Saturday, April 24, 2004

MORE ON UNICODE AND THE MAC. Paul Nikkel e-mails:
In regard to the post today about unicode fonts on the Mac. You may be happy to know that the Mac OS does indeed support unicode fonts, at least since Mac OS 8.5. The area where problems occur is in various applications, for instance, MS Office. Of course MS Office is horrible for any work in Hebrew as the right-to-left text support is basically non-existant. The solution is to use another word processor. If you're working on a Mac you probably know of these programs but I'm on a roll typing now and it's hard to stop... Nisus Writer was the popular alternative in Mac OS 9, they updated to OS X with Nisus Writer Express. However, NWE is based on an entirely different platform and should not be considered the same as the original Nisus Writer for OS 9. The most popular alternative for OS X is Mellel which is fairly full-featured and has excellent font support (including unicode).

As for OpenType fonts, they are not something I'm too familiar with but according to the documentation from Apple that I can find they are supported in OS X also.

And Jan-Wim Wesselius e-mails:
[T]he article by David Instone-Brewer about Unicode is unfortunately off the mark with regard to the Mac (only for OSX, that is). Especially Mellel ( does a very good job as a Unicode word-processor with all kinds of extras and a surprisingly low price-tag ($ 30). And the standard browser, Safari, handles websites with Unicode Hebrew very well also, as far as I can see.

Okay, thanks guys. I can see that my hope of being able to ignore the issue (or at least of being able not to feel guilty about ignoring the issue) was in vain. Mac user take note: you can use Unicode.

Also, readers, do have a look at Paul's blog and website Deinde. He has more to say on Unicode and the Mac there. (If there's a way to link to individual posts on his site, I couldn't find it.)
REVIEW of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ:

I finally saw the movie last night. Overall it was a good, gripping story, well acted, and with reasonably convincing sets, special effects (especially trauma-simulation), etc. Since, as usual, I seem to be among the last in the western hemisphere to see the film, I will try to concentrate on points I haven't seen made before.

Languages: I could follow 50-60% of the Aramaic and somewhat less of the Latin. The mistakes in both have been covered at length here, so I won't say more about them. There was a fair mixture of Hebrew in the Aramaic, which evidently was Fulco's way of simulating "street Aramaic." Well, his guess is as good as mine. The Aramaic of the Dead Sea Scrolls has some Hebrew mixed in, but not much. The Aramaic words and phrases transliterated into New Testament Greek may also have some Hebrew.

Speaking of Greek, it's strange that the sign on the cross only had the Latin inscription and one in Aramaic (the latter was definitely Aramaic, not Hebrew, and it said "King of the Jews, Jesus of Nazareth"). For all the claims of historical veracity, this was an obvious change from what the Gospels say (John 19:20). I can't help thinking there's some pre-Vatican II, pro-Latin Mass agenda here. (I'm pro-Latin too in general, but not at the expense of presenting the linguistic situation of the first century as it actually was.)

Violence: I think I was over-prepared for the violence. It was overdone, but not as much as I expected. A couple of weeks ago I saw the 1978 version of Dawn of the Dead and I thought that was more graphic and more disturbing, although the injuries were not as realistic.

I think the violence in The Passion was both exaggerated and sanitized. On the one hand, I don't believe that anyone could take that amount of flogging and then get up again and walk for any distance, let alone do so carrying a heavy cross. Jesus would have gone into shock during or just after the flogging and would not have been of much use after that. Given the level of sanitation, nutrition, and medical care at the time, he probably would have died from the flogging alone. (Any physicians out there want to comment here?) On the other, despite the realistic wounds, it was unrealistic that Jesus kept all his teeth through those beatings. I suspect this was because Caviezel would have looked less manly and noble with half his teeth knocked out. (Incidentally, overall I thought that people had too many teeth for the period. No toothpaste or dental floss back then.)

Nevertheless, the level of realism was far higher than usual for film media. Consider, for example, season 2 of 24, in which Jack Bauer undergoes implausibly mild torture by supposedly desperate men in a big hurry, he goes into cardiac arrest, yet he still manages to rise from the dead - without the help of a miracle! - and save the day. At least The Passion didn't involve that kind of cartoon violence. According to the Gospels, Jesus died on the cross in just a few hours, which does imply that the beatings must have been severe. Still, there were too many gratuitous additions to the violence, e.g., the beatings starting at the arrest, the tossing-over-the-bridge scene, the crow pecking out the eyes of the unrepentant thief).

The level of gore in The Passion is not my cup of tea, but it's Gibson's movie and his artistic statement, not mine. Although I said I was over-prepared for the violence, I should add that I had some pretty violent nightmares last night (including one in Dawn-of-the Dead zombie-land), so the movie clearly affected me more than I realized consciously.

The Crucifixion: Mark Goodacre has been arguing lately that we don't actually know whether the nails went through the wrists rather than the palms during crucifixion and that it's possible that, if the arms were tied firmly to the crossbeam, the nails could have gone through the palms. He may well be right on both counts. According to John 20:25-27 Jesus' hands were nailed rather than tied, but it's unclear whether it was through the palms or the wrists.

All that granted, the physiology of the crucifixion in this movie just does not work. Look closely at the ropes that tie Jesus' arms to the cross. They are tied fairly loosely, enough to immobilize the arms in order to get the nails in, but not enough to support his whole body. If he had been nailed through the palms, the nails would torn through the hand rapidly from the weight of his body. On top of that you have the stretching of his arms to the point, presumably, of dislocation during the nailing. The pull on the hands would have torn the nails out. Then too, there's the whole business of toppling the cross over to turn the bottoms of the nails down and then turning it back again, then dropping it into the hole.

The crucifixion scene in the movie is physically impossible.

Was the movie anti-Semitic? Overall, I would say no. Both Jews and Romans are generally presented as bloodthirsty and barbaric, but there are noble exceptions among both. That said, Gibson did pick up some pretty disturbing themes I wish he had left out. In particular, the extra violence of the arrest party, the visions of the Jewish children morphing into demons, and the demon baby were gratuitous and just sat the wrong way. Also, although I don't see an intention to be anti-Semitic, I do worry about how much it will confirm people who are already anti-Semitic in their views. But I'm not sure how much this is really Gibson's problem.

Historical issues: The movie has quite a few historical errors, most of which have been well covered elsewhere. I have to say I winced when I saw the quotation from Isaiah 53 being dated to 700 BC at the beginning. Nothing like putting in a mistake in the first few frames to set the tone. Also, there was confusion over hand-washing before meals, which was a ritual act, not a hygienic one, and which was followed by some Jews but evidently not Jesus and his followers (Mark 7:1-4). Mama Mary's making Jesus wash his hands before lunch and the disciples washing theirs before the Last Supper are anachronisms. They didn't know about germs back then. (As an aside, I did think that the people looked realistically unwashed.)

Despite all that, there was a real effort at least much of the time to get the historical background right. The contrast with other movies and television films is striking. British readers may have seen the final episode of the police drama Murder City on ITV last Thursday evening. It involved an ancient codex written in some pre-cuneiform(!) language that was given some Lovecraftian-sounding name. The codex contained the true primal religion that disproved all current religions and this religion was followed by a fanatical, murderous, underground cult with Protocols-of-Zion-level tendrils of power insinuated throughout the world. That's the sort of tripe film-media usually dish out when they try to do history (the movie Stigmata is another example) and Gibson does deserve some credit for rising well above that. Still, I wish he had worked with an advisory team of specialists, and I hope he does that if it's true that his next movie will be on the Maccabees.

Miscellaneous: Why does Satan look so much like the Grim Reaper in Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey?

In sum: Movies about ancient history are usually dreadfully poorly done. By that standard, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ was pretty good.

UPDATE (25 April): Mark Goodacre comments here.

And more here.

DEAD SEA SCROLLS ARTICLE: The Richmond Times-Dispatch has a survey article on the Dead Sea Scrolls: "Ancient words of early Judaism - Scholars discuss the impact of the Dead Sea Scrolls, authors" It's basically accurate, although it's a little too confident of the Essenes-as-a-monastic-community-on-the-shore-of-the-Dead-Sea interpretation of the evidence and it plays down the differences between the the Qumran biblical texts and the Masoretic Text a little more than I would. But still, a good piece. Excerpt:
Except for a tour bus now and then, the hot and arid hills above the west shore of the Dead Sea are lifeless and quiet.

That hasn't always been the case.

More than 2,000 years ago, the Khirbet Qumran hills were home to a community believed by most modern scholars to have been the Essenes, a Jewish sect from the middle second century B.C.

In 1947, a Bedouin shepherd entered one of the Qumran caves and discovered the first of what has become known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. The tattered and stained scraps of parchment were stored in clay jars. The most recent of the scrolls were discovered in 1956.
Click here.

Apparently the Essenes hid them in the caves and never returned. The writing on some of the scrolls seems to predate even the Essenes.

Dating from the third century B.C. to the first century A.D., the Dead Sea Scrolls "are about 1,000 years older than the previously known manuscripts of the Old Testament," said James A. Brashler, professor of Bible and dean of the education faculty at Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond.


Friday, April 23, 2004

I'VE JUST COME from seeing Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Finally.

Initial reaction: for a movie, it was pretty good. Better than I expected. More later - I hope tomorrow.
TYNDALE TECH ALERT: David Instone-Brewer of Tyndale House has sent out another of his useful e-mails on subjects pertaining to computing and biblical studies. This one is on "Greek and Hebrew Fonts - Unicode and older" and can be found on his web page by following the link. This message is very helpful: it seems to tell pretty much everything you need to know to install and use Unicode fonts. Unfortunately for me, one of the things I needed to know (well, really, the one thing I needed to know) is that Unicode isn't available for the Mac at present and may not be for the foreseeable future. That's disappointing, but at least it lets me ignore Unicode and think about other things. Thanks David, and keep up the good work.

UPDATE: Mark Goodacre has comments that will be useful to PC users.

UPDATE (24 April): Guess what? It's not that simple. Mac users go here for more.
LARA CROFT (a.k.a. Angelina Jolie) is Alexander the Great's mother. Now that explains a lot, doesn't it? (Via Rogue Classicism.)

APOCRYPHA WATCH: Susanna, the Apocryphal addition to the Book of Daniel, has been mentioned in the media a couple of times recently. This Washington Times essay, which argues against a Constitutional amendment for victims' rights, uses the story of Susanna as an illustration of the importance of witness sequestration:
The VRA would also vitiate the truth-finding objective of trials by injecting victim concerns that could undermine the impartiality and reliability of verdicts. The amendment would require judges in jury selection, evidentiary rulings, or jury instructions to "consider the victim's safety, interest in avoiding unreasonable delay, and just and timely restitution from the offender." It would permit victims who intend to testify to avoid sequestration, a customary requirement to foil the tailoring of witness stories. Sequestration has been celebrated by an icon in the law of evidence, however, as "one of the greatest engines that the skill of man has ever invented for the detection of liars in a court of justice."

Thus, the biblical Apocrypha relates how Daniel exonerated Susanna of adultery by sequestering two accusing elders and eliciting conflicting answers as to where the alleged crime occurred.

And this article in the Seattle University Spectator describes a painting in the Frye Art Museum:
It dawned on me that I hadn�t visited the free Frye Art Museum since last fall and a new exhibition had opened on April 10, so I jumped on my longboard and headed to 704 Terry Avenue.

The Frye is an Art Museum located within a half-mile of Seattle University.

Charles Frye was a wealthy businessman from Seattle who left money and an extensive collection of art in his will for the creation of an art museum for the Seattle public. His attorney, Walser Greathouse, opened the Frye Art Museum in 1952.


A few portraits in particular were particularly impressive . . .

�Susanna and the Elders,� by Franz Xaver, shows an Old Testament Scene from the Apocrypha where David unmasked the false charges held against Susanna by the elders. Susanna appears distressed, containing both innocence and an emerging understanding of reality.

These feelings are further emphasized by the contrast of her pale skin with the dark background colors.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

THE CYRUS CYLINDER is being loaned to Tehran by the British Museum and the Mullahs are not happy about it. Anders Bell at Phluzein points to the following article (which is also run by the San Diego Union Tribune with a milder title):

Disgusting Mullahs of Iran At It Again (Persian Journal)


The British Museum's keeper of Near Eastern antiquities John Curtis said the museum planned to loan the cylinder after it was shown in Paris and Berlin but a date was not yet set. Iranian archaeologists hoped it would arrive in 2006.

When empire-building Persian monarch Cyrus the Great overwhelmed Babylon's army east of the river Tigris in 539 B.C. there was no victorious pillaging or torching of homes.

Instead he wrote his charter, the Cyrus cylinder, declaring that each man would be free to worship his own gods, no race would oppress another and no man would be enslaved.

In a move with sharp modern resonance, the conqueror also gave right of return to refugees.

Shahrokh Razmjou, a scholar at the National Museum of Iran working on a fresh translation of the cylinder, said the artefact kindled intense emotions among many Iranians.

"People feel strongly about it because it is about freedom and giving freedoms," he said. "People want to keep the connection to that golden period."

He said a joyous gasp had rippled around a crowded Tehran lecture theatre when British Museum Director Neil MacGregor announced to them that the cylinder would be loaned to Iran.


An editorial in the hardline Jomhuri-ye Eslami daily insisted the spiritual father of the modern nation, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, would not have approved of the loan.

"The late leader Ruhollah Khomeini believed monarchy was corrupt and the kings were traitors," the editorial read.

"So this move by the National Museum of Iran contradicts the political line of the founder of the Islamic system and is an attempt to revive the decayed bones of kings," it continued.


The description of the Cyrus Cylinder in the article is a little too enthusiastic. The Cylinder doesn't promise the freeing of all slaves; that idea never would have occurred to anyone in antiquity. (You can read a translation of the whole thing here.) Still, I can see why the Mullahs don't like it: no terrorizing the populace; no detaining foreigners against their will; bringing relief to dilapidated housing (one thinks of Bam); honoring all religions. Can't have all that, can we?
In the more than 20 years since the death of Klaus Nomi, the closest the modern rock world has come to having an opera-quality singer is probably Lisa Gerrard, formerly of Dead Can Dance. In addition to composing acclaimed movie scores, such as the ones for The Insider and Whalerider, Gerrard has released three �solo� albums, the latest of which is Immortal Memory (4AD). Gerrard�s distinctive and rich contralto vocals envelop the 10 songs on which she collaborated with composer Patrick Cassidy. Singing in Aramaic, Latin and Gaelic, Gerrard embodies the kind of passion for which Mel Gibson can only mutter unanswered prayers.

More here.
DEVER LECTURES ON SOLOMON: If you happen to be in Omaha, don't miss this.
Lecture to examine history, myth of Solomon

UNO's Bethsaida Excavations Project and The Archaeological Institute of America, Lincoln-Omaha Society will host scholar William G. Dever for a lecture titled "The 'Age of Solomon,' History or Myth? The Archaeological Picture" this Thursday, April 22 at the Joslyn Art Museum. The lecture will begin at 7:30 p.m. and present information about the archaeological evidence that demonstrates the state of Israel in the 10th century B.C.E. The presentation is free and open to the public. The Joslyn is located at 2200 Dodge St. For more information, contact Rami Arav, director of UNO's Bethsaida Excavations Project, at 554-4986.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

STORY AS HISTORIOGRAPHY: On the Bible and Interpretation website, Leo Sandgren defends the telling of fictionalized stories set in the biblical period as a historiographic enterprise. It sounds hard to pull off, but an interesting idea. In some ways it resembles the idea of using counterfactual history to help make sense of history that actually happened, which is what chapter three of my book - which I'm currently writing - sets out to do.
The Shadow of God: Stories
from Early Judaism

(Hendrickson Publishers, 2003)� Essay on Historical Imagination as Applied to Early Judaism

By Leo Sandgren
Dept. of Religion & Jewish Studies
University of Florida
April 2004

A few excerpts:
�� When one writes a book that is commonly done in a given field of study, one has to justify why (besides publish or perish) one is writing yet another book to compliment the others already out there. But when one writes a book that is not done, or rarely done, one has to justify why it should be done at all. The Shadow of God, which may be characterized as a work of �historical imagination,� falls into the latter category, covering six centuries of Jewish history, from the Babylonian exile to the destruction of the Second Temple, in 15 stories, each centered on a historical event.


�� In short, I am not primarily concerned with what did occur but with what might have been possible responses to what probably did occur. By this means, the goal is to clarify how Judaism developed over six centuries. The emphasis is on the journey itself, not a description of the milestones. The journey is imagined, just as history is the imagined reconstruction of the past by a single subjective mind whose reconstruction may be critiqued by others, if and only if, they have an equally firm grasp of the data of the past. The stories in The Shadow of God are my reconstructions of Jewish history. And I echo the sentiments of Keith Hopkins: that to re-experience life in antiquity, �we have to combine ancient perceptions, however partial, with modern understandings, however misleading.� (Hopkins, A World Full of Gods, 6.)

��� I had three structural goals for the project: 1) the development of key themes: the universalism of God and of Torah, the particularism of Jewish identity, and the development of Jewish Christianity; 2) a fairly complete portrayal of society: the major stereotypes, but including non Jews, men and women, servants and masters; and 3) anchoring the stories to significant historical events that in themselves demonstrate the growth of Judaism. Beyond these goals of content, I hoped to engage the reader with the plots, narrative, and dialogue, that is, to draw the reader into the world of the story.

��� Historical imagination strives for authenticity of the era in thought as well as setting. In recent times, filmmakers have gone to extraordinary lengths for historical accuracy in the settings and minutia. The description of the background and the minor details of daily life ought to reflect our best knowledge of the era. The reader should have a confident sense of being there, not being in a poorly furnished museum. But more importantly, the thoughts expressed must also be limited to the potential for thought during the era.


�� If works of historical imagination are to be taken seriously, they must be undertaken seriously. The value of historical imagination is to fill in what our sources have left out, but what we know must have been there. And we can expand from a few bits of historical memory into a fuller picture of ancient thought. A danger of historical imagination is that while using an art form of story telling and dialogue, we too easily project modern attitudes onto antiquity, but this is a danger for all historians and can only be guarded against by a careful comparison with our ancient sources. A second danger of historical fiction is that it can beguile the reader into thinking what might have occurred, did occur. Here, it is the responsibility of the historian cum story teller to help keep the known historical data separate from the fictional elaboration. Toward that end, I provide fairly complete endnotes to the sources, and a clarification of the historical and fictional characters in the chronology at the end of the book. Even so, I am aware of the potential for confusion, and such works of historical imagination are best read as supplements to more formal histories. It won�t replace good old fashioned history as done by the German scholars, but it can breathe some life into their histories. Each contributes to the other.

There are summaries of the stories, but a summary of a story isn't the same thing as the story. Any chance of putting one of the actual stories online? That would be a good advertisement for the whole book.
THE RESPONSE TO THE AAR PETITION: For nonmembers, here is the full text of the response of the AAR Board of Directors to the AAR Joint Meetings Petition to AAR Board of Directors, sponsored by Karen King and Elaine Pagels. It was sent out to members last night by e-mail.
April 20, 2004

Dear AAR Members:

In recent weeks, many of you will have received a petition from our colleagues Karen King and Elaine Pagels regarding the Board of Directors' decision a year ago to hold independent annual meetings beginning in 2008. The Board spent the better part of our April meeting discussing various issues relating to this decision. We attended carefully to the petitioners and the concerns they expressed.

The Board appreciates the commitment to the Academy and to the goals of the centennial strategic plan expressed by the petitioners, as well as their desire to find creative and constructive ways to deal with the growth and expansion of the field of religion. We are aware that the members of the Academy have a range of ideas about how best to accomplish this and that some of these ideas are in conflict with one another. In an organization of some 10,000 individuals, that divergence is not surprising.

With the decision for independent annual meetings made, we intend to engage the full range of members' concerns as implementation moves forward. To that end, the Board has appointed a task force to advise us on this implementation. The task force includes members who share concerns expressed in the petition, as well as members with different perspectives. The membership of the Task Force comprises colleagues whose studies and interests in the field of religion cover a broad range, including several with specific interests in Biblical Studies and Christian theology.

Chaired by former AAR president Judith Berling (Graduate Theological Union), this task force is charged with presenting recommendations on the structure of the program, enhanced programming, and a phased program expansion in the next few years. In considering specific additions to the program, the task force is asked to target areas that are already experiencing pent-up demand, are currently underrepresented, will be underrepresented in the stand-alone meeting, and are new and emerging in the field.

Even as we look forward to an expanded and more inclusive annual meeting program over the next few years, we are keenly aware of a range of concerns beyond the program itself. These include (but are not limited to) the impact of the independent meeting on racial and ethnic minority scholars, on members from small colleges and schools with limited financial support for faculty professional development, on job searches in the field, and on publishers. We commit ourselves to working closely with members to resolve these and other issues.

Additionally the Board instructed the executive director to begin exploring the possibility of holding periodic concurrent meetings with other relevant associations (e.g., American Anthropological Association, Middle East Studies Association, Society of Biblical Literature, Society for the Scientific Study of Religion).

It is the conviction of the Board that these various initiatives will result in a new, exciting, and forward-looking annual meeting of which all members of the AAR will be justly proud. We are confident that Academy members' long tradition of collegial conversation and shared commitment to the future of the field of religion will serve the AAR during this promising, but nonetheless challenging, time of transition to an independent meeting. We welcome your recommendations and creative ideas about how to implement and strengthen the AAR annual meeting of the future.

The Board of Directors

My take: Mark Goodacre points to a FAQ about the decision put up by the AAR Board in July. The FAQ is somewhat informative but, crucially for me, neither it nor the e-mail message quoted above address the failure of the Board to lay out the two alternatives, stay-with-joint-meeting vs. hold-separate-meetings, before the full membership of the AAR for a vote. Note the following from the FAQ (my emphasis):
October 2000. The Planning Committee surveyed AAR Members concerning the future of the Annual Meeting, receiving responses from little more than 10% of members. To the question, �Please indicate the importance to you of meeting jointly with SBL,� a majority of respondents preferred the joint annual meetings, but an overwhelming majority complained about the meeting�s size, the cuts in programming, and the meeting sites (inconvenience, shuttles, loss of camaraderie, fewer and fewer viable cities).

November 2000. While the question of the annual meeting�s future arrangements is under consideration, the Board allows the executive director to sign one additional joint annual meeting contract (for 2007). The question of whether to continue meeting jointly with SBL is on the agenda for the annual business meeting, the AAR program unit chairs meeting, and the Program Committee. In the years following, the issue continues to be raised from the floor at successive annual business and chairs� meetings. Straw votes are requested and taken, revealing that members are deeply divided on the issue.

The 2000 survey results were evidently equivocal and not a sufficient indicator for the decision. Likewise for the straw polls. It looks as though there was considerable dissatisfaction with the crowding and inconvenience etc. in the meetings (I share this) but that a majority wanted a different solution than disconnecting the meeting from SBL. I agree with the majority on that too.

The King-Pagels petition indicates that at least 2900 members agree with me. Given that the petition was informal and spread by word of mouth, I would guess that an actual official vote would have found considerably more support for this position. If there had been a vote and we had lost (and, frankly, I doubt we would have), I would accept the decision and reevaluate my own connection with the AAR accordingly. (I am a joint member; my main focus is the SBL but I do go to AAR sessions too. I can't afford to go to both meetings and, if I have to choose, I'll choose the SBL. I'm not sure at the moment whether it's worthwhile to maintain my AAR membership if there's no joint meeting. There seem to be quite a few like me.) But the decision was not made by a democratic process and it is not clear that it reflects the will of the majority of the members.

This whole thing strikes me as rather similar to the issue of the European Constitution with which we're wrestling on this side of the pond. Prime Minister Blair has finally (rightly) agreed to a referendum in Britain to decide the question for the British. Far-reaching decisions of this sort should not be made by bureaucracies, no matter how many consultants they hire. Vox populi, vox Dei.

The response of the Board of Directors is not satisfactory. With respect, this is not over yet.
DR. DAVID STERN, Ruth Meltzer Professor of Classical Hebrew Literature, is one of six University of Pennsylvania faculty who have just received a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship:
These fellowships, for which there were more than 3,200 applicants, are awarded annually for distinguished scholarly achievement and exceptional promise for future accomplishment. They include substantial stipends and are among North America's most prestigious research awards. This year, 185 individuals from 87 institutions received fellowships.


Dr. David Stern directs the Jewish Studies Program and is a scholar of classical Jewish literature and religion. He has been a member of the faculty since 1984, and he received his Ph.D. from Harvard. He is studying the ways in which the physical forms of the Talmud, the Rabbinic Bible, the Prayerbook, and the Passover Haggadah have shaped their meaning and significance within Jewish culture.

Congratulations to Dr. Stern, Dr. Talya Fishman (who is working in medieval Jewish studies), and to all the other Fellows as well.
THE OTTAWA EXHIBITION Ancient Treasures and the Dead Sea Scrolls has come to an end. Visits to the Canadian Museum of Civilization were up by 20% while it was there. Congratulations to the Museum for a very successful exhibit.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION AND SOCIETY has a special edition (vol. 6, 2004) on Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Contents:

[ Introduction ] (javascript doesn't transfer)

Are the Gospel Passion Accounts Anti-Jewish?
Dennis Hamm, SJ, Creighton University

Christ's Passion on Stage: The Traditional Melodrama of Deicide
Gordon R. Mork, Purdue University

Christian Anti-Semitism: Past History, Present Challenges
John T. Pawlikowski, OSM, Catholic Theological Union

Passion-ate Moments in the Jesus Film Genre
Adele Reinhartz,Wilfrid Laurier University

Romans, Jews, and Greeks: The World of Jesus and the Disciples
Sidnie White Crawford, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

The Arrest and Sentencing of Jesus: A Historical Reconstruction
Philip Cunningham, Boston College

Gibson's Passion: A Case Study in Media Manipulation?
Mark Silk, Trinity College

Sectarian Catholicism and Mel Gibson
Michael Lawler, Creighton University

There are also some unrelated articles and book reviews. Heads-up, Carla Sulzbach.

UPDATE: Mark Goodacre has more.

Monday, April 19, 2004

WACO ANNIVERSARY: Eleven years ago today, the siege of the Branch Davidians came to its fiery and tragic end in Waco, Texas. Mark Goodacre points to a chapter in a book entitled Why Waco? Cults and the Battle for Religious Freedom in America, by James Tabor and Eugene V. Gallagher, which tells how it might have come out differently. Many years ago, Tabor was kind enough to send me a prepublication copy of parts of their book so I could use the material in my Apocalyptic and Gnostic Literature course.

It's hard to imagine how the authorities could have done a worse job of dealing with David Koresh and his followers. And they should not be allowed to forget it.

What Might Have Been

The Waco situation could have been handled differently and possibly resolved peacefully. This is not unfounded speculation or wishful thinking. It is the considered opinion of the lawyers who spent the most time with the Davidians during the siege and of various scholars of religion who understand biblical apocalyptic belief systems such as that of the Branch Davidians. (13) There was a way to communicate with these biblically oriented people, but it had nothing to do with hostage rescue or counterterrorist tactics. Indeed, such a strategy was being pursued, with FBI cooperation, by Phillip Arnold of the Reunion Institute in Houston and James Tabor of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, one of the authors of this book. Arnold and Tabor worked in concert with the lawyers Dick DeGuerin and Jack Zimmerman, who spent a total of twenty hours inside the Mount Carmel center between March 29 and April 4, communicating directly with Koresh and his main spokesperson, Steve Schneider. Unfortunately, these attempts came too late. By the time they began to bear positive results, decisions had already been made in Washington to convince Attorney General Janet Reno to end the siege by force. As we will show, those officials briefing her had decided on the CS gas option and were determined to get her approval, despite her caution and better judgment.


We now know that Koresh was working on his manuscript, which he considered his divinely sanctioned task and opportunity. He worked on it as late as Sunday evening, the night before the April 19 assault, completing his exposition of the First Seal. Those in Mount Carmel were excited and pleased by his progress, fully convinced that they would soon be able to come out peacefully.(47) Ruth Riddle, a Branch Davidian who survived the fire, served as his stenographer and typist that weekend. On the day of the fire, she carried out a computer disk in her jacket pocket, containing what Koresh had written up to that point. A substantial piece, it runs about twenty-eight manuscript pages; it reflects Koresh's personality in its style, content, and passion.(48) At the end of the document, he quotes the book of Joel and then offers his commentary: "'Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly. Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that nurse at the breast; let the bridegroom go forth from his chamber, and the bride out of her closet [Joel 2:15, 16].' Yes, the bride is definitely to be revealed for we know that Christ is in the Heavenly Sanctuary anticipating His Marriage of which God has spoken. Should we not eagerly ourselves be ready to accept this truth and come out of our closet and be revealed to the world as those who love Christ in truth and in righteousness?" (emphasis added). Koresh had found his text for the situation at hand. As he then understood events, as always through the lens of the biblical prophets, the group was to come out and be revealed to the world. This does not mean he had given up his apocalyptic scenario or his view of himself as the Koresh/Christ who would in the end confront and defeat Babylon. He surely believed that God would bring about the final confrontation in the future. He had come to understand that his immediate task was to communicate his message to the world, after which he would surrender and allow God's will to unfold.

The only effective way to communicate with Koresh was within the biblically based apocalyptic "world" he inhabited, taking advantage of the inherent flexibility that the situation at Mount Carmel presented. Of course, no one can ever know if Koresh would have honored his pledge to come out once the manuscript was finished, but whether he would have or not, the outcome could not have been more terrible. To the FBI he was a con man using religion to cover his need for dominance and pleasure. To the psychiatrists he was psychopathic, suffering from delusional paranoia. Such perceptions, whether valid or not, obscured the only positive means of dealing with Koresh and his followers. Although the FBI has charged that Koresh constantly went back on his word, contradicting himself and willfully breaking his promises, the Department of Justice's highly detailed log reveals otherwise: Koresh and his followers were utterly consistent from March 2 onward. They had been told to wait by God; they would not come out until Koresh received his word from God telling them what to do. No amount of pressure or abuse would move them from this path. The final tragedy is that, when Koresh finally got his "word" on April 14, no one with any understanding of the religious dynamics of the situation had access to those making the decisions that week in Washington.


The authors have a web page on the book here. On it, inter alia, is a link to Koresh's unfinished magnum opus, Exposition of the Seven Seals, which, incidentally, I assigned as a reading toward the end of the above-mentioned course, and a commentary by Tabor and Philip Arnold.

Mark Goodacre has more here. My thanks to Mark for the reminder of the anniversary.

UPDATE (20 April): David Nishimura comments over at Cronaca.
ARAMAIC RULES! The California team with the Aramaic jackets won first place at the academic decathlon in Idaho.
Three-peat's oh so sweet (Los Angeles Daily News)

By Lisa M. Sodders
Staff Writer

BOISE, Idaho -- In a record-breaking, nerve-racking finish Saturday, Woodland Hills' El Camino Real High School squeaked past a rival Arizona team to win the 23rd annual U.S. Academic Decathlon.

About 270 points out of a possible 60,000 total separated the two teams and gave El Camino its third national championship, making it the only California team to claim three national titles.


Team members also finally revealed the meaning of the mysterious motto written in Aramaic on the back of their black satin team jackets: "The only difference between genius and insanity is 12 inches," a play on Thomas Edison's expression, which held that the difference was a work ethic, [team member Eric] Rasyidi said.

I have to admit I'm having trouble retroverting that back into Aramaic, but whatever.

Congratulations to the El Camino Real High School team for winning the competition.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

UPDATE ON SETH SANDERS'S ESSAY: I've been meaning to note for some time that Rebecca Lesses pointed to a link to notes that go with the essay.
MORE ON THE MESS in Akron surrounding the From the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Forbidden Book exhibition. This is an A.P. article, although I haven't found it yet outside the Akron Beacon Journal:
Trustee helps sort ownership in religious artifacts exhibit

Associated Press

AKRON, Ohio - An exhibit of religious artifacts featuring fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls ends Sunday, but the legal disputes surrounding it could continue.

A court-appointed trustee must oversee the process as various owners pick up their ancient manuscripts, Bibles and clay tablets on Monday.


U.S. District Judge John Adams took three hours Friday to sort out the complicated ownership trails for the three collectors who organized the exhibit, with some of them displaying items they in turn were borrowing. None of the agreements was in writing.

"I'm a bit surprised," Adams said.

MORE ON THE LANGUAGES of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. This morning the Scotsman has an article, "Gibson's Christ film is all Greek to me, says language expert", in which "Edinburgh author" Peter Burnett is interviewed. The only Peter Burnett I can find who fits this description is a children's author who won an award for his writing a couple of years ago. Excerpts:
Burnett, who studied Hebrew and Aramaic at Glasgow University, says the Romans in Jerusalem would have spoken Greek, the empire's common tongue, and not Latin.

Burnett, 33, said: "It's very Life of Brian to have the Romans speaking in Latin, and it's just downright absurd to have the Jewish people talking in Latin.

"Think of the letters of Paul and of the gospels - all written in Greek, the common tongue of the day and of the empire.

"The Latin is creative to say the least, and is given a strong Italian accent to draw it away from the Latin reading contests we remember from school.

"Jesus speaking Latin is also a joke as he doubtless didn't even know Greek, unlike his educated advocate, Paul."


It is the first time Aramaic, which has links to both Hebrew and Arabic, has been used in a Hollywood blockbuster.

But Burnett pointed out that there are only incomplete records of the ancient version of Aramaic Jesus spoke.

He added: "There is only one bit of Aramaic in the New Testament - 'Lord, Lord, why hast thou forsaken me?' - so they use that to great effect."

I'm afraid that last sentence is incorrect. First, it is not entirely clear that the transliterated words in question are Aramaic rather than Hebrew. There are textual variants as well as differences between Matthew's and Mark's renderings and the words could be taken as a mixture of the two languages. Second, the passage is misquoted: it's "My God, my God," not "Lord, Lord" (Matthew 27:26; Mark 15:34). Third, and more importantly, there are other words transliterated in the Greek New Testament which are clearly Aramaic, such as talitha koum in Mark 5:41 and maranatha in 1 Cor 16:22.

Also, it's worth noting that Jesus may have known some Greek (whether he did or not is debated by specialists) and that we have quite a bit of Aramaic in the Dead Sea Scrolls which is roughly contemporary with Jesus and which must be fairly close to the Aramaic he spoke.) The Romans may well have spoken Latin among themselves, although they would have used Greek when talking to the locals.

Once again, the journalistic mind baffles me. Why does the Scotsman go to a children's author to get authoritative information on the languages of first-century Palestine when there are people in Scotland who really are experts on the subject? Ahem. (And not just me, although this is directly in my line of research. Timothy Lim, Peter Hayman, and Richard Bauckham are all in Edinburgh or within a few miles.)
TODAY IS YOM HASHOAH - Holocaust Memorial Day. This Palm Beach Post article, "New word to replace Holocaust wins favor," discusses the current controversy over whether "Holocaust" should be dropped in favor of "Shoah" (which is a Hebrew word meaning "destruction"). Excerpts:
The knock against "Holocaust" is twofold. Many object to the word, derived from ancient Greek, because it translates as "burnt offering" -- in the sacrificial religious sense, according to select scholars. And that leads to a horrific connotation when speaking of the atrocities committed against the Jews, who were often driven to the gas chambers, then cremated. How could their fiery end be considered a sacrifice?

"If it's a burnt offering to God, then I don't want to know the God at the other end," says Michael Berenbaum, a leading scholar based at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles.

But the linguistic issues go deeper. As "Holocaust" seeps into the vernacular, the term has become attached not only to other genocides and mass slaughters -- in Armenia, Cambodia and elsewhere -- but also to a range of other events and movements. In an article for a Jewish publication, Diana Cole cited such examples as a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' "Holocaust on Your Plate" exhibit and, a Web site for "breast implant victims."


Still, others say the "burnt offering" religious concept isn't necessarily the correct interpretation. True, "holocaust" appears in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (or, as some now prefer to call it, the Hebrew scriptures). But "holocaust" was also employed before that to denote pagan sacrifices, removing it from the Judeo-Christian framework, researcher Jon Petrie has noted.

And in the 20th century, "holocaust" took on variety of meanings before it became forever wedded to the crimes of the Nazi era. Often, it simply signified a great fire. In his writings, Petrie goes so far as to quote a 1940 advertisement in the pre-state of Israel Palestine Post for a show by one Mandrake the Magician, promising "a flaming holocaust of thrills."

Right word may not exist

In the early years of the Cold War, "holocaust" was far more likely to be used in conjunction with the threat of nuclear disaster. Petrie has argued that it was such usage that prompted Jewish writers, including Wiesel, to co-opt the term when referring to Hitler's dreaded "Final Solution."

"American Jewish writers probably abandoned such words as 'disaster,' 'catastrophe' and 'massacre' in favor of 'holocaust' in the 1960s because 'holocaust,' with its evocation of the then actively feared nuclear mass death, effectively conveyed something of the horror of the Jewish experience during World War II."

Myself, I don't have strong feelings either way. The main thing is, once you've settled on the term, to define it clearly so people know what you're talking about. The first argument strikes me as stronger than the second: "holocaust" did mean a "whole burnt offering" to God in biblical Greek, which is the wrong connotation for Auschwitz. But, at the same time, usage trumps etymology, and the twentieth-century usage was more complicated. The second argument strikes me as weak: whatever term is chosen, some people are going to apply it to their own cause, no matter how inappropriately.

A thoughtful article, well worth reading in full.

UPDATE (19 April): The Am ha-Aretz blogger e-mailed me to draw attention to this post. It appears that the Israeli Knesset has changed the date of Yom HaShoah this year, making it begin on the evening of the 18th through this evening (the 19th).