Tuesday, September 07, 2004

I AM VERY SORRY TO REPORT THE DEATH OF WILLIAM MCKANE, Emeritus Professor of Hebrew and Oriental Languages at the University of St. Andrews. Professor McKane was a prolific and world-class Old Testament scholar, a Fellow of the British Academy, and he also served at one time as Principal of St. Mary's College. He passed away on Saturday. Two of his best known works are his commentaries on Proverbs (OTL) and Jeremiah (ICC). He retired long before I came to St. Andrews, but I did see him now and again and have met his wife, Agnes. My condolences to her, the rest of his family, and his many friends in St. Andrews and elsewhere. Requiescat in pace.

I've had a cold today and have been at home, mostly sleeping. But I expect to be back at it tomorrow.

UPDATE (9 September): More on Professor McKane here.

Monday, September 06, 2004

ANGELS GALORE: Tim Spaulding's Angels on the Web site collects more than 800 references to and images of angels. It includes an angels resources page for Judaism.

(Click on the image to enlarge it.)

Also, have a look at Tim's main Isidore of Seville page, which has links collections on various areas of history, religion, and other topics, including Cleopatra on the Web, Alexander the Great on the Web, Ancient Astrology and Divination on the Web, and The Complete Petra.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

BNTC CONTINUED: Here are a few photos of the event.

Thursday evening. L to R: Mark Goodacre and his two postgraduates, Catherine Smith and Helen Ingram. Catherine and Helen were relieved not to be running the program this year, but, alas, Catherine was suffering from a miserable cold this time around.

By the way, Catherine tells me that the Open Text Project is alive and well and tagged Greek texts are steadily being produced and will be placed on the Web in due course. Excellent news.

I'm sure Mark will have lots to say about the Seminar on Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. I was chairing the Second Temple Judaism & NT Seminar at the time, so I'm looking forward to his report.

Bart Ehrman gives his plenary address. John Barclay of Durham University chairs.

The other plenary addresses were by Bishop Tom Wright and Professor Judith Lieu. Wright spoke in defense of the "new perspective" on Paul (i.e., based on the work of E. P. Sanders's Paul and Palestinian Judaism) and, intriguingly, if I understood him correctly, called for a reconsideration of the genuiness of the letters to the Ephesians and Colossians. Lieu's paper is hard to summarize, but she spoke on the importance of both ancient literacy and ancient orality for understanding ancient literature such as the New Testament.

Professor Jimmy Dunn reminisces at the New College banquet on Friday evening. (Sorry this is so grainy: the room wasn't brightly lit.)

Dr. Helen K. Bond has been extremely productive this year: she has produced a book on Caiaphas and a daughter, Katriona Sophia, pictured with Helen here. I got to hold Katriona too!

Many thanks to Helen and to Professor Larry Hurtado, who together organized the conference, and to New College postgraduate Paul Middleton (and to a number of other NC pgs whose name I didn't catch), who kept things running smoothly. The BNTC is to be held in Liverpool next year on 1-3 September.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

IRAQI JEWISH ARCHIVE UPDATE: The Lebanon Daily Star has some details that are new to me in the article "Israel tallies up compensation claims by Iraq's Jews":
It appears that many of the manuscripts, Torah scrolls and books were confiscated from synagogues and libraries after the mass exodus of the Iraqi Jewish community in 1950-51. Most went to Israel. With the permission of the interim Iraqi Culture Ministry, the Coalition Provisional Authority had the water-damaged documents shipped to Texas, whereupon they were freeze dried and sent to the US National Archives and Records Administration in Washington for restoration and preservation. Archives officials are presently seeking between $1.5 million to $3 million in donations to further the restoration work. The final disposition of the documents remains an open question.

The Americans also discovered documents in the General Intelligence headquarters basement relating to Jewish property in and around Baghdad, property that had been sequestered by the Iraqi government beginning in 1951, during the mass emigration. The Israeli government has long campaigned to have the value of Jewish property abandoned in the Arab world deducted from any compensation the Israelis may one day pay to Palestinian refugees for the property they abandoned in Israel in 1948. Indeed, Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Natan Sharansky asked the Americans in 2003 to look for anything relating to Iraq's Jewish community after conquering the country.

After the property records were discovered in Baghdad, the State Department in late May 2004 passed along to Sharansky 800 black-and-white photocopies of the Arabic-language documents. After translation, they will be turned over to the Israeli Justice Ministry, whose director-general, Aharon Abramovitz, co-chairs the Israeli government's Compensation Committee for Jews Who Left Arab States. The Justice Ministry maintains an archive of 12,000 files dealing with property claims of Jewish immigrants from Arab countries and Iran. The unit responsible for this archive was first established in 1969, disbanded in the early 1990s, and recently revived.
I'M HOME. Got in late this afternoon. I'll try to post some thoughts on and photos of the conference in the next day or two.

UPDATE: Jeepers. Mark Goodacre started blogging the conference from the Edinburgh airport (here and here). The Ehrman lecture was the academic high point for me as well. One comment on it: the sentence that stuck with me the most was something along the lines of "Texts rarely constrain readings; they more often enable them." This is a good point. Adoptionists, Gnostic, and orthodox Christians could all read the Gospel of Luke and get their own theology out of it (perhaps in part because Luke wasn't himself a very systematic thinker). But texts do, of course, constrain readings in some ways too. The path that gets readers to the place they want can be straight and narrow, or winding and full of brambles, and, especially in the latter case, it can lead to all sorts of interesting side paths and dead ends. One can watch this happening in, say, New Testament exegesis of the Jewish scriptures or in rabbinic midrash. (I'm not disagreeing with Bart's statement, just drawing out other aspects of the problem.)

I suppose Friday evening was the social high point too: the banquet included reminiscenses by Graham Stanton and Jimmy Dunn of the founding of the BNTC. We were told that its conception was in 1978, its birth in 1979, and the first meeting in 1980, hosted by Paddy Best in Glasgow. It was conceived as an annual conference for British New Testament scholars, but not as a "society," so as not to give the appearance of competing with the Society for New Testament Study (SNTS), which is an international society that also meets annually somewhere in the world. (I think I have these details right.) This explains the curious phenomenon that one never joins or pays dues to the British New Testament Society, you just pay the registration fee for the British New Testament Conference if you want to come to it. Jimmy Dunn also commented, tongue firmly in cheek, that the BNTC demonstrated a classical evolution from a charismatic movement to a smoothly running institution with officers, a president, a secretary, a treasurer, and a website.

Another highlight of the evening was during the pre-banquet tour of New College, when Jimmy gave a glorious impromptu reading of the first page of a sermon by John Knox, which was on display. Then after the banquet some of us walked back to the dorms, which were some distance away, and made our way to the pub. And I recall (not too clearly) after that an evidently lengthy episode in Lloyd Pietersen's room with an improbably large number of people and three bottles of whiskey.

The weather for the conference, incidentally, was beautiful. Especially today, which was a proper summer day. And I met lots of interesting people, including a promising crop of postgraduate students from various institutions.

More presently. Rest now.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

I'M OFF TO EDINBURGH for the British New Testament Conference, which starts late this afternoon and goes through lunch-time Saturday. As I noted before, you can read my conference paper here. I don't expect to do any blogging during the conference, so look for me again on Saturday or Sunday.
A leading Jewish scholar offers the latest on the afterlife

The Associated Press
September 01. 2004 8:11PM

Western religions that believe in the one God traditionally teach that after the present life, individuals will exist eternally in resurrected bodies. Eastern religions believe the soul is embodied in either human or animal forms in numerous past and future lives.

Now comes Alan F. Segal of Barnard College in New York with the latest if not the last word on the Jewish, Christian and Muslim concepts: "Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion" (Doubleday). As one of the leading Jewish analysts of first-century Judaism and Christianity, Segal is admirably equipped to produce a 731-page blockbuster on this central, powerful theme of civilization.

He tells how Christianity borrowed and reshaped the Jewish belief in a mind-plus-body afterlife and carried it to many nations, and how Islam did the same with the Christian belief. But before the Jews, resurrection was being taught by Zoroastrians in pre-Islamic Persia (Iran), the forebears of India's present-day Parsees.


In modern times, belief in bodily eternal life has faded among Segal's fellow Jews and he shares some of that skepticism. But the concept, long an essential Jewish tenet, remains a pillar of Jewish Orthodoxy.

Segal says many modern Christians have retreated to the ancient pagan belief in which the body gets little attention, our souls are immortal by nature and all will be saved. He says it's a very appealing message to Americans.

Segal concludes that belief in eternal life seems to be an essential human need and ideal.

This concept, he writes, "exists in our minds rather than the world and gives a sense of meaning to our lives. Like beauty and justice, life after death is no less important for being unverifiable."
HAPPY BIRTHDAY to David Meadows's Rogue Classicism and Mark Goodacre's New Testament Gateway, both of which had their official launch one year ago today.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

ZAINAB BAHRANI says the coalition forces are botching the handling of Iraq's antiquities sites (in the Guardian, via Archaeology Magazine News). Excerpt:
Active damage of the historical record is ongoing at several archeological sites occupied as military camps. At Babylon, I have seen the continuing construction projects, the removal of and digging into the ancient mounds over the past three months, despite a coalition press release early in June stating that work would halt, and the camp would be removed.

A helicopter landing zone, built in the heart of the ancient city, removed layers of archeological earth from the site. The daily flights of the helicopters rattle the ancient walls and the winds created by their rotors blast sand against the fragile bricks. When my colleague at the site, Maryam Moussa, and I asked military personnel in charge that the helipad be shut down, the response was that it had to remain open for security reasons, for the safety of the troops.

Between May and August, the wall of the Temple of Nabu and the roof of the Temple of Ninmah, both sixth century BC, collapsed as a result of the movement of helicopters. Nearby, heavy machines and vehicles stand parked on the remains of a Greek theatre from the era of Alexander of Macedon. The minister of culture has asked for the removal of military bases from all archeological sites, but none has yet been relocated.

Iraq is ancient Mesopotamia, otherwise called the "cradle of civilisation". It has more than 10,000 listed archeological sites, as well as hundreds of medieval and Ottoman Muslim, Christian and Jewish monuments. The coalition did not establish a means of guarding the sites, though they would be protected in any other country rich in antiquities. As a result, archeological sites are being looted to an extent previously unimagined.
I'VE JUST UPDATED the bottom section of my links bar, the one with my own articles, papers, and reviews. I've added my two latest conference papers plus a couple of things from the Enoch Seminar last year. I've also corrected a couple of bad links in the weblogs and news sites section. The links bar could use an overhaul: I'd like to add some things and fiddle a little with the organization. But I don't think I'll be able to get to it anytime soon. I hope you find it useful anyhow.
Gibson's Passion on track for DVD records

Staff and agencies
(The Guardian)
Wednesday September 1, 2004

The mantle of most popular Aramaic-language DVD of the year already looks to be in the bag, after Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ sold 2.4m copies by noon yesterday, the first day of its American release. Industry analysts are expecting to receive figures for the first full day of sales late on Wednesday.


Most popular Aramaic-language DVD of the year. Wow!

UPDATE: But talking fish are more popular still. Oh well.
HERE'S A TRANSCRIPT of the NPR piece on the John the Baptist cave, which I mentioned earlier this week:
Profile: Shimon Gibson's Belief That He Has Found The Site Where John The Baptist Might Have Performed His Baptisms

All Things Considered: August 30, 2004

McCARTHY: Gibson and other experts spent three years excavating the cave. Among their finds, a quarter of a million shards of small vessels dating back to the first century, perhaps used in baptismal rights. They unearthed a stairway leading to a large immersion pool and a stone bearing a deep indentation in the shape of a foot that according to one theory was for ceremonial foot washing. Biblical scholar James Tabor says the cave was used for rituals, rituals he believes were associated with John the Baptist and his many disciples.

Mr. JAMES TABOR (Biblical Scholar): If we can show that there was this ritual baptism kind of activity going on in the cave in the first century, and it's the period of John and it's in the region where John lived, it's not such a stretch, then, to think that people are going there in association directly with John if not John himself.

McCARTHY: The Israel Antiquities Authority, which licensed the dig, says the science of the excavation is solid and that the cave is unique. But the director of excavations at the Antiquities Authority, Gideon Avni, says it is a stretch to conclude that John the Baptist was here, and says while the drawings likely depict John, their significance is questionable.

Mr. GIDEON AVNI (Director of Excavations, Israel Antiquities Authority): It's a kind of graffiti. It should be treated as a kind of a local archaeological phenomenon, which means there was a village nearby, maybe a monastery, some hermits going, wandering down hills and choosing this place for these depictions.
MASSIVE COIN FIND AT THE DEAD SEA: Apparently this has been know for years, but it's the first I've heard of it:
Pennies from heaven, or elsewhere (Ha'aretz)
By Danny Rubinstein

How did hundreds of thousands of bronze coins from the reign of Alexander Jannaeus (Yannai) end up on the bottom of the Dead Sea?


Archaeologist and antiquities dealer Lenny Wolf of Jerusalem says that until just a few years ago, coins of the sort found at the Dead Sea were valued at between $10-20, depending on the mint condition and the coin's state of preservation (their value dropped to as low as $5 per coin in the past few years because the market was flooded; it has lately rebounded). A few years ago, Wolf also heard about the big hoard found at the Dead Sea. An Arab merchant told him he had purchased many coins from that hoard, and after lengthy negotiations Wolf took tens of thousands of coins off his hands.

What's special about the Dead Sea hoard is the sheer number of coins. Wolf estimates, and several scholars concur, that there are 300,000 coins. That is an unprecedented number by Israeli and perhaps worldwide standards. Another interesting aspect of this hoard is that all of the coins, with a few exceptions, are from a single series: Pruta coins minted in the reign of the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus (Yannai), who ruled from 104-76 BCE.

The average weight of each coin in the hoard is less than a gram. There are larger coins weighing over 3 grams and tiny ones weighing a tenth of a gram. Most are relatively well preserved because they rested for over 2000 years on the floor of the Dead Sea, with its low-oxygen waters.

One side of the coin displays a ship's anchor surrounded by the Greek inscription "King Alexander." The anchor is a royal symbol of the Seleucid rulers (heirs of Alexander the Great), and Ariel believes that Jannaeus adopted it to give his coinage standard value. In his book "A Treasury of Jewish Coins," numismatist Yaakov Meshorer maintains that Alexander Jannaeus may also have wanted the anchor symbol to highlight the fact that he conquered the coastal towns in the Land of Israel, from Acre in the north to Gaza and Rafah in the south.

The flip side of the coin displays an eight-pointed star, surrounded by a crown; in the spaces between the star points appears the Hebrew inscription "Yehonatan the king" (the Hebrew name of Alexander Jannaeus).


Most of the coins, alas, seem to have been sold by American antiquities dealers to private individuals. They were marketed as examples of Jesus' "widow's mite."

UPDATE: Stephen Goranson notes in an e-mail that in the sentence, "Tiny silver coins of the "yahad" type go for thousands of dollars on the antiquities market (the inscription yahad appears on today's shekel in a form copied from the ancient coin)" the word "yahad" should be "Yehud," i.e., "Judah." Wouldn't it be something if there were coins with "yahad" on them!