Friday, May 07, 2004

IN THE LAST FEW MINUTES, PaleoJudaica received its 50,000th individual hit. Now, I know that the Rogue Classicist reached the 50K mark in only eight months (congratulations, David), and Instapundit gets more than twice as many in a day (get well soon, Glenn), but it's still exciting to me.
Bible proofreaders do their work with prayer
(& �a lot of coffee�)
(BP News)

UPDATE: Rub�n G�mez comments with reference to the (lack of) proofreading of digital Bibles. Caveat lector!
ANCIENT JEWISH MARRIAGE: Ha'aretz has a review of two recent books on the subject:
Wedded to the past?
By Evyatar Merinberg

Two important additions to the study of Jewish marriage customs in the ancient world and what we call the "Talmudic period" have come out in the past few years: Three years ago, Michael Satlow of Brown University published "Jewish Marriage in Antiquity," and more recently, Adiel Schremer of Bar-Ilan University published "Man and Woman He Created Them."

Schremer examines the institution of marriage in Jewish society in the late Second Temple period and the days of the Mishna and Talmud, i.e., in the fifth and sixth centuries C.E. Satlow begins his study some 500 years earlier. Both write mainly about the Jewish communities in Eretz Yisrael and Babylonia. While there were other centers of Jewish life at this time, Schremer and Satlow focus on these two communities because it is well known that they were home to groups of respected scholars who considered themselves the successors of the Pharisees and the tannaim (Jewish scholars and teachers). But there is probably a practical reason, too: Very little source material has come down to us from these other communities. Wherever possible, however, both authors, and especially Satlow, look at outside sources: the literature of the Dead Sea sect, the books of the apocrypha, the writings of Philo of Alexandria, the New Testament, inscriptions on stone and papyrus.

Schremer follows in the footsteps of the social historians. His interest lies not in the theory of marriage, but in how it was practiced. He tracks down rabbinic sources that discuss the realities of married life at that time. While Satlow is also interested in this kind of data, he gives pride of place to ideology. In certain issues, at least, he believes that valuable information can be gleaned from sources outside the rabbinic canon, such as women's archives that have somehow survived.


Thursday, May 06, 2004

NEW TECHNOLOGY WATCH: Zapping an ancient Greek helmet with sci-fi-sounding beams gives scholars useful information, including that the nose guard is a 19th century addition and that the helmet had been hammered out of a single piece of metal (via Archaeologica News):
Physics meets archaeometry in ancient Greece (PhysicsWeb)
4 May 2004

Physics-based techniques are playing an increasingly important role in the analysis of archaeological artefacts. At the 34th Symposium of Archaeometry in Zaragosa, Spain, this week Manolis Pantos and colleagues at the Daresbury and Rutherford Appleton Laboratories in the UK will describe how they used beams of synchrotron radiation and neutrons to examine a bronze helmet from ancient Greece. The non-destructive techniques employed by the group have helped to unravel the object's unusual history and could now used to investigate other ancient artefacts.

THERE'S A BOOK REVIEW of Stephen Hodge, The Dead Sea Scrolls Rediscovered (Berkeley, Seastone, 253 pages, $13.95) by Francis J. Moloney in the National Catholic Reporter. Excerpts:
The author, an authority on Eastern religions with two published books on Zen Buddhism, has attempted to lead a non-specialist reader through the substantial contribution that the Scrolls have made to our knowledge of first-century Judaism and the emergence of Christianity. That is his major concern. However, he also considers, with a certain lightness of touch, the many theories -- some of them highly speculative and even fanciful -- that have had an impact on research and often made it to the front pages of international media. The recent much-publicized delay of the complete publication of the scrolls is an excellent example, and he handles this issue with balance. There can be no excuses, but the delay cannot be laid at the door of a political cover-up by the Catholic church.


In these days of fanciful reconstructions of early Christianity that range from the incredible reception of Dan Brown�s imaginative page-turner, The Da Vinci Code, to Mel Gibson�s highly subjective �The Passion of the Christ,� it is encouraging to see someone willing to write a solid, right-headed, balanced and easy-to-read presentation of the most substantive modern contribution to our understandings of Judaism and Christianity: the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. I close with an example of what I mean by that statement. Hodge is rightly critical of much of the early work done on both the archeology of the site and the interpretation of the scrolls, under the direction of Dominican Fr. Roland de Vaux. Yet, in the end, despite all that has been said and done since those heady days in the 1950s, de Vaux�s contribution and conclusions are given due recognition. I recommend this book to anyone genuinely interested in the origins of contemporary Judaism and Christianity.

I haven't seen the book, so I can't comment on it or the review. But it does make me wonder if maybe I should be writing a book on Zen Buddhism.
GOD AND THE GODS: Philologos, in the Forward has a question from a reader on the Hebrew word elohim.
God, Not Gods
May 7, 2004

Harold Nebenzal of Beverly Hills, California has a question "designed to give the rabbis cardiac arrest." It is:

If in Hebrew we say [using the masculine plural ending -im] mayim, 'water,' while in Arabic one says [in the singular] may; and if in Hebrew [again using the plural ending] we say shamayim, 'sky,' while in Arabic [again in the singular] one says sama: does it not follow that elohim, the Hebrew word for God, is the plural of Allah?

I am awaiting your response with trepidation.


Modern scholars, on the other hand, have sought to understand the word elohim as the result of a historical evolution. Originally, in the opinion of the great twentieth-century biblical archeologist William Albright, elohim referred to "the totality of the gods," that is, to the entire pantheon of ancient Canaanite polytheism; gradually, however, as this polytheistic religion was transformed by the biblical Israelites into a monotheistic one, "the totality of the gods" became identified with a single supreme God to which the name elohim continued to apply. Some contemporary Bible translations have chosen to incorporate this view in their interpretations. The new Jewish Publication Society translation of the book of Genesis, for instance, renders the biblical words describing Jacob's wrestling with the angel, Ki sarita im elohim ve'im anashim, as "For you have striven with beings divine and human," under the assumption that elohim in this passage has its old Canaanite meaning of different or many gods.


Mr. Nebenzal can get over his trepidation. Whatever the historical or linguistic explanation for the word elohim, the Bible truly is a monotheistic book.

P.'s linguistic explanation is incomplete. It looks as though the plural-appearing but singular elohim is constructed from a Hebrew noun-pattern in which the -im indicates abstractness rather than (the much more common) masculine plural. Compare the abstract noun ne'urim, "youth." The base noun el (plural elim) is reworked into the singular abstract elohim, "divinity," just as the base noun na'ar, "young man" is reworked into ne'urim. If that's correct, the plural noun elohim, "gods," is a reinterpretation of the singular abstract noun, misunderstanding it as a plural. Maybe the the singular noun eloah, "God" is just a variant form of el. (It is linguistically similar to Arabic allah, but not the same, since it has only one l.) It could also be a back-formation from the secondarily created plural noun elohim.

Convoluted, but often these things are.

Articles from the Forward have not been showing up lately on Google and I picked up the impression that it had gone subscription-only. If so, they seem to have given up on the idea. I note two other recent essays of interest by Philologos:
"In several recent news reports in the English media, the Jerusalem street 'Emek Refa'im' was referred to as the 'Vale of Ghosts' or 'Valley of Ghosts.'

The Female Divine
Is (the?) Shekhina (Shekinah? Shechinah?) a �she� or an �it�?

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Questions of existentialism, morality and the use of power come to AUB in the role of Gilgamesh
Ancient epic gives a nascent university drama group the chance to develop

By Ahmad Ayyub
Special to The Daily Star[, Lebanon]
Thursday, April 22, 2004

The "Epic of Gilgamesh" is set to live again, starting Wednesday night at the Bathish Auditorium in AUB's West Hall. The play, which will be performed mostly by students, promises to bring a piece of popular history with a streak of humor.

"One of the reasons why people like the 'Epic of Gilgamesh' is that they find in it similar concerns to what we still have in the 21st century, even though our worlds are different," said Peter Shebaya, who is directing the play.


"The solution to getting the ruler to be a better ruler is for him to become more human, which is an interesting comment in every day and age," Shebaya said. "Oppression is not just a matter of who has the power, it is also a human question. Oppression is inhuman; a person who is doing the oppression is not really a human being," he added.

Shebaya explains that if you can have all the power in the world without authentic friendship and mutual concern, you can be totally inhuman. "This is certainly a message for every century. People who are in power think that that is the most important thing; they just want power after power."

In this epic, we notice that until Gilgamesh has friendship he is not really human - he is just superhuman or inhuman. With Enkidu, he starts to become more human, as power stops being everything, and concern for someone else becomes important.

"Great literature always speaks to us - and the issue of power and its abuse by rulers is at the heart of this epic," Shebaya said.


Avant-Garde Polish Company Extends Grotowski's Legacy
Memory Songs
by Tom Sellar
April 26th, 2004 5:35 PM
(The Village Voice)

On a warm spring evening, Ellen Stewart gives her customary pre-performance blessing in La MaMa's lobby. The downtown doyenne gestures to members of Poland's Song of the Goat Theatre, who are waiting in the corner to perform Chronicles, A Lamentation, and her face lights up. "When Jerzy Grotowski brought his company here in 1967, he was like my son," she declares proudly, "and these artists, from Song of the Goat, are like his grandchildren."


When the lights rise on five seats resembling gravestones, a pair of veiled women begin chanting an ancient lament for the Babylonian king, who sought immortal life in seduction and battle. As breathing and vocalized weeping give way to broad movement, the women extend their rhythms to a chorus of men, creating a rich polyphonic weave of narration and grieving. In story and song, the seven ensemble members then recite Gilgamesh's short tale, enacting key episodes through wailing, droning, dancing, and brandishing incense and torches. Gilgamesh demonstrates his godlike prowess in war and love, but his aspirations for eternal life collapse, taking humanity's hopes for immortality with him.


If you're wondering what Gilgamesh has to do with ancient Judaism, go here.
ERIC M. MEYERS has a reply on the Bible and Interpretation website to Hershel Shanks's latest on the James Ossuary controversy - evidently in the current issue of BAR, which I haven't seen yet. If you have, this may interest you:
Setting the Record Straight:
A Short Response to BAR

By Eric M. Meyers
Bernice and Morton Lerner Professor
Director of the Graduate Program in Religion
Duke University
May 2004

��� I would like to set the record straight on several issues raised in a recent article entitled, "Lying Scholars? Ossuary Update" in Biblical Archeology Review, Vol. 30, Issue 3.


Tuesday, May 04, 2004

THE HANDBOOK OF BIBLICAL NUMISMATICS, by Mel Wacks, can be found at the Jewish Museum in Cyberspace website (via this week's Explorator). I'm not a specialist in ancient coins and I don't know who Mel Wacks is, and he doesn't seem to say anywhere, so don't take my linking to the site as an endorsement. I blog, you decide. The Handbook seems to be aimed at a nonspecialist audience and it has lots of excellent images of ancient coins. If there are any numismatists out there who want to comment on it, please drop me a note.

UPDATE (8 May): More here.

Monday, May 03, 2004

PROFESSOR HYAM MACCOBY has passed away yesterday in Leeds at the age of eighty. The Independent has an obituary by Albert H. Friedlander. (Heads-up, Jack Kilmon on Ioudaios-L. Excerpt:
Maccoby's book, never mind the play, was considered as "too partisan" by some critics. In reply, Maccoby noted that "scholars who lean over backwards to demonstrate their objectivity fall into the pit of negative partisanship".

As the stormy petrel of biblical and post-biblical scholarship, Maccoby could never be accused of this. His books on Jesus and Paul, backed up with the full knowledge of all the sources, were certain to cause controversy. Yet he was one of a school of Jewish experts in New Testament studies - others being Geza Vermes, Samuel Sandmel and Joseph Klausner - all of whom had to be treated with respect.

May his memory be for a blessing.
THE CURRENT ISSUE of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion (72.2, June, 2004) has several book reviews of interest:
Book Review
Kristin De Troyer, Judith A.Herbert, Judith Ann Johnson and Anne-Marie Korte : Wholly Woman, Holy Blood: A Feminist Critique of Purity and Impurity
Reviewed by Pamela M. Eisenbaum
pp. 525-528

Karen L.King : What is Gnosticism?
Reviewed by Jorunn J. Buckley
pp. 547-550

Daniel C.Matt : The Zohar: Pritzker Edition, vol. 1
Reviewed by David R. Blumenthal
pp. 557-559

Daniel C.Matt : The Zohar: Pritzker Edition, vol. 2
Reviewed by David R. Blumenthal
pp. 557-559

Requires a paid personal or institutional subscription to access.
TWO NEW ISSUES of Vetus Testamentum have slipped in under my radar. I'm not sure how I missed the first, unless I was busy and I ignored it because the contents are pretty much outside my usual chronological limits. But here are the tables of contents for both:

Vetus Testamentum 54.1, January 2004

Pamela Barmash

John H. Choi

Steve Delamarter

Brian Doyle

Christoph Levin

Hans-Peter M�ller

H�l�ne Nutkowicz

Short Notes

Herbert Migsch

David Toshio Tsumura


Vetus Testamentum 54.2, April 2004

Child Sacrifice, Ethical Responsibility and the Existence of the People of Israel
Omri Boehm

Another Look at Psalm XII 6
J. Gerald Janzen

Les Proph�tes Face Aux Usurpations Dans Le Royaume Du Nord
Izabela Jaruzelska

Women's Work, Household and Property in two Mediterranean Societies: A Comparative Essay on Proverbs XXXI 10-31
Bernhard Lang

Une Solution Pour Le 'ASAM Du L�preux
Christophe Lemardel�

The Role of Images in the Literary Structure of Hosea VII 8-VIII 14
Emmanuel O. Nwaoru

Nochmals: Der Turmbau Zu Babel
Christian Rose

The Patriarchal Narratives in the Books of Samuel
Dominic Rudman

Passover and the First Day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread in the Priestly Festival Calendar
Jan A. Wagenaar

Short Notes

Book List

Requires personal or institutional paid subscription to access.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

CSICOP (The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal) had a conference in November, on which the March issue of the Skeptical Inquirer has an article: "From Internet Scams to Urban Legends, Planet (hoa)X to the Bible Code." It's quite entertaining and worth the read, but here I'll just excerpt one bit on the Bible Code:
Physicist/mathematician Dave Thomas, President of New Mexicans for Science and Reason, updated his previous investigations of the notorious "Bible Code" (SI, November/December 1997, March/April 1998, and March/April 2003), which he called "the mother of all statistical apologetics." Dave's general point, stated in his usual wry way, is that "hidden messages are everywhere," not just in the Torah, the Hebrew Bible. But do they mean anything? No, of course not.

Employing the same equidistant- letter-sequence methods that Bible Code author Michael Drosnin uses to find supposed "hidden messages" in the Torah-and supposedly nowhere else-Dave is able to find such references in just about any work, including War and Peace. Dave used to leave his computer on overnight number-crunching various letter-steps to come up with interesting phrases, but he now writes his programs in C++ (it's like "Godzilla," he says) and can do the searches in real time, projecting the results on screen while we watch. Dave found that Hitler and Nazi occur in Chapter 2, Book 2 of War and Peace within a sequence of only 244 words, "one-third of one percent of the length" Drosnin needed to find them in. Thomas found "Roswell UFO" and "Darwin got it right" in Genesis. In a 6,000-word excerpt from the book Bible Code II posted on the Internet, Dave earlier found this message, which seems to say it all: "The Bible Code is a silly, dumb, false, evil, nasty, dismal fraud and snake oil hoax."

TYNDALE HOUSE (the American publisher) is publishing two books debunking The Da Vinci Code, although some of their publications have their own credibility issues:
US publishing giants locked in holy row over religion (The Scotsman)


AMERICA�S two bestselling religious publishing houses are going head to head in a battle for hearts, minds and souls of the country�s 100 million believers.

Tyndale House, the publisher of the hugely successful Left Behind series of books co-written by Tim LaHaye, a founder of the Moral Majority, is to release two new tomes debunking The Da Vinci Code, which has topped the US book charts for 56 weeks and sold 7.2 million copies.

The religious right has gone on the attack against The Da Vinci Code, published by Doubleday, which has chipped away at fundamental beliefs with claims Christianity was founded on a cover up.


Tyndale House itself came under fire from critics who say its Left Behind books, which have sold more than 60 million copies, promote dangerous and unbiblical beliefs with descriptions of an event called the Rapture, when Christ returns to Earth to take true believers to heaven.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

STUPID MICROSOFT-WORD-X SPELL-CHECKER: so far today it has told me to use "lie out" when I meant "lay out" (i.e., set out) and has suggested correcting "the righteous are" to "the righteouses are." Who programs these things anyway?
Expanded display to be here in May (Bucyrus Telegraph Forum)

By Mike Redelson
Telegraph-Forum staff

An exhibit of rare biblical documents and a portion of the Dead Sea Scrolls that was in Bucyrus just before Easter is returning May 7 and 8.

Rare biblical documents and a portion of the Dead Sea Scrolls are making their way back to Bucyrus, this time in expanded form.

Victory in Truth Ministries Pastor J.C. Church is once again hosting the privately owned exhibit, "From the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Forbidden Book" from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, May 7 and 8 and after church services on Sunday, May 9.

The Israel Museum will reopen the Shrine of the Book, the wing that houses the Dead Sea Scrolls, on June 7 after a yearlong renovation. The restored shrine will display eight of the most complete Scrolls discovered.
THERE'S AN INTERVIEW WITH JOHN RUSSELL in the Art Newspaper. Excerpts:
John Russell (50), professor of archaeology at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, has been in Baghdad for seven months. He has served as the acting senior adviser of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to the Iraqi Ministry of Culture. (The senior advisor has been, by agreement, an Italian, and Professor Russell has been in charge while the post has been temporarily vacant.) Professor Russell has helped to coordinate reconstruction of the National Museum and to improve security at archaeological sites around the country. His tour is about to come to a close, but before his departure from Baghdad, Jason Kaufman of The Art Newspaper spoke with him about the ongoing rebuilding of Iraq�s cultural infrastructure.

The Art Newspaper: Considering the reported increase in violence, you must feel constantly threatened. What is the security situation like for you?
John Russell: I feel a general level of danger. We get rocketed frequently. The bombings are directed at the Coalition headquarters, the so-called Green Zone, the main administrative area where we all live. It�s a few blocks from the Antiquities department complex where I spend a fair amount of time. I�m provided with security outside the Green Zone.

The biggest risk most of us academics take for our field is whether we'll get a job after the Ph.D. Professor Russell has been risking his life.
What is your general assessment of the work done to date?
JR: The general condition of the museum and library has been steadily improving. Archeological site looting seems to be improving, but it�s a job that will take more work. As long as there are poor people in Iraq it�s going to be a real challenge�especially while there are people willing to buy at the consumer end. But as far as I can tell the looting of sites has improved gradually, thanks particularly to the work of the Coalition, most notably in Nasiriya province where the Italian Carabinieri have made it a priority. Also in Babel province where the local CPA administration has set up an extensive site-protection system with a lot of guards, trucks and motorcycles. As far as I can tell that�s been providing pretty good protection. CPA has pledged $1 million in the south central region for equipment to protect archaeological sites. I haven�t seen if that�s been put into place yet.

Also, I am relieved to read that, contra the fears of the Telegraph/BBC in September, the security of Nimrud seems to have been maintained so far. There have been definite improvements overall during the last year, but much remains to be done. I hope that whoever replaces John Russell has the same energy and efficiency.