Saturday, April 10, 2004

THE SHROUD OF TURIN is the subject of a rather disappointing National Geographic article. Disappointing because it mostly presents allegedly positive evidence in its favor and fails to interview specialists in ancient history and anthropology who find it to be a fake. For a more balanced recent article, see this USA Today piece. Excerpt from the latter:
But experts expressed surprise that anyone considers the shroud anything more than a faked Renaissance relic.

"I am utterly unconvinced by these new charges," says Harvard's Joseph Greene. "They are not the results of serious scholarship."

Joe Zias of Hebrew University of Jerusalem calls the shroud indisputably a fake. "Not only is it a forgery, but it's a bad forgery."

Zias says the shroud depicts a man whose front measures 2 inches taller than his back and whose elongated hands and arms would indicate he was afflicted with gigantism if it were real.

Friday, April 09, 2004

FRANCIS DEBLAUWE runs The 2003 Iraq War & Archaeology website, which has been providing countless updates for more than a year on the ongoing status of antiquities in Iraq. He has been doing it on his own time and for free. He has now e-mailed the following to the IraqCrisis list:
Dear all,

I'll try to keep it short. �My Mac computer which is the hub of all my activities is broken irrepairably. Luckily, I have backups. �However, as I have no institutional affiliation, I'll have to buy a new Macintosh myself which I can't afford right now. �Therefore, the 2003 Iraq War & Archaeology site has gone on indefinite hiatus. �The site will not be updated for the foreseeable future. �I'm sorry but that's the way it is.

Thanks to everyone who has supported me in my Iraq endeavors.


Francis Deblauwe

Follow the link for the PayPal account for his website. The more people who stop by and make a contribution, the sooner he'll be back. I've just done it. Your turn.
TODAY IS GOOD FRIDAY. You can read the Gospel accounts of the Passion of Jesus in Matthew 26-27; Mark 14-15; Luke 22-23; and John 18-19. Note also Paul's account of the Last Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.
ARAMAIC WATCH: The exhibition Jewish Life in Ancient Egypt: A Family Archive From the Nile Valley, dealing with the Aramaic Elephantine papyri from the fifth century B.C.E., is showing at the Skirbal Cultural Center in Los Angeles. The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles has the story:
New Tales From a Post-Exodus Egypt

by Naomi Pfefferman, Arts & Entertainment Editor

Now that we�ve just finished two seders celebrating our escape from Egypt, a new exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center demonstrates that not every Jew got out of Egypt � or wanted to.

�Jewish Life in Ancient Egypt: A Family Archive From the Nile Valley,� revolves around 2,500-year-old papyrus scrolls from a cache of hundreds unearthed on Elephantine Island � the oldest extra-biblical evidence of Jews in Mitzrayim.


�Jewish Life� comes alive through the remarkable, Aramaic-language scrolls, which describe a Jewish community on lush Elephantine 800 years after the biblical exodus. Apparently there were no hard feelings, because these people were descendants of Jews who had voluntarily returned to Egypt after the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. While elite Jews were forced into exile in Babylonia, many soldiers and common folk relocated to Egypt, which proved to be a multicultural mecca, not an anti-Semitic hellhole, according to the exhibit.

The core of the show is eight legal documents that belonged to an interfaith family in the fifth century B.C.E, when the religiously tolerant Persians ruled Egypt. The papyri tell of Ananiah, an official at the Temple of Yahou (a.k.a. Yahweh), and his wife, Tamut, who, in a twist on the haggadah story, was an Egyptian slave owned by a Jewish master, Meshullam (he allowed her to marry and to own property, per the custom of the day).

ARAMAIC WATCH: Semitic philologist Seth Sanders weighs in on Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Here's an excerpt from his "Sightings" column, "Mystically Correct," on the Martin Marty Center website:
Contemporary texts paint a bracingly cosmopolitan linguistic picture of first-century C.E. Jerusalem: Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek, with two of the three sometimes together, are inscribed all over the city. Latin was a foreign language, found in names and official terms but alien to speech. Jonas Greenfield, the great Aramaist from whom Fulco and I learned, compared the synagogues of Jerusalem to those of the old Lower East Side: both were packed with diaspora Jews, moving from language to language to find a common tongue.

This is not what the philologist hears in the film. The problem is not that the Aramaic is tainted with Hebrew-mixture is what readers of Galilean inscriptions, the Palestinian Talmud, or early Midrashic texts like Genesis Rabbah would expect. Nor is it that the actual dialogue sometimes sounds like it's read by first-year students -- this is probably about as well as actors can manage. The problem is the pretense of purity: the presentation of the languages of Palestine as Aramaic, on the one hand, and Latin, on the other.

What's behind this? Why does the movie represent a linguistically hybrid reality "in" one language -- and why Aramaic? Christological Aramaic is an old theological project. Dating at least as far back as Johann Albrecht von Widmanstadt's 1555 translation of the Syriac New Testament into Latin, the tradition claims that Aramaic (not Hebrew or Greek) is the key not merely to Jesus' cultural background, but to his ipsissima verba, and thus an unmediated experience of him. The attempt to paint the "Semitic" background of the New Testament as exclusively Aramaic, and Hebrew as a moribund, strictly liturgical language, corresponds to a theological polemic against Judaism as a "dead" religion serving the "letter of the law," not its living spirit.

Read it all.

UPDATE (18 April): More here.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

ALTERNATE HISTORY IN THE NEWS: I'm currently writing chapter three of my book, which chapter deals with some alternate history themes, so it was very interesting to me to see that the Guardian has been dealing with the subject recently. Both articles came to my attention from posts (here and here) on the Alternate History list. First, there's an extract from a new book of alternate history essays (Andrew Roberts [ed.], What Might Have Been [Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004]):
What if Thatcher had died at Brighton?

In his contribution to a new book of alternative histories, Simon Heffer imagines how different things might have been had the IRA bombers succeeded in killing the prime minister in Brighton in October 1984

I have considerable reservations about this essay, and my reasons get at the heart of the problem with alternate history as usually practiced. Heffer starts with a plausible premise - that Thatcher might have been killed in the Brighton bombing - and then goes on to speculate on what might have happened afterwards. As he gets farther from the point of departure from our reality, his speculations become more and more unlikely, not because of any carelessness, but rather because in the nature of things the reasonable possible outcomes multiply. There's a scientific basis for skepticism about this kind of speculation: chaos theory, which deals with "classical" (i.e., non-quantum) physical systems, shows that such systems, of which "history" is a particularly complicated example, are "sensitively dependent on initial conditions." This feature is also known as the "butterfly effect": the flapping of the wings of a butterfly on one side of the planet can generate a hurricane on the other side. So if Thatcher had been killed in 1984, the initial conditions of that moment would have received a substantial kick in a direction we could not know, because we couldn't know those initial conditions perfectly (by knowing the position of every atomic particle on earth or in the solar system and how her death rearranged them). That means the initial change would soon lead off in directions we couldn't possibly guess. Put simply: we can be sure that the world of Thatcher dying in the Brighton bombing would be quite different from our world, but we couldn't possibly know in which specific ways it would be different.

Obviously, that doesn't mean I think alternate history is a waste of time, or I wouldn't be writing this chapter. Alternate history can be salvaged and used for some interesting purposes by applying a number of methodological controls. Niall Ferguson in his book Virtual Worlds has suggested that the only alternate historical scenarios that should be explored are those actually suggested as future possibilities by contemporaries of the events (on the grounds that they at least seemed plausible to people who were there at the time). This is a useful limitation, but extrapolating even from plausible alternatives still runs up against the butterfly effect. It's more useful to concentrate on exploring factors that could have led to alternate histories, concentrating on the point of departure itself rather than on futile attempts to extrapolate from that point into an alternate future. (This is largely the approach of Geoffrey Hawthorn in his book Plausible Worlds.) Another viable approach is to construct a plausible stretch of alternate history (without implying that it is an inevitable result of the point of departure) and then compare it to the same stretch of our history to see what we can learn. This last approach is the one I'm using in my book.

Back to the Guardian. Second, there is a review essay by Tristram Hunt on Roberts's book. My comments are interspersed.
Pasting over the past

Far from being a harmless intellectual pursuit, 'what if' history is pushing a dangerous rightwing agenda

Tristram Hunt
Wednesday April 7, 2004
The Guardian

Citing as their inspiration the Gwyneth Paltrow character in the film Sliding Doors, a ragged bunch of rightwing historians have clubbed together to issue a new compendium of "what if" essays. Conrad Black, a man facing a few counter-factuals of his own, asks: what if the Japanese had not attacked Pearl Harbor? David Frum, the former Bush speech-writer, wonders: what if Al Gore had won the 2000 presidential election (I thought he did). And John Adamson indulges the dream of Cambridge dons down the centuries: what if Charles I had won the English civil war?

This paragraph sets an unfortunate tone for the whole article. The phrase "ragged bunch of rightwing historians" stands out. Yes, they're right wing, and I suppose that more than two or three of them might be considered a "bunch," but why "ragged?" What exactly is ragged about them? This borders on the personal, if you ask me. (No, I'm not serious, but the rhetoric begs to be made fun of.)
EH Carr dismissed such whimsical exercises as a red herring worthy not of scholarly pursuit but an idle "parlour game". Characteristically EP Thompson went one stage further, dismissing "counter-factual fiction" as "unhistorical shit". Both pointed to the futility of pondering multiple variables in the past and the logical problem of assuming all other conditions remained constant. But despite their warnings, the thirst for virtual history remains undimmed. And while Carr was right to dismiss them as an amusing pastime, behind the light-hearted maybes lurk more uncomfortable historical and political agendas.

I think I agree with the third sentence, but I wish he had expanded on it. It sounds like it has some promising thoughts that would engage with and criticize alternate history.
The conservatives who contribute to this literature portray themselves as battling against the dominant but floored ideologies of Marxist and Whig history. Such analyses of the past, they say, never allow for the role of accident and serendipity. Instead, the past is presented as a series of milestones in an advance towards communism or liberal democracy. It is the calling of these modern iconoclasts to reintroduce the crooked timber of humanity back into history.

Hmmm . . . I'd have to see exactly what these "conservatives" are saying and who they're interacting with before I could say whether I agree with them. It is certainly a valid point that evolutionary models of history don't work. Karl Popper has written some of the best work on this issue. See his The Poverty of Historicism and The Open Society and Its Enemies. But I wouldn't say that evolutionary models are dominant in the history I read. One does have to keep an eye out for them, because they do get slipped in by the back door at times.
The unfortunate truth is that, rather than constituting a rebel grouping, "what if" history is eerily close to the mainstream of modern scholarship. The past 20 years has witnessed a brutal collapse in what was once called social history. The rigorous, data-based study of class, inequality, work patterns and gender relations has fallen away in the face of cultural history and post-modern inquiry.


This is not my field, but I'll register some skepticism about how objective the study of class, inequality, work patterns, and gender relations has been or is likely to be. It may well draw on a large pool of data and it may examine that date rigorously by the light of its methods, but such studies are also very much driven by ideologies. Nothing wrong with that as long as the ideological orientation is laid out clearly to start with, but let's not kid ourselves that this sort of history is more objective than other kinds.
Research into structures and processes, along with a search for explanation, is overshadowed by histories of understanding and meaning. In many cases this has led to a declining emphasis on the limitations that social context - class status, economic prospects, family networks - can place on the historical role of the individual. Instead, what we are offered in the postmodern world of contingency and irony is a series of biographical discourses in which one narrative is as valid as another. One history is as good as another and with it the blurring of factual, counter-factual and fiction. All history is "what if" history.

I can't really say what's been going on in modern history. In ancient history there has been some really interesting recent work on the contingency of our historical conclusions about ancient texts and their susceptibility to multiple interpretations, not only during the course of their transmission, but even by their original authors and audiences. Derrida and Foucault feed into this approach, but reader-response criticism and intertextuality are more influential. I more or less agree that all history is "what-if history," if by that we mean that a shift in our understanding of the conditions surrounding a text or an artifact can change our understanding of that text or artifact quite a lot. I see this as making our history more objective by showing how much we don't know and forcing us to confront the real (alarmingly wide) range of possible historical readings of such data from antiquity as we have. The best example of this approach I've seen is Maxine Grossman's Reading for History in the Damascus Document, which anyone interested in using ancient texts for historical reconstruction should read.

None of this, of course, precludes research into structures and process or a search for explanations.
No doubt, new right legionaries such as Andrew Roberts and Simon Heffer would be appalled to be in the distinguished company of those postmodern bogeymen, Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. And they have partly atoned for their sins with a traditional Tory emphasis on the role of great men in history. For "what if" versions of the past posit the powerful individual at the heart of their histories: it is a story of what generals, presidents and revolutionaries did or did not do. The contribution of bureaucracies, ideas or social class is nothing to the personal fickleness of Josef Stalin or the constitution of Franz Ferdinand.


The problem with the "great man" theory is that history is so sensitive to initial conditions that lots of other things (such as butterflies' wings) can have a great influence on it. Bureaucracies, social classes, and at least some ideas are bigger entities that are harder to push out of the way. But butterflies' wings sometimes give an awfully big push. That said, "'what if' versions of the past" are not in any way required to start with a powerful individual.
But it is surely the interaction between individual choices and historical context which is what governs the events of the past. As Karl Marx put it: "People make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given, and transmitted from the past."

This is quite right, but needs some nuancing. The problem with Marx is that he thought historical circumstances could be quantified into laws that predicted the evolutionary course of history to a particular end. Individual choices are constantly being buffeted by choices by other individuals; by larger physical constraints such as locust plagues, the size of invading or defending armies, good and bad harvests, and hard winters; and by butterflies' wings. And if there are laws governing how the mix turns out, we don't know what they are and I have my doubts whether it's possible even in principle for us to know them.
Moreover, as Professor Richard Evans has noted, in this work there is as much a sense of "if only" as "what if". This is history as wishful thinking, providing little insight into the decision-making processes of the past, but pointing up preferable alternatives and lamenting their failure to come to pass. Hence the focus on Charles I's victory and Britain's decision to sit out the world wars. The late Alan Clark enjoyed charting the consequences of Britain making peace with Hitler in 1940 and managing to retain the empire.

I haven't read the book so I can't comment on whether there's wishful thinking in it or not. I don't see any particular wishfulness in the essay by Heffer on Thatcher, and I'm not sure why a right-wing writer would want Thatcher dead in 1984. On the contrary, he seems quite relieved that she survived. But maybe this essay is just an exception to Dr. Hunt's generalization. In any case, I really don't see what the authors' wishes have to do with the validity of their alternate history. If it's well constructed, it could be illuminating, whatever scenario it explores. If not, well, it won't be. And if you go back and reread the first paragraph of this article, you'll see that Dr. Hunt has his own wishes about how history should have gone, so I'm not sure he's in a position to criticize.
But "what if" history poses just as insidious a threat to present politics as it does to a fuller understanding of the past. It is no surprise that progressives rarely involve themselves, since implicit in it is the contention that social structures and economic conditions do not matter. Man is, we are told, a creature free of almost all historical constraints, able to make decisions on his own volition. According to Andrew Roberts, we should understand that "in human affairs anything is possible".
First, I can't fathom how Dr. Hunt could regard the publication of the book, or the idea of alternate history in general, as an insidious threat to present politics. I would hope present politics are more robust than that. Second, it sounds to me if as he's saying that his "progressives" avoid alternate history because they think that social structures and economic conditions impose deterministic constraints. Well, I suppose it's true that they do sometimes, as do various other factors (as above), including butterflies' wings. But although these conditions may limit the range of possible outcomes, they don't determine them and their limitation factor does not preclude the usefulness of alternate history as a tool. The only way they could do that is if social or economic factors determined the outcome through inexorable laws of history that we can know and can apply to predict the future. They don't, and if some people think they do, then it's they who are indulging in wishful thinking.
What this means is there is both little to learn from the potentialities of history, and there is no need to address injustices because of their marginal influence on events. And without wishing to be over-determinist, it is not hard to predict the political intention of such a reactionary and historically redundant approach to the past.

If Roberts & Co. are saying that that there are no constraints on historical outcomes, obviously they're wrong. But if they're saying that constraints that we can see in operation work only on the grossest and most general level and that usually history is unpredictable, they're right. But alternate history is about exploring the potentialities of history, so it can hardly be said that alternate historians see little to learn from them.

I don't understand the statement "there is no need to address injustices because of their marginal influence on events." Injustices need to be addressed in life because they're unjust. Injustices need to be addressed in history because, in fairness to the victims, they should be recorded, and because sometimes we can get ideas from past injustices on how to avoid future ones.

As for the last sentence, I take it he means that the political intention of alternate history is reactionary, rightwing legionary, conservative, nonprogressive, etc. I don't think at all that he has shown this to be the case. Maybe it's true for the particular book in question but it isn't true intrinsically for alternate history. And if it were, so what? It could still be evaluated on its own terms for whatever contribution it makes. It's not as though Dr. Hunt is shy about expressing his political views (and you don't have to be a determinist to figure out what they are). Does that nullify the value of his books on history? Of course not.

I think Dr. Hunt is guilty of excessive generalization in this essay. He criticizes alternate history as though it could be identified perfectly with what he finds in this book. Again, I don't know whether I would agree with his reading of the book, since I haven't seen it myself (I probably should order it), but I can say that much of what he finds fault with is not inherent in alternate history.
FINANCIAL TROUBLES over the From the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Forbidden Book exhibition:
Injunction issued on scroll exhibit (Akron Beacon Journal)

Trustee temporarily will run Akron display while litigation is ironed out

Beacon Journal staff report

The show's going on, but the behind-the-scenes fight over the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit in downtown Akron ratcheted up on Wednesday.

A federal bankruptcy judge issued a temporary injunction that put a trustee in charge of the exhibit at the John S. Knight Center.

That won't mean anything for visitors who troop to the convention center to see the priceless scroll fragments and other artifacts that depict how the Bible came to be.

But it did cheer a Tennessee physician who is suing his former business partners, Bath Township millionaire collector Bruce Ferrini and California antiquities expert Lee Biondi, over alleged financial improprieties for the traveling exhibit.

``I'm just thrilled,'' said Dr. William Noah. ``I've been in court for three months trying to get the bills paid.''


A week after the show closed at its first venue in Dallas, Noah filed a civil suit in District Court in Akron alleging that almost $400,000 he invested in the company could not be accounted for and that bills in Dallas hadn't been paid.


Ferrini and Biondi have called Noah a ``jealous Scroll wannabe'' who ran an earlier show into financial ruin.
Nazareth reenactment avoids controversy


NAZARETH, Israel -- Roman soldiers bearing torches and spears emerged from an olive grove, shoving and kicking a stumbling Jesus in a Passion play in his boyhood town, starring a local construction worker.

Wary of allegations that Mel Gibson's film, "The Passion of the Christ," unfairly portrays Jews as the driving force behind Jesus' crucifixion, organizers say their Easter Week reenactment is not about blame.

The outdoor performances by local Arab Christians and volunteers from the United States and Europe take place in Nazareth Village - a life-size replica of a first century farming village built with the help of archaeologists and biblical scholars on a hill above modern Nazareth.

The reenactments, which began last week and continue through Saturday, emphasize the betrayal by one of Jesus' disciples, Judas, and the brutal treatment at the hands of the Roman soldiers.

"It's really important for people to understand that this is the culmination of the life of a man who gave himself for reconciliation. It's not about condemnation," said Michael Hostetler, director of Nazareth Village.


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?
brought to you by Quizilla

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.