Enough said? No. There was the itchy problem of the absent college degree. So it was discreetly arranged, by an advocate of Murray among the Philological Society's members, that he receive one, an honorary LL.D. from Scotland.


Shakespeare, [Winchester] reminds us, ''was the first to employ a great many'' unusual words. High purposes were served. ''By doing so he offered actors the chance to enrich the language of those who came to see his plays. In 'Othello,' for example, the Moor entreats the Duke of Venice to offer his wife Desdemona 'Due reference of place and exhibition, With such accommodation and besort as levels with her breeding,' and thereby offers the first known usage . . . of the word 'accommodation.' ''

But don't run away with the impression that Shakespeare's neologisms were orthogenetically validated. ''It has to be said that Shakespeare did advance the cause of a number of words -- like 'besort' -- that never made it, or which staggered along lamely for only a short while. Among those he used, but he almost alone, were 'soilure,' 'tortive' and 'vastidity,' which mean, as one might expect, staining, twisted and big. In these cases, and a score of others, his clever Latinate constructions fared rather less well than the simpler old synonyms from northern Europe.''

Actually, I strongly suspect that "vastidity" means not "big," but "bigness."

Friday, October 10, 2003

INSCRIPTIFACT! (via Miribilis.) I was the research assistant for the West Semitic Research Project when it was founded twenty years ago. The Inscriptifact Project's website is here.
HOW DO YOU SAY "IRISH" in Scots Yiddish? According to Philologos, it involves the Hebrew word for testicles. Really.

UPDATE (11 October): Okay, to speak more precisely, the basic meaning of the Hebrew word is "egg," but it has the extended colloquial meaning of "testicle." The meaning "testicle" is the basic meaning of the word when borrowed into Yiddish (according to Philologos: I don't know Yiddish myself), but the Yiddish pun presupposes the basic Hebrew meaning "egg." Got all that? If not, just read the essay: it's entertaining.

I know this doesn't have anything to do with ancient Judaism, but how often to I get to blog on Scots Yiddish?
CAN WAQF BE TRUSTED? The Forward thinks not (via Bible and Interpretation News).
EASTERBLOGG (which is new to me - it's part of the New Republic website) comments on Mel Gibson's The Passion. Gregg Easterbrook says that Mel shouldn't market The Passion merchandise for Christmas if he's sincere. He also discusses evidence that Mel blew it in the portrayal of the events and he (Easterbrook) has harsh words for the ADL, Paula Fredriksen, and (interestingly) the New Republic, and he trashes the Jesus Seminar in passing. The post is more constructive than it sounds from my summary, but it doesn't pull its punches for anyone. (Via Glenn Reynolds, who has tried crucifixion, sort of, and didn't like it.)
GREGORY L. DOUDNA has a piece in Bible and Interpretation News:

4Q Pesher Nahum and the Teacher of Righteousness

The true identity of the Teacher of Righteousness�ironically missed in prior discussions and never even considered as a possibility in any prior secondary literature�points to Hyrcanus II.

Greg's theory, which he has published recently in a massive book, is that the Dead Sea Scrolls were actually deposited in the Qumran caves in the first century B.C.E., not 68 C.E. I'm not aware that he's convinced any other Qumran specialists about this, but he's always an interesting read.

Excerpts are going to be scarce for awhile unless the AOL system turns out to be friendlier than my first impression indicates.
"SHADE AND MOONLIGHT": Sukkot from antiquity to the present according to the Jerusalem Post. Too rich to excerpt, especially when I'm not used to the AOL browser. Read it all.

Remnants Of Ancient Synagogue In Albania Revealed (Science Daily News)

Impressive remnants from a synagogue dating from the 5th or 6th century, C.E., have been revealed in the city of Saranda, a coastal city in Albania, opposite the Greek island of Corfu.


Particularly noteworthy among the finds are two mosaic pavements.

One features at its center a seven-branched candelabrum (menorah) flanked by a citron (etrog) and a ram's horn (shofar), symbols associated with the Jewish holidays.

The other mosaic pavement, in the center section of the structure (the basilica), contains a number of representations, including a variety of animals, trees, symbols alluding to Biblical lore, and the facade of a structure resembling a temple (perhaps an aron kodesh (Torah shrine). Other mosaic pavements at the site preceded the building of the synagogue.


Thursday, October 09, 2003

WE'VE ARRIVED and the computer is working, but I'm too jet lagged to blog. Look for more tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

WE'RE OFF TO SAN DIEGO first thing tomorrow morning for a two-and-a-half week holiday. My mother's computer is on the blink and blogging will depend largely on whether it is fixable. It's likely to be at least a day or two before I know, maybe more. But if I can, I will try to blog reasonably regularly. If not, I'll try to say hi now and again from an Internet caf� or a friend's house.

Meanwhile, do have a look at the many blogs and news sites listed at the bottom of the links bar to the right. And speaking of links, in the last few days I've added close to thirty new ones in various parts of the links page.

If you just must have another big link to tide you over, go to Daniel Boyarin's A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994). This is the complete text of the book online for your delectation.

Also, happy Sukkot, which begins on the evening of the 10th.

I expect to be back at my desk on the 27th. Have a good October.

Here is the first paragraph of an article on the Temple Mount in the current issue, with my emphasis in bold font:

The Peacemaker
An Israeli colonel tries to keep Jerusalem's Temple Mount, sacred to Muslim and Jew, from exploding


HALLOWED GROUND: At the site of al-Aqsa Mosque Shacham is tasked with preventing violent incidents

The shouting echoed across the Temple Mount, a roar of anger in a holy place. On a brilliant fall morning, a group of devout Jewish men strolled slowly along the site's ancient stone walls, escorted by armed Israeli police, toward the base of the gleaming Dome of the Rock, where Jews believe Solomon and Herod built the First and Second Temples. To Muslims, the Temple Mount is known as Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), home to al-Aqsa Mosque and the place where Muhammad is said to have been carried to heaven by the angel Gabriel. The Muslim holy sites on the Temple Mount are managed by the Wakf, an Islamic trust, and for the last three years Jews had not been allowed here.

I did a double-take when I read this in the print edition today. Jews believe? Jews believe? I've been trying to parse this sentence somehow to say something different from what it says. Could it be saying that Jews believe the temple was under the Dome of the Rock while others think it was elsewhere on the Temple Mount? No, that doesn�t work. The only thing I can make it say is that Jews believe there were temples on the Temple Mount and someone or everyone else believes they didn't exist or only existed elsewhere. In reality, Jews, Christians, Muslims who know the Qur'an (17.4-7) and their own traditions, and historians all "believe" that these temples existed on this site. This is not a contested view among historians, because the evidence for it is overwhelming. Who doesn't believe? Only the Jewish-temple deniers, known from the now defunct Zayed Centre for Coordination and Follow-Up and elsewhere, whose beliefs have recently been ably refuted by Ronald Hendel in his article "Was There a Temple in Jerusalem?" in which he summarizes the evidence. To see more about the deniers, keep following these two links as far back as they go.

This sentence is on the level of saying "Muhammad, the Prophet of Muslims, whom they believe to have lived in the early seventh century . . ." or "George Washington, whom Americans believe to have been their first President . . ." If historical evidence means anything, there was a Jewish temple on this site in antiquity. I'm all for being open minded about differing opinions held by historians who use credible methods, but this is bogus historical revisionism for a political purpose. I'm not judging the political issue here, which is a complex one outside the scope of this blog, but I will say that to use this kind of propaganda only weakens the case of the users.

The media's pandering to this view seems to be on the increase (David Nishimura of Cronaca noted another case from the BBC recently). They need to be called on it.

The same sentence in the Time article has another egregious error, but this one is probably merely careless rather than pandering: the Second Temple was built by the returning exiles in the late sixth century B.C.E. Herod, five centuries later, only restored and expanded it.

UPDATE: Seth Sanders e-mails:

Hendel's much-needed refutation of Temple-deniers has one defect, which is that it refers to an "iron-age inscription" mentioning the "Temple of YHWH" that may well actually date from the 90's (the Pardee/Bordreuil/Israel ostracton), and unfortunately Hendel doesn't mention that it's unprovenienced, let alone that its authenticity has been called into question by good epigraphers. No need to pile tiny bits of unreliable evidence on top of mountains of good evidence in order to add an inch to the mountain.

The inscription is an ostracon pub in Semitica by Pardee et al; it's probably a prime example of the smart forgeries Naaman shrewdly analyzes in your entry. There is a fiery and much-needed Jeremiad by Alex Joffee in the latest JNES against Mousaieff and those who sail with him. He puts the issues as sharply and clearly as they can be put. On a more analytical front, Chris Rollston has recently written the definitive article on methodology for dealing with forged inscriptions for the latest Cross Fs. (what is this, number 4?).

Fair enough, and thanks for pointing this out, Seth. I don't pretend to keep on top of Iron Age epigraphy any more, although I do try to dabble a bit in it. I've blogged before on the problem of forged unprovenanced inscriptions, the entry Seth refers to above (and note correction here in Cronaca), so I try to be cautious about accepting evidence from them.

But the mountain of evidence remains and denial that there was a temple on the Temple Mount simply isn't a viable position.
I WAS GOING TO POST THIS, but Mark Goodacre has saved me the trouble.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

BLOGGING HAS BEEN LIGHT LATELY and is likely to be lighter soon. It's been a slow news period and I've been preoccupied with a big trip coming up.

But here's an amusing and philologically rich article from Ha'aretz which asks "Why Was Shammai So Angry?" (via Mark Goodacre).

Also, Eugene Volokh weighs in on why so many bloggers are academics and how to get an academic to blog. Bet you weren't lying awake at night over the latter.

Blogger has been generating doubled entries for some of my posts, and it looks like it's happening to other blogs too. Sorry for any confusion.
NEOT KEDUMIM is a biblical nature reserve in Israel. The Jerusalem Post has an article on it. Excerpt:

IN the 1930s, Hannah and Ephraim Hareuveni founded and developed the Museum of Biblical and Talmudic Botany at Hebrew University on Mount Scopus (sadly destroyed during the War of Independence.) But their dream of creating a "Garden of the Prophets and the Sages" was not destroyed.

They died in the 1950s and didn't live to see this garden created, but they had instilled the dream in their son Nogah Hareuveni, and due to his drive and persistence, it was eventually planted. Though almost 80, he can still be found every day at the Reserve alongside the enthusiastic team who continue to invest time and energy in this still-developing project.


Although all the plants you will see in Neot Kedumim are indigenous to Israel, they have been painstakingly transplanted here over the decades, transforming 625 acres of barren land in the Modi'in area into the flourishing reserve it is today. The very soil was returned to the slopes, bringing with it its hidden treasure of flower and plant seeds.

Features of ancient times have been restored or added, such as the terraces, olive presses, threshing floors, cisterns and watchtowers. You will come across domestic and wild animals as well as plants as you wander along the paths - bees in hives, doves in cotes and sheep in their folds. Graceful fallow deer have their place, too.

The reserve also offers a microcosm of Israel, with its desert area, Jordan River thickets and the Jericho Valley date palms.

Recommended for weddings and Sukkot outings.

Berlin, Adele
Reviewed by Mark McEntire

Levitt, Risa
A New Heart and a New Soul: Ezekiel, the Exile and the Torah
Reviewed by Dalit Rom-Shiloni

Niehoff, Maren
Philo on Jewish Identity and Culture
Reviewed by Kenneth A Fox

Monday, October 06, 2003

"LEARN ABOUT THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS" is an Amazon listmania list by FrKurt Messick, "Priest, Historian, Theologian." The list is pretty good (and I don't just say that because he put one of my books in it, with five stars even), but I'm not sure what the Nag Hammadi Library is doing in there (do read it though, just on general principles), and I don't think Dever's book has anything to do with the Scrolls (but read it too; no harm, right?). I'm not complaining: there's nothing bogus in the list, which is more than can be said for some of Amazon's lists. But I would add Garcia Martinez's The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated and Schiffman's Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls. Fr. Messick is quite prolific, with more than 500 Amazon reviews to his name.
THE ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY is considering selling potsherds to shore up its budget. (Via Anders Bell, who doesn't like the idea.)

I've talked about this idea before. It's not an easy issue. The arguments in favor are that museums are stuffed enough with artifacts that are of little or no individual value and it does not harm to clear some space and raise some money for more digging and conservation. And selling such things could undercut the unprovenanced antiquities trade, since people would be more inclined to buy artifacts that were actually excavated and officially provenanced than to buy something off the street that could be a fake. (The latter argument works a lot better if the authorites sell more exciting things than sherds, things like coins and oil lamps, which also are common in excavations. A lot of archaeologists would be horrified by this, but there are some who would go for it. The idea of selling antique glass is floated in the article.)

The arguments against are that every sherd is of potential value, both because useful patterns of data can (and do) emerge in studying lots of individually unimportant bits and because new types of physical analysis will in the future (near future, even) almost certainly make it possible to extract valuable new information even from, say, common potsherds.

I see the force of both views. At some point there may have to be a trade-off between the ideal (all artifacts of any type should always remain in museums for further study) and the harsh reality that people want to buy ancient souvenirs and where there's a market someone will fill it. Actually, this trade-off already exists, emerging out of these market forces, in that dealers sell people antiquities whose provenance is generally then lost to archaeologists, even if the archaeologists (sometimes!) get to study the actual object. And provenance is important: if you lose the stratigraphic context of an artifact, you lose information about its date, its geographical placement, its connection to other artifacts in the same site, the same building, the same room, and the same locus. Such data, cumulatively, provide us with a lot of the useful information from archaeology.

So then should we give up on saving even scrap of potential information from the most trivial artifacts in order to focus on preserving the more important ones and the basic context and provenance of all of them? I don't know. But I guess I do give the IAA points for at least starting an open discussion about the problem.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

STILL NO DISTRIBUTOR for Mel Gibson's The Passion outside Australia. This article from MSNBC discusses the things that are putting the distributors off and evaluates some facile comparisons to the release of The Last Temptation of Christ. It concludes:

The top contender now appears to be Newmarket, which released �Memento.� They have made a formal bid, but will not confirm if they have seen the film. Two higher-profile independents, Lions Gate and Miramax, have expressed interest in the film and have asked to see it. They have yet to be invited. The film could prove problematic for Miramax, as its parent company, Disney, dislikes controversy.

Gibson�s camp would not comment about the potential sale, beyond saying it could happen in the �near term.� It�s possible, though remotely, that Icon, which distributes most of Gibson�s films in the U.K. and Australia, may opt to put �The Passion� in U.S. theaters itself. Meanwhile, the press surrounding the film�in particular a New Yorker profile that delineated Gibson�s rigid religious beliefs�has done some damage to his reputation. While he remains one of the most bankable stars in history, his occasionally strident public statements have not played well in an industry predominantly liberal and significantly Jewish. �People think Mel�s crazy now,� says one top producer. Adds a studio head, �People feel like his character in �Lethal Weapon� isn�t that far from who he is. It�s like, �Wow, he�s way out on a limb�.� We should know very shortly who�s going to get out there with him.

Slow news day.
STARTING WITH ALEPH is a multimedia website that will teach you the Hebrew alphabet and some Hebrew words. Requires Flash and the download is slow for a 56K modem, so I've only looked a bit at lesson 1 (of 4). But it looks like it would be fun for kids. (Via Mirabilis.)
YOM KIPPUR (the Day of Atonement) begins tonight at sundown. I wish my Jewish readers a healthy fast.