Wednesday, April 07, 2004

ARCHAEOLOGICA NEWS is back, as though it had never been gone. If its apparent disappearance was due to some glitch in my system, I have no idea what it was.

UPDATE (8 April): Jim West has e-mailed to assure me that the actually was down.
EAGLE VISION OF 4 EZRA: Here's a web page by Kevin P. Edgecomb which presents various interpretations of the wings in the Eagle vision, along with his judgment of the most likely interpretation for each. He prefers DiTommaso's reading. There are other things on his website that look interesting, including additional pages on the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha and more (but I haven't had time to look at most of it).
ARAMAIC WATCH: Rebecca Lesses notes a Ha'aretz article that I missed.
THERE'S A GILGAMESH MOVIE in the works. Omar Sharif is involved.
Omar Sherif regrets nothing in his life (Albawaba Middle East News)

A French television channel held internationally well-known Egyptian actor Omar Sherif as guest alongside with the Italian actress Monica Bellutchi [sic], star of the movie passion of the Christ, on one of its programs to talk about his career and personal life.


The latest activity for the international star is participating in a movie called [Gilgamesh] based on an ancient Iraqi myth. The movie is going to be filmed in the region of Warzazat in Morocco. Sheriff concluded that he doesn�t regret any silly movies he had done throughout his career, as well as any foolish acts in his real life.


Think he can get Monica to play Ishtar?

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

TORY MP ANN WIDDECOMBE LOSES THE PLOT: Mark Goodacre has noted her New Statesman article "Why the Jews are wrong", on Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, and commented on some of the rather serious problems in it. This paragraph also stands out to me (my emphasis):
If I thought there was a current of anti- Semitism in the film I would not take this attitude, but there is not. Short of pretending that the events took place somewhere other than the Holy Land and that the Sanhedrin was not a Jewish court, it is difficult to see how Gibson could give the Jews a fairer deal. He is much harsher on the Romans who, laughing and gloating, inflict the brutality; stresses that Christ himself was a Jew and omits from the subtitles the most damning line of all: "His blood be on us and on our children."

How about by leaving out the fantasy material from the Emmerich visions? And he could even have left out altogether that "most damning line of all" (most damning to whom?) from Matthew's Gospel, which almost certainly was made up by the writer of Matthew. (But it's in the Bible! How could he have left it out? Well, for starters, Mark, Luke, and John did.) As for the omitting of the subtitle, want to make any bets on how long it takes for the line to be added back in when the subtitles are retranslated into other languages? I haven't seen the movie yet and I don't know whether I'll think it's anti-Semitic, but I know that those two things are there.

Also, Ms. Widdecombe doesn't seen to have heard that the Vatican denies that the Pope said "It is as it was."

(Weirdly, the New Statesman site let me through to the article the first time I hit the link, but now it's demanding either a subscriber ID or some money. It just did the same thing with my other browser. Looks like you get one free shot at it per browser; make the most of it.)

UPDATE (7 April): Mark Goodacre replies:
On Jim's other point, about Catherine Emmerich's visions, I think the key question is whether the ones that are used are themselves anti-Jewish. In other words, was the film itself influenced by her anti-Semitism? William Fulco (translator and theological consultant) and Benedict Fitzgerald (co-screenwriter) emphatically deny this (see the blog entry on this). I think there may be grounds for their denial. I have recently begun reading Catherine Emmerich's Dolorous Passion and was particularly struck by the similarities and differences between her depiction and the film's depiction of Simon of Cyrene. It is clear that the film is influenced by Emmerich at this point, specifically Simon's exhorting the soldiers to leave Jesus alone, but crucially where Emmerich clearly depicts Simon as a pagan, Gibson insists that this heroic figure was a Jew

How about the following from the Beliefnet article linked to above?
Payment to people to come to courtyard
Bible references: Matthew 26:59-60
In the movie but not the Bible: In a very brief scene, money is seen changing hands, with the implication that people are being paid to testify against Jesus. This probably refers to Matthew 26, which says "The chief priests and the entire Sanhedrin kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus in order to put him to death." But no money is mentioned in the gospels.

Other sources: "The Dolorous Passion" says "The High Priests now sent for those whom they knew to be the most bitterly opposed to Jesus, and desired them to assemble the witnesses ...The proud Sadducees ...whom Jesus had so often reproved before the people, were actually dying for revenge. They hastened to all the inns to seek out those persons whom they knew to be enemies of our Lord, and offered them bribes in order to secure their appearance."

Also, what about that episode where Jesus is thrown off the bridge by the crowd who arrested him (which crowd, according to the Gospels, came from the Jewish chief priests and elders [e.g., Mark 14:43])?

Mark (Goodacre) also says he couldn't hear the blood libel line from Matthew in the movie. As I said, I haven't seen it yet; I was going by what all the reports said. If they are wrong, someone please correct me. If it's there at all, even if it can't be heard very well, some other translator is likely to know about it and add the subtitle.

UPDATE: Aramaist Ed Cook e-mails:
With reference to your note, "Mark also says he couldn't hear the blood libel line from Matthew in the movie." I heard it; Caiaphas speaks it, in Aramaic, in the middle of a throng yelling "Let him be crucified!" (yitstalev), so it's easy to miss. There was no subtitle. Do the foreign versions make their translations from the English subtitles (as I think likely) or do they translate them directly from the soundtrack? If the latter, do they include some of the Latin by-play among the soldiers at the scourging, which also wasn't subtitled?

As far as I know there are no translations of the subtitles yet. When someone gets around to them I don't know how they will proceed. I am just confident that if ideological anti-Semites know that the blood libel line is there in the Aramaic, they will be sure to include in their translation, no matter what the English subtitles say.

Incidentally, if it's Caiaphas saying the line, that's an important departure from Matthew 27:25, which has "all the people" saying it. Instead of being an impulsive cry by a riotous crowd, it becomes a statement by the high priest himself.

UPDATE: Mark Goodacre comments on my updates of today. I think I'll just summarize my point in response to Widdecombe: Gibson could have "give[n] the Jews a fairer deal" by not adding Emmerich's embellishments that show Jews bribing witnesses and brutalizing Jesus beyond the NT descriptions and by leaving out the blood libel line from Matthew. As to whether that line gets translated in new subtitles, no one would be happier than I to have my fears turn out to be groundless. If anyone sees a version with translated subtitles, please let me know what it does with Caiaphas' line.
Grammar God!
You are a GRAMMAR GOD!

If your mission in life is not already to
preserve the English tongue, it should be.
Congratulations and thank you!

How grammatically sound are you?
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The Aramaic tongue too!
ANOTHER DISTURBING REPORT on responses to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ in the Arab world is found in "Mel Gibson: Arab world messiah" in Salon today. If you're not a subscriber, you have to watch a brief ad to access the article. Excerpt:
In Lebanon, says As'ad AbuKhalil, a California State University professor of political science, the movie "is playing to great reviews. It was screened for the Lebanese president, who rendered a very strong verdict in favor. He attributed all the controversy to Zionist conspiracy. It was also screened for the Maronite Christian patriarch in Lebanon, who also gave it rave reviews. The verdict has been very positive uniformly. Newspapers are covering the controversy and using it to indicate Zionist intimidation."

Gibson's American partisans have denied that his sanguinary passion play works, even inadvertently, as anti-Jewish propaganda. In the Middle East, though, just a few miles from the scene of the crime, audiences are interpreting the movie much like the Denver preacher whose church sign declared, "Jews Killed the Lord Jesus." With its claims of historical truth, "The Passion," which portrays a weary Pontius Pilate coerced into brutality against Jesus by a vicious, fawning cabal of hook-nosed Jewish priests, is being taken as further evidence of the Jews' elemental cruelty.

"This is an injection of medieval anti-Semitism, and not only in the U.S.," AbuKhalil says of the film. "The judgment of this movie should not be confined to whether this is going to result in anti-Jewish manifestations around American movie theaters but, more importantly, whether this movie will inject classic medieval anti-Semitism into world public opinion."

Despite the rabid Judeophobia of many Muslim fundamentalists, medieval anti-Semitism is an uneasy fit with Islamic doctrine. For Muslims, of course, Jesus isn't the Lord, and, according to the Quran, Jews didn't kill him. In Islamic doctrine, Jesus, a prophet, wasn't crucified at all -- it only seemed that way. "They said, 'We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah' -- but they killed him not, nor crucified him. But so it was made to appear to them," says the Quran.

Yet now, thanks at least in part to Gibson, the ancient calumny that Jews are Christ killers is gaining currency even among people who don't believe that Christ was killed.

Monday, April 05, 2004

HAPPY PASSOVER, which begins tonight at sundown. Biblical passages that describe the precepts for Passover include Exodus 12 and Exodus 23:15 and Leviticus 23:5-8 and Numbers 9:1-14 and Deuteronomy 16:1-8 and Ezekiel 45:21-25.
THE TIBERIAS EXCAVATION has recovered more goodies, including the ruins of a perfume workshop:
More treasures found in Tiberias
Ancient Tiberias' nickname of the "treasured city" was further justified when the remains of a perfume workshop and store were discovered at an archaeological dig in the area yesterday. Among the findings were a stone used for crushing plants, a clay pitcher, a small clay bottle, and a small bronze spoon, all of which apparently date back to the ninth century. Weizman Institute researchers are to visit the site today to shed light on which perfumes were in fact produced there. (Eli Ashkenazi)

(Ha'aretz via Explorator.)
Committee decries lack of archaeological supervision on Temple Mount (Jerusalem Post)

The non-partisan 'Committee Against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount' on Sunday both privately and publicly decried the ongoing lack of archaeological supervision at the Jerusalem holy site.

THE CRUCIFIED MAN is the subject of a Reuter's article:
Jewish remains give clues on crucifixion
Mon 5 April, 2004 02:30

By Megan Goldin

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The graphic portrayal of the crucifixion of Jesus in Mel Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ" has brought the ancient world's execution method of choice in all its horror to the big screen.

Jesus is the best known victim of crucifixion. But thousands of other Jews were put to death on the cross by the Romans, trying to quash Jewish rebellions in the Holy Land in the first century.

Yet strangely the remains of only one victim have ever been found. He was Yehohanan Ben Hagkol, a Jewish man whose heel bone, excavated by archaeologists near Jerusalem in 1968, still had a nail embedded in it.

"It is the only case ever found in the world where there is indisputable evidence of crucifixion," said Joe Zias, a physical anthropologist who examined the remains of Yehohanan Ben Hagkol.

"We've looked at thousands of skeletons in Jerusalem. Some were decapitated. Others were mutilated. But we've never found another one that was crucified."


UPDATE: Mark Goodacre has an interesting comment on the confident assertion (one that I've made myself) that the nails must have gone through the wrists rather than the palms:
I understand the anatomical point here, but if victims could be tied, might they not also have been nailed through the palms of the hands? Is the anatomical point the only one in favour of nailing through the wrists and if so, would not the possibility of victims being tied partly negate that? I wonder whether those filmic depictions of Jesus being nailed through the wrists (from The Day That Christ Died in 1980 onwards) are as much influenced by the Turin Shroud as by the anatomical evidence, not least given the fact that interest in the Shroud was intensifying in this period.

This is a good point. One minor argument against it would be the pain factor: getting a nail through the palm would be painful enough, but getting it through the wrist, where there is a major nerve, would be unbearably excruciating and would have produced more exemplary screams of agony for the locals to think about. The Romans seemed to have refined torture to an art and I doubt that they would have missed this point. Also, the struggles of a crucified person (Can we safely say "man?" Is there any evidence that women were ever crucified?) might tear the palms loose even if tied (which, of course, might have been regarded as adding to the spectacle), while the wrist would have stayed firmly anchored no matter what. Still, who knows?

The article raises another question in my mind. It mentions the truism that crucified bodies are hard to come by these days in part because the nails used to crucify someone were used as amulets. Can anyone tell me what the evidence for this is? I can't remember any references to crucifixion nails in the Greek Magical Papyri, although I may just have forgotten them. And I just checked the materias list in Morgan's translation of Sepher HaRazim and they are not listed. Where are there references to crucifixion nails as amulets?

UPDATE: Arne Halbakken e-mails:
Today you blogged, "Is there any evidence that women were ever crucified?"

I'm assuming you are thinking of literary evidence and not physical evidence.

Hengel's Crucifixion, p. 36, cites Eusebius 5. 1. 41, "...suspended on a stake, she was exposed as food to wild beasts. To look at her, as she hung cross-wise..." in reference to "...the slave girl Blandin during the persecution of Christians in Lyons."

I believe that there is another reference that Hengel made but I don't have time to look it up at the moment.

You also blogged, "It mentions the truism that crucified bodies are hard to come by these days in part because the nails used to crucify someone were used as amulets. Can anyone tell me what the evidence for this is?"

Hengel, p. 32, wrote, "Pliny the Elder, Historia Naturalis 28.36, and the witch in Lucan, De Bello Civili 6.543f. 547, know of of the magical use of nails and bonds employed at a crucifixion."

He also points me to Joe Zias's "Crucifixion in Antiquity" article, which has additional information from rabbinic texts on the crucifixion of women and the magical use of crucifixion nails.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

THE OPERA SUSANNAH, based on the addition to Daniel in the Apocrypha, has opened in Rochester:
'Susannah' opens at Eastman (Rochester Democrat & Chronicle)

By John Pitcher
Staff music critic

(April 2, 2004) � One of the longest running hits in the history of American opera is on stage at the Eastman Theatre, and it�s helping the Eastman Opera Theatre close out its 2003-04 season on a glorious high note.

Carlisle Floyd�s Susannah, which opened Thursday, is a little opera � at a mere two hours it�s positively bite-sized by opera standards � but it�s a miraculous one that packs an enormous emotional punch. It boasts some of the most complex and memorable characters in the entire opera repertoire, and its melodies are as sweet and lyrical as any composed by Puccini.

Floyd based his opera on the apocryphal biblical story of Susannah and the Elders, updating and Americanizing it by setting it in a fictional Bible Belt town called New Hope Valley, Tenn. Susannah is a genuinely good and spirited teenager who lives in the mountains with her older brother, Sam, a sweet and passive drunkard that Floyd describes as an �uncomprehended poet and recluse.�

EARLY RESPONSES to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ in Europe are summarized in "Gibson film stirs Euro passions" (Toronto Star). It's too long to excerpt properly, but here's something on France. Spain, Germany, Britain, Ireland, and Italy are also discussed.
But one thing is certain: Gibson's movie continues to arouse passions in Europe � and nowhere more so than in France, where a war of words has broken out between Tarak Ben Ammar, the film's distributor, and Marin Karmitz, a high-profile figure in the art house cinema business.

Karmitz refused to program Passion in his MK2 chain of theatres and publicly denounced the film as "fascist propaganda" for its supposed depiction of barbarity as spectacle, its "revisionist" take on history and its allegedly anti-Semitic representation of Jews.

Ben Ammar, whose newly formed Quinta Distribution releases the movie this week, hit back forcefully. "This is not a fascist movie. On the contrary � 50 million people have seen the film so far; I don't think they're all fascists," says Ben Ammar, a Tunisia-born Muslim. Quinta has screened the movie in France to Holocaust survivors and prominent Jewish leaders. "Not one said it was anti-Semitic," Ben Ammar adds.

French distributors held Gibson's opus at arm's length from the outset. By the time of the film's U.S. release, France was the only major territory for which the picture had not been acquired.


Then up popped Ben Ammar, who cited his Muslim faith and his credits as producer on several biblical projects � including everything from Franco Zeffirelli's 1977 miniseries Jesus Of Nazareth to Monty Python's Life Of Brian (1979) � as giving him the legitimacy to handle Passion.

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.