Saturday, April 17, 2004

WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE BIBLE TRANSLATION? Brian Lewis at The Tennessean wants to know:
Briefly: What's your favorite Bible translation?

The Holman Christian Standard Bible was released this past week by Nashville-based Bible publisher Holman Bible Publishers. It's the culmination of a 20-year project and joins a very crowded field of Bible translations.

We want to know what your favorite version of Scripture is, whether it's the King James or NIV or other version. We're looking to hear not just from preachers, but also everyday people on which one works best for you and why.

E-mail your thoughts on your favorite renderings of the Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic texts to religion reporter Brian Lewis at, fax 259-8093 or put it in the mail to him at Brian Lewis, The Tennessean, 1100 Broadway, Nashville TN 37203.

MORE SCANDAL BREWING for the From the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Forbidden Book exhibition in Akron Ohio:
Scroll exhibit backer arrested

Art collector Bruce Ferrini posts bond after being accused of violating decree

By Jim Carney

[Akron] Beacon Journal staff writer

The man who brought the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit to Akron was arrested Wednesday by the U.S. Marshals Service.

Bruce Ferrini was taken into custody for willful contempt of court, posted a $10,000 bond and was released from federal custody Wednesday afternoon.

Ferrini, a Bath Township art collector, was found in contempt of an April 7 order that he stop interfering with a trustee's operation of the exhibit -- From the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Forbidden Book -- that runs through Sunday at the John S. Knight Center in downtown Akron. The exhibit was put together by William Noah, a Tennessee physician, California antiquities expert Lee Biondi and Ferrini.


That was on 14 April. Then there's this today, which gives more information about what's going on:
Artifacts' ownership at issue

Court must determine who owns what, divide gift shop sales profits

By Stephen Dyer

Beacon Journal staff writer


The exhibit was put together last year by three men -- Ferrini, California antiquities expert Lee Biondi and Tennessee doctor William Noah.

Earlier this year, Noah filed suit in Akron against Ferrini and Biondi, claiming HisStory LLC -- the company created to handle the traveling exhibit -- couldn't account for the nearly $400,000 he invested in it.

In a separate action in February -- even before the show opened here -- three creditors from the Dallas show, claiming unpaid bills, filed court papers in Akron, forcing HisStory LLC into bankruptcy.

The U.S. Bankruptcy Court subsequently appointed a trustee to handle the corporation's affairs and oversee the exhibit, which began here April 7.

Ferrini was banned from participating in the exhibit. But he didn't stay away. When he showed up at the show earlier this week, U.S. marshals were called.

Ferrini was arrested for contempt of court for his refusal to leave the exhibition site, the John S. Knight Center. He posted a $10,000 bond and avoided jail.

[U.S. District Judge John] Adams said Friday that the exhibition's lack of written documentation of who owns what amazed him, especially given the money and valuables involved.


One of the people who loaned items to the exhibit is a colorful character:
[Craig] Lampe -- he identified himself in court Friday as a father of 26 children with a doctorate in genetics -- is a hunter of ancient Bibles and is from Arizona. He runs the Bible Museum, a collection of rare Bibles on permanent display in a Hampton Inn & Suites in Goodyear, Ariz.

Unfortunately, the Akron Beacon Journal now requires a free, but rather intrusive, registration. But I'll try to follow the story here and make what sense of it I can.

Ceresko, Anthony R.
Prophets and Proverbs: More Studies in Old Testament Poetry and Biblical Religion
Reviewed by Chris Franke

Dieckmann, Detlef
Segen f�r Isaak: Eine rezeptions�sthetische Auslegung von Gen 26 und Kontexten
Reviewed by Thomas Hieke

Fitzgerald, Aloysius
The Lord of the East Wind
Reviewed by Mark McEntire

Otto, Eckart
Die Tora des Mose: Die Geschichte der literarischen Vermittlung von Recht
Reviewed by Mark Wade Hamilton

Gathercole, Simon J.
Where Is Boasting?: Early Jewish Soteriology and Paul's Response in Romans 1-5
Reviewed by James P. Sweeney

Lapham, F.
Peter: The Myth, the Man, and the Writings
Reviewed by Tobias Nicklas

L�demann, Gerd
Paul: The Founder of Christianity
Reviewed by Michael Kaler

Reinhartz, Adele
Befriending the Beloved Disciple: A Jewish Reading of the Gospel of John
Reviewed by Jeffrey S. Siker

Charlesworth, James H. and Michael A. Daise, eds.
Light in a Spotless Mirror: Reflections on Wisdom Traditions in Judaism
and Early Christianity
Reviewed by Raymond C. Van Leeuwen

Heger, Paul
The Pluralistic Halakhah: Legal Innovations in the Late Second Commonwealth and Rabbinic Periods
Reviewed by Charlotte Fonrobert

Kalimi, Isaac
Early Jewish Exegesis and Theological Controversy: Studies in Scriptures in the Shadow of Internal and External Controversies
Reviewed by Mayer I. Gruber

Friday, April 16, 2004

THE ANNIVERSARY OF THE LOOTING OF THE BAGHDAD MUSEUM (9-11 April) received very little notice in the press last week. Here's an article ("Archaeologists review loss of valuable artifacts one year after looting") in the University of Chicago Chronicle (via Archaeologica News) which marks it and discusses how the situation has developed over the last year. Excerpt:
Many artifacts were recovered throughout the last 11 months. By early February, as many as 5,000 objects were reported to have been recovered in Iraq or abroad, including 1,000 pieces in the United States, 700 in Jordan, 500 in France and 250 in Switzerland.

Pieces recovered in police raids in Iraq included two of the most famous pieces from the Iraqi National Museum�s collection�the Lady�s Head from Warka, a beautifully sculpted marble head of a woman, dating to about 3000 B.C., which was recovered in September, and the Bassetki Statue, the lower half of a sitting figure of a hero, cast in copper and dating to ca. 2200 B.C., which was recovered in October.

Other pieces were returned anonymously and voluntarily, including the famous Warka Vase, an alabaster vase decorated with elaborate relief scenes that dates to about 3000 B.C. This vase was returned in June, broken into numerous pieces, though likely restorable.

�Mixed in with the joy over the recovery of these pieces is the sorrow over the loss of other objects, which will remain difficult if not impossible to recover. This list may well be topped by 4,795 cylinder seals, which originally had been thought to be safe in the museum�s storerooms and whose loss was only noted in June,� Reichel said.

These objects, often made of precious stones, decorated with elaborate images and sometimes bearing inscriptions, were ancient bureaucratic devices, used to verify business or legal transactions by impressing the seal into documents inscribed on clay tablets. In modern times, however, these seals have become highly desirable collectors� items, which often sell for astronomical prices at auction. Many of the seals from the Iraq Museum could end up in the hands of collectors worldwide, never to be seen again.

In terms of archaeological losses, the looting of the museum may well be dwarfed by the continual destruction of archaeological sites all over Iraq by looters. This looting has touched upon well-known sites such as Nippur, home of an archaeological expedition of the Oriental Institute, Umma, Lagash, and Isin, but many more unexcavated sites are destroyed by the unsystematic onslaught of pick axes used by the looters throughout the country.

The loss in archaeological data is impossible to quantify but clearly has reached disastrous dimensions. Although coalition forces have taken measures to protect some of the key sites in Iraq, archaeologists contend those measures have been inadequate.
CONFERENCE ANNOUNCEMENT: This is an upcoming conference here at St. Andrews on Old Testament Interpretation and the Social Sciences, organized by my colleague Professor Philip Esler.

(Fax: +01334-462851; email

15th April 2004

Dear Colleague

The St Andrews Conference on Old Testament Interpretation and
the Social Sciences - Wed 30 June to Sun 4 July 2004

In 1994 St Andrews hosted a conference entitled 'Context and Kerygma: The St Andrews Conference on New Testament Interpretation and the Social Sciences'. Many of the papers presented were subsequently published in Modelling Early Christianity: Social-Scientific Studies of the New Testament in Its Context, edited by Philip F. Esler (London and New York: Routledge, 1995).

Now, a decade later, we are holding a similar conference in St Andrews. It will run from the evening of Wednesday 30th June 2004 to mid morning on Sunday 4th July 2004 and will be entitled 'The St Andrews Conference on Old Testament Interpretation and the Social Sciences.'

Participants will be accommodated in the delightful environment of St Salvator's College (as in 1994) and most papers will be given in or around St Mary's College.

The speaking slots for the conference are now essentially complete (see list of agreed speakers and topics below) and we believe that they will provide a rich exposure to the conference theme, especially for staff and postgraduates interested in social-scientific exegesis. The papers cover many general topics and also studies of particular texts.

The full cost of the conference including accommodation, food (including the Conference dinner) and diversions will be �285. But for those who do not wish to go on outings or attend the final dinner, or are willing to share a room, a cheaper rate (something close to �200) is available for the conference.

Please email me to express interest or for further information.

Yours sincerely,

Philip F. Esler

List of Confirmed Speakers

Mario Aguilar, University of St Andrews, 'Symbolic Wars, Age-Sets and the Anthropology of War in 1 Maccabees'

Marvin Chaney, San Francisco Theological Seminary, San Francisco, USA, 'The Political Economies of Eighth-Century Israel and Judah' (provisional title)

Robert Coote, San Francisco Theological Seminary, San Francisco, USA, 'Tribalism in Ancient Palestine and the Hebrew Bible'

Zeba Crook, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, 'Modelling Exchange in the Biblical Era'

Richard DeMaris and Carolyn Leeb, University of Valparaiso, Indiana, USA, 'Can a Filicide Be a Worthy Judge? Honor, Vow, and Ritual in the Jephthah Story Cycle (Judges 10:6-12:7)'

Adriana Destro and Mauro Pesce, University of Bologna, Italy, 'Levitical Sacrifice in Anthropological Perspective'

John H. Elliott, University of San Francisco, USA, 'Euphemism and Dysphemism in the Biblical Communities and Their Cultural Roots: A Social-Scientific Study of Deut 25:11-12'

Philip F. Esler, University of St Andrews, 'What Solomon's Father Did in the Ammonite War: A Social-Scientific Study of 2 Samuel 10-12'.

Lester Grabbe, University of Hull, 'Prophets Ancient and Modern: Anthropological Insights on Israelite Prophecy'

Anselm Hagedorn, Humboldt-Universit�t, Berlin, 'Ethnicity and Stereotypes in the Book of Nahum. Social-Scientific Insights into the Literary History of a Prophetic Book'

Jutta Jokiranta, University of Helsinki, 'The Prototypical Teacher in the Qumran Pesharim'

Carolyn Leeb, University of Valparaiso, Indiana, USA, 'Polygyny in the Biblical World: Insights from Haiti'

Bruce J. Malina, 'Identity Theory, Politics and the Pontifical Biblical Commission's The Jewish People and Its Scriptures in the Christian Bible '

Andrew Mayes, Trinity College Dublin, 'Freud, Moses and Monotheism'

Dietmar Neufeld, University of British Columbia, Canada, 'Body, Ritual and States of Ecstasy in the Old Testament'

Douglas E. Oakman, Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, WA, USA 'Hermeneutics in Context: Biblical Interpretation in Dialogue With the Social Sciences'

John Pilch, Georgetown University, Washington, USA, 'Altered States of Consciousness and Visions in Ezekiel'

Richard Rohrbaugh, Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Or USA, 'Purity and Assimilation in the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs'.

Gary Stansell, St Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota, USA, 'Wealth in Ancient Israel: or, How Abraham Became Rich'
ARAMAIC WATCH: KSL News, Utah, has an article on the BYU/Vatican Syriac manuscript digitization project. The article, "Ancient Manuscripts Soon to be Available", has the following new tidbit:
Initially the manuscripts will be available to scholars but Bishop Soro is excited many Eastern Christians will be able to read them on websites at their parishes.

If I'm reading this right, it says that the images will be put on the Web as well as on the DVD. This is an excellent idea.
Tests begin on Temple Mount's eastern wall (Jerusalem Post)

A team of senior Egyptian and Jordanian engineers on Thursday began tests to determine the stability of the eastern wall of the Temple Mount. The survey came just weeks after a report issued by the Israeli Antiquities Authority stated that the 2000-year-old wall was in danger of immediate collapse as a result of the February earthquake that rocked the country.


The earthquake, which measured 5 on the Richter scale, did not cause any serious injuries or damage. Just around the corner from where the Arab workers were at work Thursday on the eastern wall, another team of Jordanians has been repairing a bulge on the southern wall for the past year.

An ancient window in the epicenter of the bulge on the southern wall has been enlarged and opened, presumably to allow workers easier access to the outer wall from inside.

Israeli archaeologists say that the bulge on the southern wall was undoubtedly caused by the Wakf construction work at Solomon's Stables over the last decade, while a Jordanian report suggests that it was the result of the natural flow of rainwater over the centuries.


Thursday, April 15, 2004

IN PRAISE OF JOHN RUSSELL. This archaeologist has been mentioned before in PaleoJudaica and I've been meaning for some time to point out this article (which Explorator reminded me of). Professor Russell has been in Iraq since September, working as Deputy Senior Advisor to the Iraqi Ministry of Culture to help preserve and protect Iraq's antiquities. He is scheduled to come home next month. We all owe John Russell a great debt of gratitude. Thanks John. I hope there's someone there to look out for the interests of Iraq's antiquities once you're home.

Excerpt from "The Treasure Hunter" (Boston Globe):
It is a job other American archeologists, reluctant to partner with the US government and loathe to take time from their research, shied away from and for which Russell is especially well suited. Much of his day-to-day work in Iraq is bureaucratic drudgery, such as negotiating contracts to revamp the devastated national museum. But by the time he leaves this month, Russell intends to have the museum ready to reopen, thanks to a $1.7 million grant from the US State Department. And the atmosphere for the staff is vastly changed. Before the US invasion, he says, museum personnel put themselves in danger speaking their minds. Now, things are opening up. Asked how he feels about working for the US government, he retorts: "I'm working for the Iraqi government -- that's why I took this job."

The past months have mellowed his criticism of the United States' actions during the early days of the invasion. Initial reports that all of the Iraq Museum's artifacts were stolen proved exaggerated, though some 13,000 items that vanished in the days immediately following the American assault on Baghdad remain missing. "It is fair to say the US military could have done more," he says, "but I can't pretend to know what should have been done."

His focus, odd for an archeologist, is the future. "Iraq is really transforming, and that's symbolized by the museum, the symphony, the library," he says. That optimism is tempered by the lower priority given cultural heritage in an often chaotic country whose basic infrastructure and evolving government need urgent attention. And violence is ever-present. Museum staff members have been killed or injured by gunfire or in the free-for-all of Iraq's roads. "Anytime you go out," he says, "you could get killed."

Russell does say there are perks -- such as avoiding a New England winter and enjoying the Southern-fried chicken and grilled-cheese sandwiches available in the palace canteen. But what he clearly relishes is the chance to help preserve the past: "How often do you get a chance to be part of history and feel you are making a difference?"

Note, by the way, that in an all-too-typical display of journalistic stereotying and poverty of imagination, the writer, Andrew Lawler, finds it "odd" for an archaeologist to be concerned with the future.
LOTS OF CONFERENCE ANNOUNCEMENTS in the current Jewish Studies Newsletter.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

RELICS IN THE NEWS: Here's an article on some famous fake or almost certainly fake ones (the Holy Grail, the true cross, and the Shroud of Turin). A few excerpts:
Searching for the Artifacts of Faith (Insight on the News, DC)
Posted April 9, 2004
By John M. Powers

During the last six months this country's mass media have discovered that old-time religion. For years references to religion among these blue-states keepers of the popular culture were limited to the usual hooting at "Islamic conservatives" or "right-wing Christians," but suddenly the elite media have caught on that God and traditional religious practice are subjects of great interest to many millions of Americans.


Mark Rose, executive editor of Archaeology magazine and a trained classical archaeologist, says that one such story [about the Holy Grail] comes from the personal journal of Arlculf, a seventh-century pilgrim to the Holy Land who wrote that, inside a chapel in Jerusalem, he beheld the chalice that Christ used at the Last Supper. The pilgrim describes the cup as a goblet made of silver to hold about a pint and having handles on either side.

Many other stories also make claims about the location of the Holy Grail, says Rose. One tells of a cup thought to be made of a huge emerald. Another insists the cup was looted from Byzantium during the fourth crusade and eventually ended up in Genoa, where it remains today. Still another account puts a cup thought to be the Holy Grail in the cathedral of Valencia, Spain, where it is said to have been pawned by Alfonso V of Aragon. Rose thinks all these claims are suspect.

If Valencia and Genoa are too far away to check out the Holy Grail, consider a pilgrimage to the Chalice of Antioch, which is kept in New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET). According to the MET's account of the chalice, it was found in or around 1908 and was supposed to be from the city of Antioch. This was a major Christian center in the first centuries of Christianity, and it is thought that Mark, who authored the oldest of the Gospels, was a leader in the church at Antioch. This apparently explains the tradition that the Chalice of Antioch is the Holy Grail.

The chalice at the MET has an outer shell decorated with birds, lambs and other animals. There are 12 human figures holding scrolls, thought to represent the disciples. Inside the shell is a simple silver bowl, which was believed to be the actual Holy Grail. These claims have not held up, however, and the chalice has been dated as being from the sixth century rather than the first, according to the MET description.

The Chalice of Antioch may nonetheless be consistent with what the actual cup of Christ looked like. Rose thinks the cup probably was a "pedestal bowl" with a "wide flaring rim" and made of silver or clay. But he adds carefully, "You end up pretty quickly into complete speculation."


Arthur Tucker, a botanist at Delaware State University, is codirector of a study recently undertaken by a team of scientists to analyze botanical evidence on the shroud. He and other critics say the carbon-dating evidence must be questioned. They say that the shroud suffered damage from a fire in 1532, and normal wear and tear during the passage of 2,000 years, with the result that certain sections were repaired. The area of the shroud from which the sample was taken was "a compromised area which has been sewn and resewn for display," says Tucker.

It's not zealotry that makes Tucker doubt the carbon dating. Rather he cites botanical evidence taken from the shroud that he reviewed with his team. To start, Tucker says, the composition of the shroud's linen is a "3-to-1 twill herringbone weave." This type of weave has been confirmed by Jewish scholars as consistent with weaving techniques known to have been used during the first century in Palestine. There is evidence on the shroud of other fabrics, but Tucker says that could be the result of contamination.

On the other hand, according to Tucker and his team of scientists, the shroud contains botanical evidence, such as pollen and flower impressions, that link it unmistakably through the years to Jerusalem, Turkey and south-central Europe, which would confirm the trail of historical ownership. Most poignant to the investigation of whether the shroud belonged to Christ is that some of the botanicals found on the shroud correspond to pollens of Jerusalem during the first century. Tucker's study concluded that 37 different species of pollen or flower impressions on the linen came from the area of Palestine, many of them from the Jerusalem area. Two species of pollen found on the shroud, Tucker points out, overlap only in Jerusalem.

Going even further with botanical evidence, Tucker says his team concluded, based on the evidence gathered in years previous, that all 37 species of pollen from the shroud not only grow around Palestine but "flower or fruit" between March and April. One species of caper found on the shroud flowers only between "3 or 4 in the afternoon."

A shroud made of linen in a first-century fashion with forensic evidence that concludes it is from Jerusalem during March or April, maybe used around 3 or 4 in the afternoon. Could this in fact be the burial cloth of Jesus?

"Most probably, yes ... what we're seeing here is the burial shroud of Christ," says Tucker. He makes this conclusion based not only on the botanical evidence but on other historical evidence, such as images similar to that found on the shroud from coins of the first century.


It's a pity that the writer didn't consult any specialists in the history of burial in first-century Palestine such as Joe Zias and Shimon Gibson (the latter excavated a real first-century shroud in recent years). It's telling that they don't regard the Shroud of Turin as genuine. I'm not a specialist in this area but, as things stand, I'm going to bet with the experts. It's also a pity that a scientist takes it upon himself to pontificate on historical matters outside his specialty. He may have found some interesting botanical evidence, but that doesn't qualify him to evaluate the historical evidence. And I can't help thinking that he's overinterpreting his botanical evidence a bit when he implies he can tell us what time the shroud was used. It would take time to weave the thing and it probably wouldn't be used immediately after it was woven, and it would have been getting pollen on it during the whole process.

I'm not saying that what he's found shouldn't be carefully evaluated by peer review and cross-checking by other experts. For starters, let's see his team get this research published in a peer-review paleobotany journal. Likewise, I'm not opposed to having another C-14 test done (if the Vatican authorities would allow it, which is iffy). It's generally useful to have more information. But if people think the first test was botched, let them write up their objections and get them published in a peer-review journal on radiocarbon dating. What I am against is having important issues like these aired only in places like the popular media, popular lectures, museum exhibits for the public, and the like. Peer-review publishing is a long-established process for informed conversation about scientific and historical questions. It's not perfect, but it sure clears a lot of nonsense out the way, and I generally don't put much stock into claims that have not yet passed this hurdle.

In the meantime, it's not good to jump to conclusions, and attempts to authenticate the Shroud have a poor enough track record that we shouldn't get excited every time someone comes up with a new argument.

UPDATE: The information about the facial image on the back side of the Shroud has been published in a peer-review article. More here (scroll down to today's update).
ARAMAIC WATCH: It's now going onto jackets for high school sports teams:
El Camino vies for academic crown (Los Angeles Daily News)

By Lisa M. Sodders
Staff Writer

WOODLAND HILLS -- Eight El Camino Real High School students traveled Tuesday to Boise, Idaho, to compete for a third national title in the Academic Decathlon -- a grueling two-day battle among America's brightest kids.


El Camino teams are known for their distinctive black satin jackets, which each year are adorned with a secret motto, written in a foreign language, on the back. Last year's motto was a George Bernard Shaw quote -- "I want to be thoroughly used up when I die"-- written in Armenian.

This year's motto is in Aramaic and won't be revealed to non-Aramaic speakers until after the national competition.


I've e-mailed the reporter and asked her to let me know what the motto is when it's made public.

UPDATE (15 April): Oops! It's an academic decathlon, not a sports one. My bad. More on the event here. The reporter for the first article has promised to get me the Aramaic when it's available.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

REFERRED MSN SEARCH: "according to the Hebrew bible, when did Mary Magdelene go to the tomb of Jesus." I think we have a bit of a misunderstanding here. The search was referred to this PaleoJudaica page (which mentions Hebrew Bible, Mary Magdalene, tomb, and Jesus), because, unfortunately, the search engines seem to spider this blog by its weekly archive pages rather than by individual posts.

If anyone is wondering, the answer is that the Hebrew Bible doesn't say when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb of Jesus.
AAR MEMBERS, please go and sign the AAR Joint Meetings Petition to AAR Board of Directors. It seems to me that SBL members should be able to sign as well - the decision concerns them too! The petition was composed by Elaine Pagels and Karen L. King (well done!) and reads:
To:� AAR Board of Directors

We the undersigned members of the American Academy of Religion petition the Board of Directors of the AAR to rescind its action taken in April and July 2003 to discontinue concurrent annual meetings with the Society of Biblical Literature.

We request that this action to rescind be taken at the Spring 2004 meeting of the AAR Board of Directors. We support the laudable goals expressed in the Centennial Strategic Plan 2004-2009 and support the Board in finding alternative constructive and creative ways to meet them.

There are currently over 2900 signatures, which comprise a significant percentage of the membership (even setting aside a few dodgy signatures, which Mark Goodacre noted, following John Dart). I especially liked the comment of #79, William Cahoy:
I suspect that if the leadership of the AAR experienced or even witnessed this sort of unilateral decision-making handed down by a church official or hierarch, they would be up in arms and leading the charge of responsible protest. Now they seem to be using their power in precisely the unilateral, non-consultative way so often criticized by the Academy. Please stop.


UPDATE: It's been pointed out to me that the AAR Board won't be interested in the views of nonmembers. Point taken. I suppose if they were, they would have consulted with the SBL in the first place.

Also, according to the AAR web page, "over 7500" AAR members attend the annual meeting. Around 2900 of those don't like the change. Need I say more?
MORE ON THE SHROUD OF TURIN (via Archaeologica News). If there were an award for obscure headlines, this one would certainly be a contender:
Turin Shroud Back Side Shows Face
By Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News

April 11, 2004 � The ghostly image of a man's face has emerged on the back side of the Turin Shroud, the piece of linen long believed to have been wrapped around Jesus's body after the crucifixion, according to new digital imaging processing techniques.

The discovery adds new complexity to one of the most controversial relics in Christendom, venerated by many Catholics as the proof that Christ was resurrected from the grave and dismissed by some scientists as a brilliant medieval fake.

The study, which will be published on Tuesday by one of the journals of the Institute of Physics, the Journal of Optics A: Pure and Applied Optics, examined the back surface of the famous handwoven linen.


"As I saw the pictures in the book, I was caught by the perception of a faint image on the back surface of the shroud. I thought that perhaps there was much more that wasn't visible to the naked eye," Giulio Fanti, professor of Mechanical and Thermic Measurements at Padua University and main author of the study, told Discovery News.


The presence of a face on both sides of the shroud would seem an obvious feature in case of a fake: when making a print onto a cloth, paint soaks the cloth's fibers reaching also the back side.

"This is not the case of the Shroud. On both sides, the face image is superficial, involving only the outermost linen fibers. When a cross-section of the fabric is made, one extremely superficial image appears above and one below, but there is nothing in the middle. It is extremely difficult to make a fake with these features," Fanti said.

According to the scientist, this double superficiality could be crucial to answer the central, unanswered question of how the image of that man got onto the cloth.


It will be interesting to see what comes of this.

UPDATE (14 April): Mark Goodacre has noted links to an abstract of the peer-reviewed article and instructions for accessing the whole article. You can also download it as a PDF file without registering and you can read a longer summary here. I've downloaded the article but at the moment I'm heavily preoccupied with some counterfactual philology (don't ask) and I don't have time to read it. But if any readers happen to be specialists in this type of optics, please drop me a note, tell me who you are, and let me know what you think of it.
SPEAKING OF THE SBL FORUM, I don't think I ever got around to mentioning Mark Goodacre's "The Pleasures and Perils of Talking to the Media", published last month, which has lots of useful thoughts on how to interact with journalists and the media.

UPDATE: Mark reports that the SBL Forum editors introduced an error into his article. I hate it when editors do that. [Later: Mark reports that they corrected the error promptly. Well done.]

Monday, April 12, 2004

"TECHNOLOGY AND THE TRANSMISSION OF THE BIBLICAL TEXT" is a new article by James R. Adair on the SBL website (via the Bible and Interpretation News website). Excerpt:
Most diachronic studies of the biblical text focus on the message itself and its development in the oral and written stages as it was transmitted. Several recent studies shift the focus to the scribes and other tradents who copied, corrected, and in many cases enhanced the text as they passed it along to future generations. One other, frequently overlooked, aspect of the process of transmission is also a candidate for scholarly consideration: the technology used to transmit the text. Technology includes several interrelated tools and concepts, such as the material on which the text is written and read (media), the tools used to inscribe the text (input devices), the script (encoding scheme), and procedures, rules, and conventions for inscribing the text (encoding strategies), among others. It is convenient to use the first of these categories, media, as a way to divide the history of the transmission of the biblical text into distinct periods of time, characterized by the newest medium on which the biblical text was recorded. According to this scheme, scribes have transmitted the biblical text in its written form in four eras: Scroll, Codex, Printed Page, and Web Page.

And here's another one, by Robert A. Kraft, who has been a major pioneer in the application of computers to biblical studies. Excerpts:

How I Met the Computer, and How it Changed my Life

Robert A. Kraft

Now that I'm officially "Emeritus," although not fully "retired," I've been asked to write an autobiographical retrospective on my involvement with computers and textual studies, which began in earnest around 1970. I was 36 years old at the time and an associate professor with tenure at the University of Pennsylvania. Before that I knew, somewhat vaguely, about the use of computers in Father Busa's Aquinas project (begun in 1949!)[1] because my office mate, a Patristics scholar named Robert Evans, was taking a computing course and occasionally mentioned such things as he shuffled his stacks of IBM punched cards. This would have been in the late 1960s (he died unexpectedly in 1974). Even before that, as an assistant lecturer at the University of Manchester (1961-63), I had also been intrigued by reports of the use of computers in analyzing the problems of Pauline authorship (A. Q. Morton, 1961-64).[2] I was a good candidate for such temptations, having done quite well in math and science in high school, even winning the Renselaer Polytechnic Institute Achievement Award my senior year. But it took much more to stir my latent curiosity to action. (Did you know that the University of Manchester and the University of Pennsylvania were rivals for the distinction of having developed the first operational computer?[3] Neither did I. Retrospection can sometimes be cool.)


Of course, my computer world didn't end in 1994, even if I consciously withdrew from the "Offline" overexposure. Somewhere in that period, I decided that electronic publication was here to stay and that, as a fully tenured publishing faculty member, my imagined audience would be best served by my henceforth issuing my work in electronic form as the primary medium. If someone wanted to put my contributions into hard copy, I had no objection, as long as it was understood that the main publication was the electronic one, over which I retained control. I have been happy with this decision, although the increasing demand of contributing to Festschriften for aging colleagues has produced an unanticipated wrinkle. They're still producing conventional books. Still, as I nudge along into more leisurely "retirement," I hope to have time and energy to complete the task of electronifying all my past, present, and future contributions (an electronic auto-Festschrift of sorts to myself) and to participate in the new waves of productivity and imagination that this technology permits ? and hopefully encourages. Let the one who has ears to hear, and eyes to see, take note and join in the parade!
THE FORGERY SCANDAL in Israel is now being used in the service of Jewish-Temple denial:
Al Aqsa at Risk? Shelled by LAW Rockets and Threatened With Harming and Destruction (International Press Center, Palestine)

GAZA, April11 , 2004 (IPC) - - Unfaltering calls by the relative Islamic bodies of restoration and reservation of Al Aqsa Mosque still echo soundly to stop the Israeli attacks and aggressions against the holy Mosque and its monumental Islamic vicinity that are at risk of Judiazing.

Even though the calls and appeals were serious but the Islamic world remained idle. The Zionist pursuit in judiazing the holy Mosque has been unprecedented and left a serious stamp. Each day, news reports revealed the intents of fanatic extremist Zionists as well as terrorist organizations were fervently working on to build the alleged "Jewish Temple" in the Holy Land instead of Al Aqsa Mosque, but only God willing prevents their vicious plots.

"Alleged." And with Jewish Temple in scare quotes.
The Zionists have approached various pursuits to build the alleged "Temple Mount" on the ruins of the Holy Al Aqsa Mosque, even if it was through blowing the Mosque up. Ongoing excavations, which led to the tearing down of the southern wall, in an attempt to prove the Jewish right to enter the Holy Mosque, supported by the decisions taken by the Israeli governments.


This conveniently conflates the loonies who want to blow up the Mosque with legitimate archaeologists doing scientific work on the Temple Mount.

Forged Relics

It is important to mention that the attempts to destroy the Holy Mosque were as old as the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories or even before that. The Jewish fanatics alleged that the Mosque was built on the ruins of the Temple Roman [sic] destroyed in 70 A.D.

Al Aqsa Mosque is the Muslims' first Qiblah [direction Muslims take during prayers] and it's the third holiest shrine after Al Ka'bah in Mecca and Prophet Muhammad's Mosque in Medina.

Its significance has been reinforced by the incident of Al Isra'a and Al Mi'raj -- the night journey from Mecca to Al-Quds (Jerusalem) and the ascent to the Heavens by Prophet Muhammad.

No archeological studies that traced the monuments proved the Jewish fanatic claims over the "Temple Mount". Even the precious "Ivory Pomegranate", on display at the Israel Museum since 1988 , was a forgery that allegedly traced back to the so called the "Frist Temple" [sic].

The Haaretz daily published on March that "it is not believed that the forgers of these items were related to the Ivory Pomegranate. Members of the Antiquities Authority assigned to protecting antiquities from thieves and officers from the Jerusalem District Fraud Squad, are handling the investigation. According to the investigators, for the past 15 years a group of forgers has been identified as running a "factory" for forgeries."

The thieves' network chaired by Oded Golan, who was labeled as a collector of forgeries, sold them through mediators.


The literary evidence for the existence of the Second Temple is overwhelming. Josephus and Philo discuss the Temple, as do the New Testament and numerous other sources (e.g., 1-2 Maccabees) whose antiquity is not in doubt. Tacitus (no admirer of Judaism) mentions it. An inscription from the outer Temple court, warning gentiles to stay out of the inner court, was discovered in 1871. The Dead Sea Scrolls refer to the Temple (e.g., Pesher Habakkuk 12.7-9 says that the Wicked Priest defiled the "sanctuary of God" in Jerusalem. As for the First Temple, there is the testimony of many of the books in the Hebrew Bible, some of which certainly goes back to the Iron Age II period. It's worth noting also that we have uncontested evidence in the Hezekiah's Tunnel inscription of Hebrew-speaking Judeans carrying out a major building project in Jerusalem around 700 B.C.E.

The gall it takes to ignore all this is breathtaking. Given the thorough destruction of the site by the Babylonians and the Romans, it's not surprising that direct archaeological evidence (so far) is absent.

If the allegations of a massive forgery ring are proved in court, the ring will have done immeasurable damage to serious historical and archaeological study of ancient Israel. The verified forgeries so far are bad enough. I fear, at least until we have a better idea of what went on, we should assume that any unprovenanced Hebrew inscription that has surfaced in the last twenty years or so is a forgery, unless we have very strong evidence to the contrary.
LAME BIBLE JOKE ALERT: This from the Arizona Daily Sun.
When I was an archaeologist on a dig in the Negev Desert in Israel, I came upon a casket containing a mummy. After examining it, I called the curator of a prestigious natural-history museum. "I've just discovered a 3,000 year-old mummy of a man who died of heart failure!"

The curator told me to, "Bring him in. We'll check it out." A week later, the amazed curator called me. "You were right about the mummy's age and cause of death. How in the world did you know?"

"Easy. There was a piece of papyrus in his hand that read, '10,000 Shekels on Goliath'."

To be fair, most of the rest of the jokes in the article are worse.
ARAMAIC WATCH: Iraqi Assyrians and their language are the subject of this Chicago Tribune article (this link is to the Monterey County Herald).
Assyrians find new hope for culture's survival in post-Saddam Iraq


Chicago Tribune

BAGHDAD, Iraq - (KRT) - Odisho Malko reaches deep inside a living room cabinet for a bundle tightly bound in cloth. Carrying it ever so gently, he undoes the wrapping, revealing a large, timeworn book, bound in thick, dark brown leather that he carefully places on a glass table.

Then Malko, a tall, soft-spoken, middle-age man with a pleasant smile, stands back, seemingly in awe. It is almost as if he has revealed an ancient secret in his Baghdad house. Handwritten by a priest more than 200 years ago in a lonely mountaintop village where his family once lived, it is an ancient prayer that is still part of the Assyrian liturgy.

"This is very precious," he says, opening the book, a 13th century prayer written in Assyrian, an ancient Semitic language that, like Hebrew and Arabic, sprang from Aramaic. Because Aramaic was the common language spoken at the time of Jesus Christ, Mel Gibson used it in his movie "The Passion of the Christ."

Malko, a professional engineer by training, vowed years ago to help keep Assyrian alive, churning out books and poems and an Arabic-Assyrian dictionary that he keeps updating, dutifully jotting down in blue ink new words for an edition that he says will come out someday soon.

It is the language that has bound the Assyrians in the 2,600 years since the fall of their one-time capital Nineveh and the collapse of an empire that had sprawled outward from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to ancient Egypt and the Caspian Sea.

Assyrians in the United States have clung to the language through classes at churches and their own organizations. Just barely, however.


The third paragraph contains a howler. Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic are all three Semitic languages, which means they all descend from a common source language we call Proto-Semitic. There are no texts preserved in Proto-Semitic; it is entirely reconstructed from comparison of the Semitic languages, but it is a neccessary solution to the linguistic puzzle of their origin. Assyrian is a dialect of Aramaic (not to be confused with the more ancient Assyrian language that is a dialect of Akkadian cuneiform.)
ZOHAR TRANSLATION WATCH: Time Magazine has an article on Daniel Matt's project:
Found In Translation
An English version of the Zohar, a guiding text of Jewish mysticism, offers new insights

Monday, Apr. 19, 2004
The road winds like a Talmudic discourse, first one way and then another, up toward Daniel Matt's home in the Berkeley, Calif., hills. "There's a more direct route that my wife likes," admits Matt, 53. "But I find this one more interesting."

That's not surprising. Matt is embarked on a solo journey through one of the most influential � and maddeningly difficult � works in the history of religious literature. After six years of his labor, Stanford University Press has published the first two books of his translation of the Zohar, the wellspring of Jewish mysticism, or Cabala. He will do nine more volumes, all rendered from the Zohar's original Aramaic. The work has received ecstatic advance reviews ("A superbly fashioned translation and a commentary that opens up the Zohar to the English-speaking world," blurbed lit-crit colossus Harold Bloom), and two weeks ago it won a $10,000 Koret Jewish Book Award for "monumental contribution to the history of Jewish thought." Beneath the praise runs an undercurrent of awe that someone was crazy enough to take on the job.


I'm not sure why the piece is dated next week. It looks pretty accurate overall, although I don't think it's correct to say that Aramaic was "a language Jews had not composed in for centuries" before Moses de Leon.

Also, congratulations to Professor Matt for the award.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

PILATE THE GUBERNATOR: David Meadows, the Rogue Classicist, comments on the Latin of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.
"RESCUE EXCAVATIONS" in Israel: Difficult decisions.

In Israel, a New Highway Leads to an Ancient Christian Past (New York Times)

Published: April 11, 2004

NETANYA, Israel � This seaside town had a simple plan to add an interchange to the country's main coastal highway. But in a small land with a long history, almost anyplace one sticks a shovel in the ground, one strikes an ancient civilization.


Sure enough, just a foot below the surface, a Christian community from the Byzantine era, dating from either the fifth or sixth century, presented itself just to the west of bustling Highway 2, and right in the middle of the planned interchange on the southern edge of Netanya.


The Israeli authorities have halted the digging, but now they face a perennial quandary in the duel between the ancient and modern.

Should this tantalizing site be preserved and more fully explored, or should it be covered with a thick layer of asphalt in order to improve traffic flow on congested Highway 2?

"Our job is to find the balance between the needs of developing the country and preserving antiquities," said Yossi Levy, an archaeologist with the Antiquities Authority who is in charge of the Netanya region. "I want to believe that we are able to make most people happy."

The Antiquities Authority conducts about 250 "rescue excavations" annually, most of them prompted by plans for new construction projects. These digs can last from a few days to several months, depending on what they turn up.

When artifacts are found, the Antiquities Authority has three basic options.

All development can be blocked if the site is deemed extremely important. If the site has little or no significance, then the builders may proceed, and need not worry about destroying the remains. The third option, and the one most often adopted, is for the building to go ahead, but in a way that preserves the site and the artifacts.


Rami Gobernik, a spokesman for the Netanya municipality, said the city would preserve the site, but had not made a final decision on how to proceed.

"THE MOVIE HAS PUT US ON THE MAP." Thanks to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, the Aramaic-speaking village of Maaloula is now a tourist attraction:
Once the town, with its shrine to an ancient saint, was mainly an out-of-the-way destination for Christian pilgrimage. Suddenly tourists are trekking up a winding mountain road to hear the sounds of Aramaic, at once guttural and lilting. Residents happily respond to requests to recite poems or sing songs.

"The movie has put us on the map," said Ranjess Shelhab, a pharmacist who attends the classes given by St. Tekla Greek Melkite Catholic Church here. "Everybody wants us to speak Aramaic. I want to get it right."

Aramaic is related to Hebrew and Arabic. Some of the Dead Sea Scrolls are written in the ancient language. The Arab expansion of the 7th century elbowed out Aramaic, but it survived in small communities in Iran, Syria, Turkey and Iraq. Aside from Maaloula, a predominantly Christian town, villagers in two Muslim towns in Syria also use Aramaic in daily life.

Everybody in the hamlet uses Aramaic; Arab speakers who come to town don't understand what's going on. Before there was a school to teach the language, it survived by being handed down from parents to their children. Today, most people in the village speak Arabic, too. And if people from Maaloula want to work in Damascus, Arabic is a must.

Largely because of "The Passion's" Aramaic dialogue, it's hard to find someone in mountainside Maaloula who has not seen the Mel Gibson film. Therese Chahine, who keeps house at the St. Tekla monastery, was appreciative but quibbled with the linguistics. Except where Jesus is speaking Aramaic versions of familiar Scripture, she had a hard time understanding the dialogue. "I think they were using a mixture. Sometimes it seemed like Hebrew, sometimes like Arabic. It wasn't like we speak," she said gently.

Although Aramaic is spoken here, few residents can read the 29-letter alphabet. Its grammar is improvised. Elias Saliba, the parish priest who began the Aramaic study course three years ago, said he hopes the town can benefit from the new interest in Aramaic.

"The Passion" prompted the Syrian government to announce funding for his courses, but the money has yet to appear. "It may take a miracle," Saliba said. The Greek Melkites owe allegiance to the Roman Catholic pope.
HAPPY EASTER to my Christian readers. The resurrection narratives in the four Gospels are found in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24 and John 20-21. As a bonus, go have a look at the Passion and resurrection fragment of the Gospel of Peter, which may, at least in part, be independent of the canonical Gospels.