Saturday, February 21, 2004

2500 yr-old necklace found in cave ( via Archaeologica News)
From correspondents in Jerusalem
February 20, 2004

ISRAELI archaeologists excavating caves near the Dead Sea have discovered a rare find � a woman's 2500-year-old fashion accessories.

The hoard of jewellery, a makeup kit and a small mirror apparently belonged to Jews who had returned from exile in Babylon in the 6th century BC, said Tsvika Tsuk, chief archaeologist for the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

"This find is very rare. Both for the richness of the find and for that period, it is almost unheard of," Tsuk said today.


MOSES' HORNS AGAIN. Gerald A Honigman replies:
In response to Jim Davila's post disputing Gerald A.�Honigman's association of Michelangelo's horns on Moses with the Devil, please consider�that the idea�and image of the Devil Jew had been well ingrained into the average Christian's mind since John's Gospel and was quite common for over a millennium prior to Michelangelo's era.��It's no stretch to suggest that�the sculptor�was aware of this as well. Being the great artist that he was, he certainly also knew that those extra-cranial growths would not be seen as rays of light but as horns.

Now, how were the vast majority of people--already familiar with the Jew as Satan's offspring (earliest picture of a Jew in England entitled, "Aaron--Son Of The Devil")--going to interpret a horny'll forgive the expression?

Despite all of the scholarly hot air --which I've been aware of for decades--debating whether these were rays of light mistranslated into horns instead, the likely explanation...that I've pondered for decades of my own� that Michey saw Moses, the great Lawgiver, still as a Jew...and Jews were commonly associated with the Devil by Christians, Church Fathers, and Christian writings from the getgo. I find it a bit na�ve that people would ignore this and insist, instead, that it was the sculptor's pondering translations of words that led him to place horns--that he knew would be interpreted by the masses as they always had vis-�-vis Jews--on Moses' head.

Let's just say that we don't know why Michey chose to do that...but odds go with about 1,500 years of Christian stereotyping the Jew as the Devil's child. Unless we have an explanation given by he himself that contradicts this, I've seen nothing which leads me to believe the wishful thinking of some scholars. As Theodore Herzl found out while covering the Dreyfus Trial in France, even the "enlightened" could be anti-Semitic and/or at least harbor the same old negative stereotypes and ingrained teaching. That led him to write Der Judenstat in response...and the rest is history as they say. Modern political Zionism was born...and Israel reborn...within a half century.

He then includes links and quotes from numerous sources to show that there's a history of demonizing of Jews in Christianity (which I accept) and a couple of quotes on interpreting Michelangelo's horns on Moses: see (section 5.2) and (sections V and VI).

What I was arguing in my nuancing of his comment ("Hundreds of years later, Michelangelo placed Devil's horns on his famous sculpture of Moses") was that the horns on Michelangelo's Moses were not a good example of Christian demonization of Jews, because the horns come from a (possibly viable) interpretation of a biblical passage about Moses which was actually accepted in at least some Jewish circles, as attested by Aquila's translation and a midrash, and that M. himself would have known it from the Latin Vulgate. Mr. Honigman replies that M. certainly would also have known the demonic Jew meme and he should have known what would be the interpretation of the Christian masses and the effect on them.

These are good points. The origins of the Moses-with-horns motif do not involce demonizing him, but how the motif was transmitted by Christians in this period is a different issue. I suspect M. wouldn't have thought or cared much about what the masses thought, but he certainly would have been concerned for the interpretation of his patrons. He and they would have known their Latin Bible but they also would have known the tradition of Jews as diabolical, so this may well have been at least a subtext of the portrayal of Moses. I'm no specialist in the Renaissance, and if any readers know of anything M. himself said or any comments by contemporaries which would illuminate what he or they took to be the meaning of the horns, I would be obliged if you would pass them on to me. Also � a not insignificant question � can anyone tell me when the devil started to be portrayed with a pair of horns? I assume it was well before this but I don't know.

As for the larger question of what to make of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ if it turns out to be as bad as some people fear, I refer you to the comments of Jack Miles which I cited yesterday and which I think are very sane.

I am grateful to Jerry Honigman for taking the time to comment on my post.

Bergant, Dianne
The Song of Songs
Reviewed by Richard G. Smith

Evans, Craig A. and Paul Copan
Who Was Jesus?: A Jewish-Christian Dialogue
Reviewed by Andrew Lloyd

Charlesworth, James H.
The Pesharim and Qumran History: Chaos or Consensus?
Reviewed by Gregory L. Doudna

Cohn-Sherbok, Dan
Holocaust Theology: A Reader
Reviewed by Frederick E. Greenspahn

Hasan-Rokem Galit
Tales of the Neighborhood: Jewish Narrative Dialogues in Late Antiquity
Reviewed by Adele Reinhartz

Lim, Timothy H.
Reviewed by Bilhah Nitzan

Friday, February 20, 2004

"A CRIB-SHEET FOR THE POST-MORTEM." Biblical scholar Jack Miles offers a summary of "What Jews Need to Know About Jesus" (in light of Mel Gibson's upcoming The Passion of the Christ) in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles. He surveys the basics about the New Testament, why most Jews rejected Jesus, the historical Jesus, and Christian anti-Semitism arising from Matthew 27:24-25. The essay is accessible, sympathetic to its subject without pulling punches, and entertaining. I'll just excerpt the last part on the Matthew passage:

Most scholars recognize in the Gospel of Matthew the most Jewish of the four canonical Gospels. It was almost certainly written by a Christian Jew for other Jews like himself and against their Jewish opponents. Imagine, if you will, the anger of secular Israelis about the ultra-Orthodox Israelis who called for the execution of Yitzhak Rabin and who applauded Yigal Amir when he did the deed. Intense as it was, that anger was not an anti-Semitic anger, for all parties to the transaction were equally Jewish. So it may have been here as well � originally.

Alas, when a Gospel containing such anger migrates out of its initial all-Jewish context into other contexts where Jews are a minority, the notorious line takes on a fearsome new anti-Semitic potential. In my judgment, it retains that potential down to our own day. Theologically, the death of Jesus is not a wrong that could be set right if his murderers could somehow be brought to justice. Theologically, Jesus� passage from death to life in his resurrection is a new Exodus, bringing the human race as a whole to the new promised land of immortality. Theologically, those who killed Jesus, even if they sinned, were tools in God�s hands; and God�s enemy was not his people Israel but Satan. Theologically, it was Satan and Satan alone who was defeated when Jesus rose from the dead: Paradise lost, paradise regained. But when have anti-Semites ever cared, really, about theology?

I hope that "The Passion" does not live up to the worst of its advance notices; but if it does, the result will be more a pity than a peril. Anti-Semitism is not best confronted by bowdlerizing "The Merchant of Venice," censoring Bach�s "St. Matthew Passion," expurgating the Gospel according to Matthew or editing the latest Jesus movie to come down the pike. To think this way is to treat anti-Semitism as something like the genitals of human thought and of ourselves as a frail Victorian damsel who might faint dead away if her innocent gaze ever fell on the dread organs. We are stronger than that, I dare to think � strong enough, if you will, to stare the obscenity down. The anti-Semites among us only rejoice when we act otherwise.

This seems about right to me.
SHABBAT SHEKALIM, the sabbath that commemorates the ancient half-shekel tax for the upkeep of the Temple, begins this evening. The Jerusalem Post has an article on it and its rabbinic intepretation: "The holy shekel." And there's more information here.

Seth Sanders e-mails:
I published something on this, "Old Light on Moses' Shining Face" in Vetus Testamentum 52:400-406 last year [actually, it was 2002 - JRD] which applies some new data to the question, from both Mesopotamian and Jewish sources, and may clarify things. I argue thus:
The crux of Moses' shining face in Ex. xxxiv is explained by first-millennium Mesopotamian astronomical and lexical sources which attest an ancient understanding of light as material. Moses' face could, quite literally, radiate horns of light, and the need to translate the term as either divine radiance or physical protuberance is a side-effect of modern conceptual categories, irrelevant to ancient Israelite ideas. Furthermore, the well known ancient Jewish tradition of Moses' coronation, and his divine physical transformation attested in newly published Midrashic sources suggests an authentic ancient reading of the text that resolves the contradiction between Ex. xxxiii and xxxiv. While no human could see God and live, in Ex. xxxiv, the Israelites recoil from a transformed Moses who is no longer precisely human.

Follow the link above to read the article, which is very interesting. Requires paid personal or institutional subscription to access.

Reader Danny Kerman e-mails:
Ironically, I've had a few conversations recently (as well as this evening before reading this blog) about remnants of the horn myth. I�assume it stems from the statue of Moses, but I've never investigated the issue.
As you wrote -
Bottom line: the portrayal of Moses with horns came about through a particular, not entirely impossible, reading of the biblical text, not as an attempt to demonize him.

Whatever Michaelangelo's intention with his statue, at some point people began to�believe that all Jews had horns - a belief�still active in some areas today.

This evening an Israeli was telling me an account of an outing he had with a few fellow�Israelis in Texas (somewhere outside Waco), where a waitress, upon being informed that the language being spoken at the table was Hebrew, asked for permission to feel one of their heads. They allowed her to do so, but as she ran her hands all over one of their heads they�didn't understand what was going on, until she explained that she was looking for horns.��After hearing this�I related�a story my mother told me - upon bringing me home from the hospital after�I was born, a neighbor from down the street came to pay my mother a visit. When she saw that�I didn't have any horns, she accused my mother of having had them cut off before she left the hospital. Another friend of mine told me about his stay in South America (I don't remember where) - he lived in the home of a local family while studying in an intensive Spanish program. One Sunday after church, the entire village lined up in this family's yard to see the Jew, and to check if he had horns.

I've heard of this idea and that there are people around who still believe it, but I've never met any of them.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

TACKY, TACKY (and no pun intended):

'JESUS' NAIL SALE (New York Post)


February 19, 2004 -- Replicas of the nails used to hang Jesus on the cross have become the red-hot official merchandise linked to Mel Gibson's controversial new movie, "The Passion of the Christ."

Pendants made from the pewter, 2 1/2-inch nails - selling for $16.99 - all but flew out of the Christian Publications Bookstore on West 43rd Street as soon as they were put on display.

Hundreds of stores across the country will be selling licensed items tied to the movie, a graphically violent depiction of the last 12 hours of Christ's life, which opens next week on Ash Wednesday.

The souvenirs include a book, pins, key chains, coffee mugs and T-shirts.

But the most unusual collectibles are the nails, each of which hangs on a leather cord.

Its side bears the inscription "Isaiah 53:5," referring to a Bible verse that begins, "He was pierced for our transgressions . . ."

AN ISRAELI TELEVISION DOCUMENTARY has accused Oded Golan of being part of a forgery ring:

Fake ossuary leads Israel to look into sellers of antiquities

By Dan Vergano, USA TODAY
An Israeli documentary Wednesday claimed the James ossuary, the ancient burial box bearing a discredited inscription mentioning Jesus, is just the tip of a long-running forgery ring that has duped antiquities collectors worldwide for the last 15 years.

First reports of the ossuary in a 2002 Biblical Archaeology Review created a frenzy over the relic that bears the Aramaic inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." Throngs visited the Royal Ontario Museum to see the empty stone box. Scientists all agree the ossuary is a genuine artifact from the era of the New Testament, but many scholars believe the inscription was added recently.

Produced with the help of Israeli Antiquity Authority (IAA) officials, the Israeli investigative news show Ouvda ("fact" in Hebrew), says ossuary owner Oded Golan participated in dozens of forgery sales.

Golan denied the charges on the show, calling them "unbelievable."

The forgery ring accusation has been around for a while. I noted it here back in August.

The real surprise in the USA Today article comes in the last paragraph:

BAR editor Hershel Shanks has defended the ossuary in his magazine, saying the evidence remains inconclusive, and calling for a new study of the inscription. In the journal's upcoming issue, biblical scholar David Noel Freedman suggests linguistic errors in another suspect artifact, the so-called "Jehoash" tablet, may actually be valid Hebrew. Widely regarded as a fake, the tablet describes the collection of money for the repair of the First Temple in Jerusalem.

My emphasis. This I will have to read.

There's another brief article on the forgery ring accusation in Ha'aretz. Both articles were drawn to my attention by Stephen Goranson.
YET MORE MEL: Aruzt Sheva has an Opinion piece by Gerald A. Honigman on Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (heads up, David Meadows), which aims to explain why many Jews are opposed to the movie. Lately I've been trying to cover other things and leave the Gibson movie to Mark Goodacre, who has been covering it very well. But I do have a few comments on Honigman's piece. I agree with much of his analysis of awful passages in the Gospels and the horrible effect they had on Jews later. These include John 8:44 (which Honigman misquotes, but the correct version, "You are of your father the devil" is bad enough) and, of course, Matt 27:25. But there are some places in the essay that need correction and nuancing:
Regardless of how you spin the Gospel of John's words, the masses knew what he meant. One of the first pictures of a Jew in Europe was entitled, "Aaron, Son of the Devil."

Hundreds of years later, Michelangelo placed Devil's horns on his famous sculpture of Moses. It is estimated that such "religious" teaching led to the death of millions of Jews prior to the Holocaust.

Those horns on Moses' head come from a literal translation of Exod 34:30, 35, which describes the skin of Moses' face being changed somehow as a result of seeing God on Sinai, using a verbal form (qaran)of the Hebrew root for "horn" (qeren). One intepretation, going back to the Jewish Greek translation of Aquila, is that Moses grew horns. Jerome's Vulgate also takes it this way. It originated as an artistic motif in 11th century Britain. Some critical scholars today still think this is the correct interpretation (perhaps going back to a ritual mask with horns or the like). Others go with another ancient interpretation that goes back to Pseudo-Philo and Paul (cf. 2 Cor 3:7-18), that "rays" of splendor shown from Moses' face. This is based on a rather unlikely reading of a difficult passage in Habbakuk 3:4. And back in the 1980s, Professor William H. Propp of UCSD argued that Moses' skin was "made horny" or scorched by the divine radiance. For more on this whole subject, see his fascinating article: "The Skin of Moses' Face � Transfigured or Disfigured?" Catholic Biblical Quarterly 49 (1987): 375-86. Bottom line: the portrayal of Moses with horns came about through a particular, not entirely impossible, reading of the biblical text, not as an attempt to demonize him.
Not only do the Gospels differ among themselves about some very important details, but all Christian doctrines were subjected to the approval of Rome � the very executioners of Jesus, as well as thousands of other Jews whom they perceived as "trouble makers" � after the emperor Constantine converted and the Council of Nicaea was convened in 325 C.E.

I think it's a bit facile historically to equate the Rome of the pagan emperors (who also persecuted the followers of Jesus) with the empire of Constantine or the authority of the Council of Nicea. Each had their own agendas but the agendas were very different.
Versions of Jesus' life � and interpretations of what that life meant � that differed from that approved by Rome were banned and destroyed.

Again, a bit facile. The development of the New Testament canon was a very complex process that happened at different rates in different places. But there was widespread agreement on the four gospels early on, although many other gospels also were popular in various places. These were gradually supressed, for different reasons and at different times in different places. For good or ill, the canonizing of the four gospels was a done deal by the time of the Council of Nicaea, although other gospels continued to be copied and read for many centuries. The NT bloggers may have more to say about this.

I'm not very comfortable with some of Mr. Honigman's rhetoric, which I think is at times over the top, no matter how legitimate his concerns may be. But I think I'll stop with the factual observations above.

I repeat, I have serious reservations about the movie from what I've heard so far, but I'm not going to judge it until I see it. But let's keep the discussion accurate in the meantime.

As an aside, you may find the recent comments of Andrew Sullivan (a gay, Catholic, conservative/libertarian blogger) interesting.

UPDATE (20 February): More here on Moses' horns.

Stephen C. Carlson comments on the four-Gospel canon.

UPDATE (21 February): Gerald A. Honigman replies.

UPDATE (22 February): More here.

UPDATE (25 February): There are still more posts on the subject above, but I'm tired of adding links. Just do a search (search engine is to the right) for "Moses' Horns" to find later posts.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

THREE ANTIQUITIES LOOTERS have been caught in Israel. Apparently these people are well organized enough to operate in "cells."
ANCIENT TIBERIAS currently consists of an old quarry, garbage heaps, a sewage treatment plant, and ancient ruins. But it's slated to be rebuilt as a new city and the ancient site is about to be excavated. Excerpt from the Ha'aretz article:

Meanwhile, the vision remains somewhat distant. Ancient Tiberias, some 250 dunams close to the Kinneret beach south of the city, is home to a sewage treatment plant, with mounds of garbage scattered among the ancient remains. Some of the finds have already been reburied due to neglect.

But this doesn't bother Professor Yizhar Hirschfeld of Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology, director of the excavation due to start in two weeks. No significant damage has been caused, Hirschfeld said. The scrap metal and garbage may have even protected the antiquities, he added.

"This is one of the most beautiful sites in the world, of the greatest significance for Jewish history," Hirschfeld told participants at a conference yesterday on saving the cultural and material heritage of Tiberias. "Few other sites in the Roman Empire were more important," he added.

Hirschfeld spoke of the markets and the bathhouse, which figured prominently in the sayings of the ancient Jewish sages, where "wise men would sit and spin tales." He showed the location of the basilica in which the Sanhedrin had its headquarters; the city's walls and its theater; the study house and the beautiful mosaics of the synagogues.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

I saw this exhibit yesterday. At best, I'd like to say that I recommend it only for those who know little about the DDS to begin with (history, process, content, etc). However, the unrelenting effort on the part of LDS to link archaelogical findings w/Mormon belief and scriptures could confuse a novice.

The exhibit is small. The 3 scroll facsimiles (Great Isaiah, Habakkuk Commentary, Rule of the Congregation) consist of mediocre photo imaging on what appears to be naugahyde. Viewing these did not compare w/my experience in seeing a couple of actual Dead Sea scrolls that were exhibited at the Fowler Museum (Santa Ana) two years ago. There are some framed actual fragments at the LDS exhibit, but these are displayed at a viewing distance of several feet.

There is a model of the Qumran community which for me was a highlight, but then, only because I had never seen one.

I will not be telling my friends about the exhibit.
HERE'S MORE ON THE OTTAWA DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBITION. My student, Ian Werrett, points me to this article in the Presbyterian Record by Michael Munnik (who is, incidentally, the spouse of a former St. Andrews Divinity student):

Scrolls come to Canada
Canadian Museum of Civilization exhibits Dead Sea treasures

by Michael Munnik

Peter Flint's passion for ancient Jewish texts is infectious. He doesn't fit the stereotype of a research scholar -- aloof, awkward or boring. In fact, his enthusiasm is almost comical.

"I have held the oldest copy of Psalms in the world in my hands," Dr. Flint says. "It's like holding Wayne Gretzky's very first hockey stick."

That's a lofty comparison indeed. But Flint, a professor at Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C., is something of a Gretzky himself in scrolls research. He is one of only three professors from Canadian universities working with an international group of scholars, editing the scrolls and bringing their secrets to the world. The others are Dr. Martin Abegg, also from Trinity Western, and Dr. Eileen Schuller from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont.

Flint says Canada scored a hat trick with an exhibit currently showing at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Que., across the river from Ottawa. Three of the Dead Sea scrolls are on display until April 12 alongside artifacts dating as far back as 1200 BC. Two of the scrolls -- the War Scroll and Isaiah B (a copy of the Book of Isaiah) -- have never before left Israel. And the Community Rule scroll has remained in Israel for almost 50 years since its purchase from an American collection.

It was a coup for the Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History, which arranged with the Israel Museum in Jerusalem to bring these pieces to Canada. They first showed in Montreal and will return to Israel when the Ottawa exhibit is finished. "We're really very lucky," says Flint. "This exhibit will put Canada on the map."

Ramp Collapse Foreshadows Greater Temple Mount Disaster (Cybercast News Service)


During the last few years, the WAKF Islamic Religious Authorities on the Temple Mount have carried out major renovations on an underground mosque there, which some say is the now the largest mosque in the Middle East.

By law, the Antiquities Authority must be consulted before any construction is undertaken in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Although the Islamic authorities had permission to enlarge an underground exit from the mosque, they reportedly carried out a massive enlargement project of an underground mosque. The Antiquities Authority reportedly was not allowed into the site.

According to [archaeologist Eilat] Mazar, some 20,000 tons of archeological materials and fill were removed from compound. In addition to the lost archeological treasures ("for eternity to weep over," she said), engineering-wise, it is a "disaster."

A direct outcome of the renovations and construction, Mazar said, is a bulge in southern wall of the Temple Mount, which forms one of the outside walls of the Old City.


Israeli analysts also warned that Israel could be in trouble either way. If the wall collapsed, Israel would be blamed; and if Israel tried to fix the wall, it would be accused of tampering with an Islamic religious site. Both scenarios could bring the wrath of the Islamic world down on Israel, analysts said.


[Osnat] Goaz [spokeswoman for the Israel Antiquities Authority] said that the Antiquities Authority knows what is going on in the area of the Temple Mount as it does at all antiquities sites around the country and is in touch with all the relevant authorities that deal with the place.

However, she would not say if the Islamic religious authorities were among those with whom the Antiquities Authority deals, nor would she say if the authority has freedom to deal with problems on the Temple Mount.

The Temple Mount is the only antiquity in Israel about which the Antiquities Authority is so guarded in its responses.


Meanwhile the "rabbi of the Western Wall" (I didn't know there was one) disagrees with Mazar, according to Ha'aretz:
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitz criticized Mazar and said her statement was "groundless" and "irresponsible," and could give the impression that the Western Wall plaza was a dangerous place.

"This is groundless. After the quake, they inspected the Temple Mount area and walls with a laser, except for the Mugrabi embankment, which really collapsed," the rabbi said.

"Only yesterday, I received a report stating that the earthquake had had no effect on the wall's stability. We check the stones' stability every three months. There is a safety committee," he added.

And, according to the BBC, Hamas is foaming at the mouth:
Israeli engineers have suggested heavy snowfall and a small earthquake last week might have destabilised the embankment, causing the wall to collapse.

Hamas said the wall fell down because Israel had tried to undermine the foundations of the al-Aqsa mosque, which is situated in the compound.

"We warn the leadership of the enemy that the reaction of Palestinian resistance to the continued plans to destroy al-Aqsa mosque will be beyond their imagination and will topple the situation on their heads," Hamas said in a statement.

Israel has been carrying out archaeological excavations in an area outside the compound, inviting the charge that they are trying to destabilise the mosque, Islam's third holiest site. Israel has strongly denied the allegation.

Israeli officials have said the Palestinians' Waqf authority - which looks after the compound - might have weakened the area by carrying out unauthorised underground work in the compound.

From Persia to Wall Street, Queen Esther�s star shines (Jewish Telegraphic Agency)
By E.B. Solomont

NEW YORK, Feb. 16 (JTA) � From Persia to Wall Street, there�s a lot to be learned from Queen Esther, the heroine of the Purim story.

Call it the Esther effect or call it good business � it�s the practical businesswoman�s guide to success, starring Queen Esther.

In a book by two female authors � Barbara Smalley, a writer, and Connie Glaser, a businesswoman � Queen Esther of Persia deftly imparts timeless lessons on �palace politics� to modern readers.


In their pithy, pocket-sized book, Glaser and Smalley focus on the story of a Jewish girl who becomes the queen of Persia and goes on to save her people from the wicked Haman, as well as the principles gleaned from Esther�s tale, and the authors� modern-day Esthers.

�The book weaves together ancient wisdom and modern insights,� Glaser says. �There is a truth here as valid today as it was 2,400 years ago.�

That truth is neatly packaged into chapter-sized lessons for Glaser and Smalley�s readers: Dress to take over the throne. Carry yourself like a queen. Establish a royal presence. Deal effectively with life�s Hamans.


When she addresses her husband, King Ahasuerus, Esther dresses royally � modern readers, think power suit. In preparation for asking the king to save the Jews, she invites him to her quarters � �Negotiators today know you have more clout and control on your own turf,� Glaser says.

Esther learns that the king is indecisive � �Study palace politics or corporate culture.� Esther befriends the castle eunuchs who advise the king � �Don�t make the mistake that the receptionist, the janitor and administrative assistant aren�t important!�


�What Queen Esther Knew: Business Strategies From a Biblical Sage� is published by Rodale (

The book appears in Amazon (I've added the link to the title above), so I guess it is real.
MORE VERMES ON CAIAPHAS: Geza Vermes e-mails the following:

I have read the comments made by Mark Goodacre and Helen Bond on my sketch of Caiaphas. I dare say I prefer hers. There is only one point I need to clarify. I have never intended to imply that the high priest was Jesus' friend. I accept no responsibility for the headline of the article, "Never mind what Mel Gibson says, Caiaphas was innocent". To make myself clear, I have rewritten the relevant paragraph for future use. It now runs:

"From all this we can draw an important conclusion: the decision of Caiaphas to hand Jesus' case over to Pontius Pilate did not reflect his legal incapacity to execute him, but his unwillingness to do so. He was passing the buck. He was responsible however for delivering Jesus to the Roman governor. This responsibility is already stated by the first century historian Josephus. It is obvious, nevertheless, that the decision to crucify Jesus was Pilate's and Pilate's alone."

Monday, February 16, 2004

GEZA VERMES ON CAIAPHAS: Vermes had an article on Caiaphas in the Telegraph this weekend:

"Never mind what Mel Gibson says, Caiaphas was innocent"

Mark Goodacre has already commented. I don't know a great deal about the current state of the question on Caiaphas, so I decided to ask someone who does. You may recall that Dr. Helen Bond, of the University of Edinburgh, has recently finished a book about him. So I e-mailed her to ask what she thought of the article. She replies:

I agree with the general thrust
of Vermes' arguments, ie the difficulty of keeping law and order in
Judaea, particularly at the passover; that it would be ridiculous to
suggest that Caiaphas was in a position to 'bulldoze' Pilate (who,
after all, was the man who kept him in office); and that the Jewish
authorities would have regarded Jesus as a dubious charismatic
prophet with a potentially dangerous band of followers. Vermes is
also right to stress the apologetic nature of the gospel accounts
(though he could have stressed contemporary Christian-synagogue
controversies much more, as these are really the reason why the
gospels are so harsh towards their Jewish neighbours), but to
conclude that Caiaphas was 'unwilling' to hand Jesus over to Rome
is much too strong.

All four gospels (and Josephus in one of the more reliable sections
of the Testimonium Flavianum) suggest that leading Jews handed
Jesus over to Rome. In the crowded city at Passover it makes
perfect sense that Caiaphas and other chief priests would have
wanted to silence a charismatic prophet with a following,
particularly if he had been demonstrating in the Temple. A charge
of leading people astray (Dt 13), or being a false-prophet (Dt 18)
would have been enough - both were punishable by death. There is
no need to assign cynical motives to Caiaphas (as many
Christians tend to do) - he had seen with his own eyes what Rome
could do when provoked to enter the Temple in 4BC, and his whole
Sadducean upbringing would have convinced him that the Temple
had to be protected at all costs - even if it meant the life of a

Vermes is right to question the gospel presentation of the Jewish
'trial' (particularly in the synoptic gospels) and the charge of
blasphemy (which in all probability reflects later Christian-
synagogue controversy), but he goes too far in assuming that,
once we have removed the apologetic of the evangelists, Caiaphas
emerges as a friend of Jesus. Not only did he have his reasons for
wanting Jesus silenced, but he may also have had good reasons
for not wanting to do it himself (even if, as Vermes argues, Jews
did have some limited right to execute in religious cases). The
High Priest - and all other priests for that matter - played an
important role in the passover ritual; it was imperative that
everything was carried out in precisely that way that it was laid out
in the Torah; any slight infringement might incur the wrath of
Yahweh and invalidate the entire festival. It would hardly be
surprising, then, if Caiaphas handed Jesus over to Pilate. The
priest could not have forced Pilate to act, but he would not have
needed to - both men essentially wanted the same thing - to
maintain law and order during the passover - and anyone who
worried Caiaphas would have worried Pilate. (Vermes is right to
note that Jewish accounts of Pilate paint him in negative hues, but
fails to note that these accounts - Josephus and Philo - are just as
apologetic and biased in their own ways as the gospel writers. The
truth regarding Pilate's character was probably somewhere in
between the weak Christian portrayal and the harsh Jewish one).

The most balanced judgement, it seems to me, is that Jesus was
put to death by the combined actions of both Caiaphas and Pilate.
Both men (for slightly different reasons) saw him as a danger, and
both men (once Jesus was dead and buried) would have
considered it a job well done.

Thanks Helen.
THE PASSION OF SOCRATES? David Meadows notes that there is a new stage play entitled "The Death of Socrates" (which, unfortunately, seems to be in English, not Greek with operatic subtitles). He observes:
Of course, the big news is that we'll now be treated to countless editorials and complaints from those of Greek descent about how the play portrays the Greeks as being responsible for Socrates' death ...
ONLY JOURNALISTS would report on this:
Ethiopia asks Queen to give back treasure (Sunday Times - requires subscription outside U.K)
Peter Conradi and Justin Sparks

THE QUEEN is being asked to hand over manuscripts that have been kept at Windsor Castle since they were looted from Ethiopia by the British Army more than 130 years ago. The campaign for the return of the documents is being led by Professor Richard Pankhurst, whose grandmother Emmeline was the suffragette leader.

Pankhurst, who teaches at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, has written to the Queen pointing out that his home country is now capable of looking after its own treasures. He says the documents � dating from the 16th and 17th centuries and all richly illustrated � are �six of the finest Ethiopian religious manuscripts in existence�.

They are part of a treasure trove of documents and artefacts seized after the battle of Magdala in 1868.


without ever saying what texts are in the manuscripts! I wonder if they even asked.

According to this article, there are some 350 Ethiopic manuscripts in Britain which were taken after the battle of Maqdala. The contents of only one is described:
But by far the most valuable item is one of two copies of the Kebra Negast, or Glory of Kings, a 1,000-year-old history of the origins of Ethiopia's Solomonic line of kings, which is currently in possession of the British Library.

A number of very important ancient texts survive in full only in Ethiopic (e.g., 1 Enoch, Jubilees). Does anyone know if any biblical manuscripts or apocrypha or pseudepigrapha are among the Maqdala texts?

Archaeologist: Inspection needed of Temple Mount stability
By Nadav Shragai, Haaretz Correspondent

A comprehensive inspection of the stability of the Temple Mount compound and the surrounding walls is urgently required, archaeologist Eilat Mazar said Sunday after visiting the site where an embankment near the Western Wall collapsed Saturday night.

"A major collapse at the site, which would cause a major disaster, is only a matter of time," she warned.


On Saturday night, during a heavy snowfall, a 10-meter-wide section of the embankment's supporting wall collapsed. The embankment, which leads to the Mughrabim Gate - one of the main entrances to the Temple Mount - runs between the prayer area in front of the Western Wall and the archaeological excavations at the foot of the wall, to the south of the prayer area. Pieces of the collapsed embankment slid into the women's section of the prayer area, but nobody was hurt as they were all on the far side of the area, near the demarcation with the men's section. Until the embankment is repaired, the men's section will be divided in two and part of it turned over to the women.


On Sunday, the waqf charged that the archaeological excavations Israel is conducting at the foot of the Western Wall caused the collapse of the embankment Saturday night. But the Antiquities Authority said the most likely explanation is that the collapse was brought on by a combination of last Wednesday's earthquake and Saturday's heavy snowfall. Mazar also thinks the earthquake was the main cause of the collapse.

The story is also covered in the Jerusalem Post.

Sunday, February 15, 2004


Jim Caviezel jokes that Hollywood might learn a language lesson from The Passion of the Christ, largely shot in Aramaic and Latin.

Caviezel, who plays Jesus in Mel Gibson's bloody recreation of Christ's final hours, whimsically suggested that other filmmakers might want to follow Gibson's lead.

"It could be a trendsetter in Hollywood," Caviezel, 35, told The Associated Press. "Next year, you may see comedies, thrillers, even musicals in Aramaic."

Hear! Hear!