Saturday, May 08, 2004

See all of Israel, small, at Mini Israel (Israel Insider)
By Ellis Shuman May 7, 2004

Visitors to Israel might not have the time to visit all the sites, from Eilat in the south to Mount Hermon in the north. Now tourists, and veteran Israelis as well, can see all of Israel in miniature at the Mini Israel theme park located near Kibbutz Nachshon.

Based on the successful Madurodam in Holland and over 45 other miniature cities around the world, the Mini Israel park encompasses 13 acres (60 dunams) and is suitable for visitors of all ages. Young children will be enthralled by the animated worshippers at the models of the Western Wall and Temple Mount; older adults will be fascinated by the architectural detail given to reconstructions of the Latrun Monastery and Jerusalem's YMCA complex.


Particularly interesting is Mini Israel's reconstruction of Masada. Here visitors can see the Roman legionnaires making their way up the newly constructed earth ramps as they prepare to storm the Zealots' fortress. But looking closely, one can spot miniature cameramen alongside the tiny Roman figurines, filming the Masada story and instructing the Romans in their staged actions.


I wonder how long it will be before we have 3-D, VR Israel online. Ancient and modern. But in the meantime, this is pretty cool.
AGAINST THE LAW: Mirette F. Mabrouk tells us, in "How did The Passion hit the screens despite being in violation of the law?" (Egypt Today, via Bible and Interpretation News), that the showing of Gibson's The Passion of the Christ is against Egyptian law and she wonders why it got a pass.
In fact, most people seem happy, which puts me in the distinct minority. Not because, as you might think, I�m a terrible wet blanket. I�m just one of those people who like a little clarity in life. I like clearly defined lines. I like to know where I can park my car, how much tickets cost, what my taxes should be, and what is and is not legal.

According to the law, it is not legal to show Jesus on the big screen. Or the little one.

Nor, for that matter, can we show any of the major prophets, nor various members of their families.

To be precise, Law No. 430 of 1955 prohibits it. In 1976, a seriously butchered version of Franco Zeffirelli�s Jesus of Nazareth ran for five whole days before it was yanked off the screens. An extra decree (No. 220) which included no less than 20 clauses hammering home the �thou shalt not show holy-type figures� was promptly added to the existing law for good measure, just in case the cinemas hadn�t gotten the idea.


Society needs stability to function. Laws need consistency and enforcement for credibility. If laws can be put aside when they�re inconvenient, or sacrificed like pawns on a chessboard for political expediency, then why should we take them seriously? Why should we be expected to define our lives by them? If the laws that govern us may be put aside, or ignored at will, then how can we have faith that our rights will be protected or upheld the minute they become inconvenient? And most importantly, if laws are to be bypassed, then as citizens, don�t we deserve an explanation?


I respectfully submit that the problem is not that the law is being inconsistently enforced; the problem is that it is an unfair and repressive law that should be taken off the books entirely. If people don't want to see a movie with a prophet in it, they don't have to go. If others do, let them. If that's a threat to a society, that society is overdue for some serious introspection.
THE LIFE OF BRIAN is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary by returning to the big screen:
'Passion' gives 'Life of Brian' something to celebrate
The Orlando Sentinel (but taken from the Houston Chronicle)

Monty Python's Life of Brian turns 25 this year.

Mel Gibson chose 2004 to release The Passion of the Christ.


"Some might see it that way," Brian director Terry Jones says with a conspiratorial chuckle.

"Life of Brian," you say to yourself. "Wait a minute. Wasn't that the movie Gibson set out to spoof with his Passion? About a martyred prophet in ancient Judea, a real mama's boy unjustly crucified?"


Well, you could see it that way. Pythonists certainly do.

Life of Brian will return to theaters in all its hilarious, once-controversial glory.

MEL WACKS e-mails:
Thanks for the link to my Handbook. I am a longtime collector, writer and lecturer on this topic. I am also presently President of the American Israel Numismatic Association and Director of the Jewish-American Hall of Fame. If you or anyone else has any questions, I can be contacted at

Thanks for the additional info, Mel.

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.