Saturday, April 03, 2004

IN PRAISE OF PRINTED MANUALS: Rub�n G�mez gets it exactly right in his Bible Software Review blog. Excerpt (but read it all):
Zondervan states that "in the interest of being environmentally responsible, there is no print manual with this software", in reference to their Bible Study Library line of products. And then they add, "The entire manual is included under the Help Menu in the program. You are welcome to print it from there if you desire." I beg your pardon! Do you mean to say that you want to be "environmentally responsible" but that it is okay if I, the user, spend hundreds of pages of paper and a good bit of ink printing the online help? Doesn't seem to make much sense to me! I know that different people have different tastes and study habits, but I for one deeply regret the fact that most Bible software vendors (with some notable exceptions!) are no longer providing detailed printed manuals. I can think of a good number of reasons why printed manuals are valuable...

Let me add three more reasons to his list:

(g) If you're carrying around a device - say, a digital camera - you can easily enough carry around a printed manual too, but not a manual that only comes in a computer.

(h) Even if it's a laptop you're carrying around, the online manual (where the really useful infomation usually is) can only be accessed if you can find an Internet connection.

(i) If your computer isn't working, it's pretty hard to consult the manual to see if you can sort out the problem when the manual is only accessible on the working machine.

Software companies are being lazy and cheap, not "environmentally responsible."
ARCHAEOLOGICA NEWS, an important compiler of media coverage of archaeology, has been unavailable for the last few days. Does anyone know what's happened to it?

Friday, April 02, 2004

MORE REACTIONS IN THE ARAB WORLD to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (via Bible and Intepretation News). Plenty to worry about here. Worth reading in full.
Arab censors giving 'Passion' wide latitude
Gibson film packs Mideast movie houses

Charles Levinson, Chronicle Foreign Service

Arab governments across the Middle East are bending or breaking their own censorship rules for "The Passion of the Christ,'' the Mel Gibson film that sparked fears of anti-Semitism when it was released in the West.

In Egypt, where the film opened to large crowds Wednesday, "it's getting a very special treatment," said Mustafa Darwish, a film critic and former president of the Egypt Censorship Authority.

So far, the film has been released uncensored in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.


However, Darwish and other observers say allegations raised by U.S. Jewish groups may have actually encouraged the film's welcome in the Arab world.

"They (the censorship authorities) think the film is anti-Semitic. That's why they are giving it such privilege," Darwish said.


"I encouraged the movie because it withholds from Jews their claims that they are innocent of the Christ's blood," said Mohiy el-Din Abdel Aleem, a professor of media and journalism at Al Azhar University, when asked why Al Azhar had not objected to the movie.


Moviegoers in Cairo left the film with widely differing views.

"This shows what happened, and how the Jews trapped Jesus and let the Romans crucify him. This is the truth," said Maher Nissim, a financial manager who viewed it on opening night at the Ramses Hilton theater.

Salwa el-Badrawi, a stooped elderly woman in an Islamic headscarf who attended a pre-release screening, said she hoped the movie would bring religions closer together rather than drive a wedge between them.

"It shows that there is tolerance and tenderness in all religions," she said. "The movie shows Jews who sympathized with the Christ, while we Muslims also had a Christian person who helped the prophet Mohammed," referring to Waraqah, his wife's Christian cousin, who helped Mohammed interpret his revelations.

I hope there are a lot more people like Salwa el-Badrawi

Mark Goodacre and Rebecca Lesses have also noted the article.
MORE ON THE KETEF HINNOM SILVER AMULETS: An earlier post quoted the following:
Barkay published a book about the find in 1986, but recent advances in computer technology have helped researchers discover additional verses on the silver scrolls. The new research technique revealed that the scroll contains other verses from the Pentateuch. Barkay has written a manuscript about these other finds and plans to publish it in the near future.

My emphasis. According to Yigal Levin on the ANE list, who gets it from Barkay himself, the additional verse (he only mentions one) is Deuternomy 7:9.

(Heads-up Carla Sulzbach.)
MORE PANDERING to Jewish-Temple denial, this time by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. In their article "Muslims barricaded in mosque, clash with Israeli police," which came out minutes ago, we find the following paragraph:
The compound is considered a key holy site by both Muslims and Jews. Jews call it the Temple Mount, and is the site where they believe biblical temples stood.

Rather than saying something neutral and accurate such as "and historians and archaeologists agree that biblical temples stood there," we are told that "Jews" (Nobody else? This is a religious belief, is it?) "believe" (Are we to assume that everyone else does not?) that this is where the temples stood. My comments on the similar Time Magazine article apply here as well.

Contrast the way the same information is presented in this A.P. article:
The mosque compound is known to Jews as the Temple Mount, site of biblical Jewish temples. The walled site is revered by Muslims and Jews and is one of the flashpoints in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
MORE ON CODEX AMBROSIANUS B.21, MILAN. As promised, I'm posting a few images below. The source is Antonio Maria Ceriani, Translatio syra pescitto Veteris Testamenti: ex codice Ambrosiano sec. fere VI, photolithographice edita, curante et adnotante (Milan, 1876). The manuscript is in western (sorry, should be Estrangela) Syriac script and was written in the sixth or seventh century C.E. It contains the Old Testament books, the Apocrypha, and other works such as 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, 3-4 Maccabees and a section from Josephus on the Maccabees. The main thing I needed was the Latin preface, but I also took images of a number of the manuscript pages in the facsimile. The resolution could be better, but this was just a quick first try. Click on each image for a larger version.

This is the first page of 2 Baruch.

This is a closeup of the same page. 2 Baruch begins at the top of the middle column. It opens "The Book of the Revelation of Baruch son of Neriah, which is taken from Greek into Syriac."

This is the opening page of the Book of Judith, which begins at the top of the middle column.
ARAMAIC WATCH: The Salt Lake City Tribune has a piece on the BYU/Vatican Syriac manuscript digitalization project:
BYU scholars mine a Vatican bonanza

No new information, but the article does have this cool image:


Most of the manuscripts imaged by BYU scholars are from a collection that the Vatican purchased in the 18th century.

Note also that I have updated the previous post on this project with more information on the contents of the manuscripts.

Eastern Temple Mount wall may collapse (Jerusalem Post)

The eastern wall of Jerusalem's Temple Mount is in danger of immediate collapse because of damage caused by the February 11 earthquake, a classified government report issued this week concludes.

The report, written by the Israel Antiquities Authority, has been distributed to senior ministers by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's military attache, Brig.-Gen. Yoav Galant, officials said Thursday.

The classified report, details of which were first published in Yediot Aharonot, says that the earthquake damaged the eastern wall of the Temple Mount to such an extent that sections of the wall are liable to cave in on the underground architectural support of the mount, known as Solomon's Stables.


Thursday, April 01, 2004

ANOTHER DISTORTED QUOTE OF MEL GIBSON, this one from Michael Lerner. Actually it's a blatant misquote that attempts to make Gibson look anti-Semitic. Mark Goodacre has the goods. When are journalists going to clue in that people are checking up on them? And why aren't they making an issue of blatant real anti-Semitism? They are squandering their credibility.
HE'S BACK! Stephen C. Carlson's blog Hypotyposeis has been offline for the last week or so, due to an interest spike that led his service provider, Earthlink, to cut off his service for overuse. Sounds like their handling of the situation was pretty clueless. Stephen is planning to move elsewhere and promises more blogging soon. He also reports that he'll be seeing Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ this weekend. I look forward to his comments on it.

Now, Blogspot isn't perfect, but they don't pull the sort of nonsense Stephen was subjected to. Looks like Earthlink has just advertised that you should look elsewhere for good service.
Broken stones from Western Wall cleared at plaza (Ha'aretz via Bible and Interpretation News)

By Nadav Shragai

Following an extensive study of Jewish law rulings sponsored by Rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinowitz, stone pieces that had detached from the wall were cleared away from the Old City of Jerusalem area yesterday.

A crane brought to the area by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation was used to clear away the stone rubble, which broke away from the wall in past months.


Stone fragments that fell from the Western Wall have in the past been cleared away, but in recent months it has become clear that these were not isolated incidents, but rather part of an ongoing problem. Some areas of the wall which appeared months ago to be solid have subsequently played host to erosion and crevices. Due to concerns about this trend, the Antiquities Authority carried out an engineering survey at the wall.

ARAMAIC WATCH: BYU is publishing a CD of 14,000 pages of Syriac manuscripts from the Vatican museum.
Vatican lets BYU publish old texts

By Tad Walch
Deseret Morning News

PROVO � When their boat capsized in the Nile River, the Vatican monks feverishly dived for the priceless manuscripts they had just obtained from an Egyptian monastery.
Most of the Syriac Christian documents copied by BYU are from a collection the Vatican purchased nearly 300 years ago.

Brigham Young University
One monk died in the accident, but the treasured writings of Ephrem the poet � copied by Assyrian monks in A.D. 522 and 523 � were saved and laid on the shore to dry in the early 18th century sun.
From there, the manuscripts traveled to the bowels of the Vatican Library and nearly 300 years of exile, out of reach of members of the Eastern Christian churches who revere Ephrem � until the Vatican agreed to let teams from Brigham Young University scan 14,000 pages of Syriac Christian writings and publish the color images next month on a DVD.
The texts provide a new window for study of Mesopotamian Christianity, which began when missionaries from Jerusalem or Antioch visited what is now Iraq and converted large numbers of people who spoke Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic.


There's also a press release published on the Hugoye list. Excerpts:
A collection of rare Christian manuscripts�some dating to the sixth century�will soon be accessible to scholars worldwide, thanks to a first-time collaboration between Brigham Young University, the Vatican Library and the Assyrian Church of the East.

Working alongside their Vatican colleagues for three years, BYU scholars imaged more than 14,000 pages of text to produce a digital library of 33 important Syriac Christian manuscripts, which will be available on DVD. For Bishop Mar Bawai Soro of the Assyrian Church of the East, access to these texts�which for centuries were out of reach�will help his church members to reconnect with their heritage.


The newly digitized collection includes unpublished works by early Eastern Christian writers such as Jacob of Serugh, Ephrem the poet and Isaac the Syrian. The Chronicle of Edessa, for example, describes life in the city of Edessa beginning in the second century. One oversized 1,000-page manuscript contained 230 separate homilies by different authors.


It's not clear to me whether these are hitherto unpublished works or just unplublished manuscripts of works already known. I'll try to find out.

Here's another note in Deseret News on a Syriac hymn in the corpus.

Coincidentally, I am off to our library later this morning to photograph some pages from a nineteenth century facsimile edition of a major Syriac biblical manuscript (Codex Ambrosianus B.21, Milan). Not as exciting as the BYU project, but it's the best I can do at the moment.

LATER: I'm back from my first little photographic expedition. The downloading software is on my other computer at home, so I won't be able to get at the images until tonight. If they came out well, I'll post one or two, probably tomorrow. [UPDATE (2 April): Now see here.]

UPDATE (2 April): On the Hugoye list Kristian Heal clarifies the contents of the digitized manuscripts:
All of these manuscripts are known from the catalogues of Assemani, Mai and Lantschoot. Many of the manuscripts have been published, some in critical editions (e.g. all of the Ephrem manuscripts (110, 111, 112, 113), and the Severus manuscripts (140,141)). However, some of the manuscripts contain texts which have not been published before in any format. For example, none of the liturgical texts have been published, though Borgia 60 is the object of a very interesting study by Joseph Marie Sauget (Studi e Testi 326). Among the literary texts included in the manuscripts many have not been published or used in critical editions. These include texts from Vatican Syriac 586, 283, 191, 189 and parts of 92, 93, 114, 117, 147, 151, 161, 252. Of note is Vatican Syriac 117, a collection of homilies by Jacob of Serugh, Isaac of Antioch and Ephrem. Of the 227 individual pieces that are included in the manuscript 60 have not been edited and published before. Of course, in most cases these manuscripts contain just one of a number of surviving witnesses.

It would perhaps be useful to identify a continuum by which to grade our awareness and use of a given manuscript/work:

1. Previously uncataloged/unknown
2. Cataloged manuscript
3. Published in facsimile
4. Users edition (e.g. those of Bedjan) that does not take full account
of all known manuscripts
5. Critical edition that takes into account all known manuscripts

With this publication all of the manuscripts have reached level 3. Many individual works had previously reached 4 or 5, though many have not.

Kristian also has a listing of catalogue numbers and short titles on this Hugoye post. I am grateful for the additional information. This is an exciting project and both BYU and the Vatican are to be commended for it. For more, see here.
The Cleansing of the Temple'
Beliefnet's exclusive excerpts from the script for the next Mel Gibson movie
Responding to criticism that "The Passion of the Christ" did not deal enough with Jesus' ministry, Mel Gibson has apparently decided to follow up the blockbuster with another movie, this one focused on Jesus' teachings. Though the project has been kept highly confidential because of the controversial nature of his previous film, Beliefnet was able to obtain a copy of a script treatment guiding this "prequel."

Be sure to read the second page.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Indy 4 Acquires Pirates Writer (FilmForce)

Lucas and Spielberg commission a new script.

March 30, 2004 - As previously reported, the Indiana Jones IV script developed by Frank Darabont has been declined by those two bearded film moguls, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Apparently, the prospective screenplay didn't measure up to what the filmmakers had in mind, despite lengthy collaboration over the story.

According to Moviehole, a new writer has been brought on to re-write the screenplay. That writer is Stuart Beattie, an Australian who is relatively new to the industry. Beattie helped to write the screen story for last summer's blockbuster hit Pirates of the Caribbean, and it was apparently on that merit that he got the Indy gig.


A number of actors from the earlier Indy movies are on board for this one. Follow the link for details and for links to additional articles.
PETRA ONLINE: Here's a children's exhibition on The Ancient City of Petra. It includes a virtual recreation of the site with links to photos of and commentary on architecture and artifacts. It's produced by the American Museum of Natural History in New York and was mentioned in the New York Times article "Surprise! Education Sites Are Cool."
JESUS VS. THE ZOMBIES. Jesus wins, of course.
PURDUE PANEL FOLLOW-UP. My thanks to Liz Bower, whether or not she saw my posting yesterday, for letting us know how the panel discussion on Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ went. Excepts:
The Rev. John Pawlilowski, professor of social ethics at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, received a copy of the shooting script before the film was released. He and eight other scholars examined the script and gave Gibson a private report.


"Ninety percent of the issues that were raised in our report were not changed in the movie; however, there were one or two things that were changed," he said.


Gordon Mork, professor of modern German history, said Gibson believed that he followed the gospel in the script. However, Mork noted that there was lack of consistency between the gospel and the film.

"Although Gibson claimed he followed the Bible, the film was based on visions (had by a nun)," he said.

Gordon Young, associate professor of ancient near-Eastern and Mediterranean history and director of the Jewish studies program, agrees with Mork.


Bob Bloom, film critic at the Journal and Courier, said, "In a sense, I admire Gibson as a film maker because he did not buckle under public pressure and the bottom line is it is a movie none of us were there and this is a good piece of film."

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

A SHORT HISTORY of Christian anti-Semitism, courtesy of Bible and Interpretation:
An Unacknowledged Passion

��� While most Christians are familiar with the stories in the Gospels of Jesus� arrest, trial, torture, and crucifixion, they are less familiar with how those same stories have been used throughout history to justify not only anti-Jewish sentiment but, at times, violent persecution of Jews.

� By Mark A. Chancey
Department of Religious Studies
Southern Methodist University
March 2004

This piece places Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ into the context of Christian anti-Semitism over the last two millennia, not accusing it of being anti-Semitic, but explaining why some Jews have been so concerned about it. The essay covers a lot of historical territory I know little about, but the areas I do know about look to be covered accurately. Do go and read it all. The conclusion reads:
��� If some people can read The DaVinci Code and then believe that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, it requires no stretch of the imagination to think that at least a few viewers will believe Gibson�s movie is an accurate portrayal of events. They will see Gibson�s whitewashing of Pilate and his vilification of the Jews, points on which the movie goes well beyond what we find in the Gospels, and walk out thinking about how vicious �those Jews� were. The anti-Semitic slur �Christ-killer,� though repeated less frequently now than in decades past, is still heard. The minority of viewers who already harbor anti-Semitic feelings may well walk away feeling validated, having just witnessed �the Jews� kill Jesus on the movie screen. Those who still hold to the view that all Jews are responsible for the death of Jesus, and the view does still circulate in some sectors of American Christianity; will find nothing but confirmation of that belief in this movie.

��� Even more troubling is the possibility that the movie will fuel anti-Semitism in some areas abroad. Gibson, as is well known, deleted the subtitles for Matthew 27:25, �His blood be on us and our children.� The sentence is still present in the Aramaic, however, and it is entirely possible that it will be translated when the movie circulates in other areas. Anti-Semitism appears to be on the rise globally, and there are definitely audiences who will interpret Gibson�s film, however well intentioned it is, in the worst light possible, a minority of audiences, to be sure, but audiences nonetheless. In a world where even the atrocious and absurd blood libel charge still circulates, there is reason to be concerned about the ripple effects of this movie.

��� None of this means that Christians should not go to the movie or that it is wrong to be moved by it or that the spiritual experiences it has prompted are invalid or inappropriate. It does mean, however, that rather than belittling Jewish concerns and demonizing the film�s critics (Jewish, Christian, and other), we should perhaps listen. Gibson�s movie provides Christians with an opportunity to reflect on the depths of the suffering of Jesus, but it also provides us all with an opportunity to reflect on the unfortunate role the passion narratives have played in Jewish-Christian relations.

A quick check of Google will show you that there are many anti-Semitic websites on the Internet spewing all sorts of vicious and false vitriol (some of it is summarized in this Al Jazeerah article). And some early reactions to the movie from the U.A.E. and Kuwait are profoundly disturbing.

Mark Goodacre promises some comments on the piece as well. (Later: he has now posted comments at the same link.)
PRELIMINARY EXCAVATION REPORT and call for volunteers for the 2004 season (Bible and Interpretation):
Excavations at Abila of the Decapolis, Northern Jordan

By W. Harold Mare, Ph.D.
Director, Abila Excavations
Professor, Covenant Theological Seminary
St. Louis, Missouri
March 2004

��� Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis (Mark 7:31).

�� Though the existence and significance of the Decapolis region is well attested, the nature of this group of cities is largely unknown. Was it some kind of a confederation tied together by political, military, economic, social, and religious bonds or some combination thereof? Certainty on this is not possible. What we do know for sure is that by the time of the Roman conquest in 64/63 B.C. the Decapolis cities constituted a distinct unity as far as their geographical area was concerned. And by New Testament times this region seems to have been flourishing, as evidenced by the references to the group (but not to individual cities within the group) in the Gospels (that is, specifically Matthew 4:25, Mark 5:20, and Mark 7:31)

History Waiting to be Uncovered

��� In the light of the literary and archaeological history of Abila and the other cities of the Decapolis region�a history that covers the pre-Old Testament, Old Testament, New Testament, Early Church, and Islamic periods�continued excavation in this region is essential for a fuller understanding of these cities and the roles they played in each of these periods.

��� We invite anyone with an interest in such an endeavor to join us for our Abila 2004 Excavation, set for June 19-August 7. Professors at colleges, universities, and seminaries, and other professionals with expertise in excavation, geology, anthropology, architecture, mosaics, etc.; student volunteers, both graduate and undergraduate; and interested, dedicated lay people from all walks of life have a wonderful opportunity to work side by side with such renowned scholars as Dr. David Chapman, Covenant Seminary; Dr. Jack Lee, St. John Fisher College; Dr. Reuben Bullard, University of Cincinnati; Dr. Robert Smith, Roanoke Bible College; Dr. Susan Ellis, Wayne State College; and many others in helping to uncover more of the fascinating history of this important Bible lands city.

Full details and contact information are given in the essay.
CONTROVERSY IN KUWAIT over Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ:
The Sunnis dismiss the film while the Shiites wish to show it. The authorities, meanwhile, have not decided either way.

The dean of the local Islamic college, Mohammad al-Tabtabai, said in a fatwa, or religious edict, Monday that parts of the controversial movie contradict the Muslim faith, in addition to its depiction of Jesus.

Tabtabai went so far as to outlaw the film's screening by any Muslim country and prohibited Muslims from watching it, saying anyone who has seen the movie must "repent".

But the emirate's leading Shiite cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer al-Muhri said there was nothing wrong in showing the film and called on the authorities to approve it.

"It's a good opportunity to reveal the crimes committed by Jews against the Christ and many other (religious) prophets," Muhri told AFP.

"We sincerely respect the Jewish religion and Jews, but not the Jewish Zionists, and we believe in Jesus and Moses like we believe in our own prophet," he added.

My emphasis. What exactly the qualification about Jewish Zionists has to do with anything is beyond me. Does Ayatollah Muhri think that Caiaphas was a Zionist and Jesus and his disciples weren't? Zionism wasn't a category in the first century. This is anti-Semitism, pure and simple; it has nothing to do with disagreeing with Zionism.
A VIRTUAL TEMPLE? Israeli "cybernetics expert" Yitzhaq Hayutman has a new solution for peace on the Temple Mount:
All sides acknowledge that tensions on the hill have the potential to start a war, but Hayutman believes he has found a way to resolve the intractable conflict. "What most people see is that if the Muslims are here, surely there is no temple," Hayutman says. "They do not understand that technology has given us the tools to realize the prophecy right now."

He has two big ideas, two ways to engineer the apocalypse. The first: a hovering holographic temple. Hayutman wants to set up an array of high-powered, water-cooled lasers and fire them into a transparent cube suspended beneath a blimp. The ephemeral, flickering image, he says, would fulfill an ancient, widely revered Jewish prophecy that the temple will descend from the heavens as a manifestation of light. Hayutman hopes to finance the project with some of the proceeds from a $20 million patent-infringement suit he and his partners have filed against Palm.

The rest of that money would be poured into Hayutman's second idea for jump-starting the end-times: a virtual temple within a massively multiplayer online role-playing game. The goal is for thousands of people to join in its construction on the Web. Hayutman even wants to display progress reports in the floating hologram as a kind of apocalyptic scoreboard.

Whether it's a hologram or a cyberstructure, Hayutman believes that a techno temple does away with the need for a physical building. Under his scheme, Jews and Christians would get a biblically accurate temple without razing the Dome of the Rock. A description of his plans is on the floppy disk in his pocket, which he says he will give to me when we leave the Mount.

This obviously belongs in the "you couldn't make this up" file, but unlike many entries it doesn't seem actively harmful. It's not going to satisfy those with extreme views on either side, though.

This solution isn't entirely novel. The Qumran sectarians, at least some of whom rejected the second temple because they thought the priesthood was corrupt, seem to have adopted the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice because it tied angelic worship in the heavenly temple to a liturgy on earth which, presumably, the sectarians could and did practice and which gave them a "virtual" experience. Mr. Hayutman just has better technology.
ANOTHER ACADEMIC PANEL on Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ will be held this evening at Purdue University:
The director of the Jewish studies program knew in September that Mel Gibson�s film "The Passion of the Christ" was going to be a controversial topic.

Gordon Young, along with five other experts, will analyze some of the key issues that are raised in the film at 7:30 p.m. today in Class of 1950 Lecture Hall, Room 224.


Bob Bloom, film critic for the Journal and Courier, will be the moderator for the lecture. Zev Garber, professor of Jewish studies and philosophy at Los Angeles Valley College; Gordon Mork, professor of history; John Pawlikowski, professor of ethics and director of the Catholic-Jewish Studies Program at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago; Stuart Robertson, pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church and lecturer in biblical Hebrew and literatures; and Young, associate professor of ancient near eastern and Mediterranean history will present their lectures.


I wish that the local coverage of such events would include a summary article afterwards. This doesn't seem to happen very often and some of us would like to know what was said. Exponent reporters please take note.

Monday, March 29, 2004

MICHAEL SATLOW'S Jewish Marriage in Antiquity is reviewed by Steven Fine in the Jewish Studies Newsletter (scroll down to bottom). Excerpts:
Michael Satlow begins this hefty volume with the assertion that his title "is deliberately misleading." Satlow believes that his title misleads in its seeming concrete use of such terms as "Jewish," "marriage" and "Jewish marriage." Our author notes that this terminology is far more ambiguous than his title might suggest. He is certainly right. A book called "Rabbinic Perceptions of Jewish Marriage within their Literary and Greco-Roman Contexts" (or something like that) would, however, be far more clumsy-and sell far fewer books. Satlow's goal was not to provide a stodgy academic volume, however, but rather to have an effect upon the broader
culture. Satlow wants to show that "a scholarly study of the past [can] contribute to burning contemporary societal issues" (p. xiii). By showing how "Jewish groups in antiquity understood marriage, how they practiced it, and how they reconciled the messy realities of marriage with their ideals" (p. xvi) Satlow hopes to provide a more ambiguous model of marriage from the past to contemporary readers (particularly Jews).


Satlow's fundamental insight in this volume is that "there is nothing
essentially Jewish about Jewish" marriage in antiquity. He concludes that there "was no 'essence' of Jewish marriage, no single quality that must have been present for a marriage to be termed Jewish" (p. xvi). This conclusion is not surprising. Jews have always adapted to the times and places where they live. What is interesting about Satlow's book is that it carefully traces the early history of Jewish marriage from the Second Temple period up through the Rabbinic community. This was the formative period of Jewish marriage as we know it.


In reading through _Jewish Marriage in Antiquity_, I sense a tension between the author's desire to reach both a scholarly and a lay audience. The notes, by his own admission, are not complete, while at the same time, the well-written discussion is often far too technical for all but the most intrepid non-specialist. Still, as a scholar who esteems good writing, this book was a pleasure to read. Satlow's _Jewish Marriage in Antiquity_ is an important study of marriage within the Rabbinic communities of late antiquity. I highly recommend it.
WAS JESUS A REAL PERSON? According to Tom Harpur in The Pagan Christ (not listed by Amazon), the answer is no. See this Toronto Star review:
Tom Harpur would reject, outright, the philosophy behind the new Mel Gibson movie The Passion Of The Christ.

Gibson, the conservative Catholic movie director portrays the life of Christ literally from scripture and reads the Gospel narrative as actual history.

Harpur would find that indefensible.

He would also differ from many modern theologians such as Jesus Seminar members John Spong and Marcus Borg, who believe there was an actual Jesus of history.


Harpur, formerly the religion editor of the Toronto Star and author of many books on faith subjects, believes that originally there was one primal, central myth that emerged "undoubtedly" in Egypt. All the other ancient sacred stories flow from there.


Three virtually unknown authorities used by Harpur are Godfrey Higgins (1771-1834), an early English mythologist who, through groundbreaking studies of ancient writings, sought freedom from the exclusivism and dogmatism of Christianity; Gerald Massey (1828-1907), an American who studied Egyptian mythology and there discovered antecedents to images and themes appearing in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament; and Alvin Boyd Kuhn (1880-1963), another American, who pursued extensive academic research into the origins of religious symbols and meanings. His work, though esoteric to untrained eyes, convinced Harpur of the validity of Egyptian sources for much of what appears in the Christian scriptures.

Basing his ideas on these men, Harpur goes to great lengths to promote Horus (the son of Isis or Osiris) transforming him into Jesus, the central figure of Christianity. Horus, who receives but a paragraph of mention in the respected New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology (1968), becomes, for Harpur, the metaphorical and allegorical truth behind the person of Jesus.

Because of his research into ancient myth, Harpur feels he has undergone a spiritual re-awakening that has revolutionized his Christian faith. Because of its links to the great archetypal themes of primal and classic spirituality, the Bible has assumed new potency and vitality for him. Harpur believes he now possesses an awareness of the cosmic Christ he has so long sought.

Now far be it from me to dispute with Harpur about whether he's found an awareness of the cosmic Christ. But his ideas about the earthly Jesus aren't very persuasive and his enthusiastic use of nineteenth century sources to make his case doesn't enhance its credibility. The evidence for Jesus as an actual person who walked the earth in the early first century C.E. is very solid: not just the four Gospels, written within a generation or two of his lifetime, but also the letters of Paul and references in Josephus (one of which is, granted, problematic, but the other isn't) and Tacitus. I know of no living specialist in the historical Jesus who thinks Jesus didn't exist at all. Whether we can know much about what Jesus did or taught is quite another matter and I myself am pretty skeptical.

You can find Tom Harpur's website here. He seems to be really into spirituality, which is fine, but if he's going to talk about historical matters he needs to pay some attention to what historical-Jesus specialists have done in the last century and not try to reinvent the wheel.
ELDER AVRAHAM BRONSTEIN of Protocols reviews Rabbi Aaron Glatt's Women in the Talmud in Jewsweek:
The Talmud vs. Tiffany
A new book called Women in the Talmud leaves our reviewer with a warm and fuzzy feeling. But is that what the author intended?

Sunday, March 28, 2004

ON COLUMNIST CORRECTIONS in the New York Times (further to my comments on journalistic corrections in my anniversary post): Daniel Okrent, the public editor of the Times has a column on the subject today (via InstaPundit). Excerpts:
For the news pages, the rule is succinct. "Because its voice is loud and far-reaching," the paper's stylebook says, "The Times recognizes an ethical responsibility to correct all its factual errors, large and small (even misspellings of names), promptly and in a prominent reserved space in the paper." But on the page where The Times's seven Op-Ed columnists roam, there has long been no rule at all, or at least not one clearly elucidated and publicly promulgated. When I began in this job last fall, I was told The Times considered the space granted Op-Ed columnists theirs to use as they wish, subject only to the limits of legality, decency and publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr.'s patience. Columnists decided when to run corrections, and where in their columns to run them.

But several days ago, editorial page editor Gail Collins handed me a memo in response to my inquiries. (You can read it in its entirety at; look for posting No. 22.) Less a formal statute than an explanation and justification of practice, the document lays out the position of both Collins and her boss, Sulzberger, who bears ultimate responsibility for hiring and firing columnists. Collins explains why columnists must be allowed the freedom of their opinions, but insists that they "are obviously required to be factually accurate. If one of them makes an error, he or she is expected to promptly correct it in the column." Corrections, under this new rule, are to be placed at the end of a subsequent column, "to maximize the chance that they will be seen by all their readers, everywhere," a reference to the wide syndication many of the columnists enjoy.


Anyone who calls the Internet's bustling trade in columnist-attack a cottage industry might more accurately liken it to the arms bazaar in Peshawar. Peace and calm were not enhanced a few weeks ago when Times lawyers took a legal sledgehammer to an imaginary Op-Ed corrections column published by Robert Cox of the Web site The National Debate - but peace and calm rarely accompany arguments about political opinion in a polarized age.


In the coming months I expect columnist corrections to become a little more frequent and a lot more forthright than they've been in the past. Yet the final measure of Collins's success, and of the individual columnists, will be not in the corrections but in the absence of the need for them. Wayne Wren of Houston, a self-described conservative and "avid reader" of National Review Online, expressed it with great equanimity in a recent e-mail message to my office: "If Mr. Krugman is making egregious errors in his Op-Ed column, they will catch up with him." Same goes for Brooks, Dowd, Friedman, Herbert, Kristof and Safire - and, most important, for The New York Times.

You can find the memo here. This sounds like an improvement, although I still think it would be a good idea to put the correction (or at least a link to it) at the bottom of the original column when it's online. As I said before, Okrent is doing a good job. More power to him.
A VISIT TO BABYLON by a Miami Herald reporter:
4,000 years later, Babylon still magical


Special to The Herald

BAGHDAD - The word Babylon had a magical ring, and from Baghdad, fifty miles to the north, I could hear its toll beckoning.

My interpreter, Wada, arranged a driver to take us for the day for $50. The going rate for drivers was from $3 to $15, but Wada (wa-DAH) felt for his country's suffering masses and was on his own wealth redistribution campaign.


Past the Poles, the base spread in all directions. On a hill in the distance stands one of Saddam's many gauche palaces, which like most of the others, is now used by Coalition forces. Below the palace are the ruins, which you enter through a courtyard where a troupe of guides waits for visitors. Generally, it's not the best of times for Iraqi tourism, but with all the multinational soldiers, the guides have business. Mine was Hadi, a bespectacled archaeologist whose English was almost as incomprehensible as the ancient clay tablets with wedge-shaped writing scattered all over the site.

''The Gate of Ishtar!'' he announced. The gate is a 1980s replica -- the real one is in Berlin -- but, then, much of the place looks pretty Disney, only with real mice. Tall, yellow brick walls frame each of the rebuilt sections, and arched doorways opened onto freshly paved alleys and empty, echoing courtyards.

It was Saddam's idea to rebuild the ruins; deaf to the howls of UNESCO and archaeologists, in 1987 he committed $100 million to the project. The ancient bricks bore the inscription, ``I am Nebuchadnezzar II, the son of Nabopolassar. The god Marduk [Babylon's most revered god] ordered me to build this palace for his excellency.''

The new bricks say, ''Rebuilt in the age of Saddam Hussein, the leader of Iraq, the protector of civilizations, the descendant of Nebuchadnezzar.'' Saddam's effort to link himself with the ancient king was more propagandistic than delusional: The latter ruled a 1,000-mile empire that stretched all the way to the Mediterranean. And he had, of course, liberated Jerusalem from the Jews -- a message that his Arab audience, which tends to have a fresh memory of ancient history, would easily understand.


They constructed ziggurats, immense towers as platforms for their temples. The greatest of these ziggurats was a 300-foot structure called Etemenanki, ''the foundation of heaven and earth.'' Although there's little archaeological evidence -- the place marked as site itself is a just a pit in the ground -- some researchers suppose that this was the structure that the bedazzled and comparatively primitive Jews called the Tower of Babel.

''For the captives who were brought here from Jerusalem, it must have been like going from Des Moines to New York City,'' says Erle Leichty, curator emeritus of the Babylonian section of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (see sidebar).

It was probably not coincidental that the Jews wrote the Babylonian Talmud here. Babylonian legal codes started in 2100 BCE.