Saturday, November 06, 2004

Progress in an Ancient Tongue

By Andrew Heavens (Wired News)

02:00 AM Nov. 05, 2004 PT

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia -- For centuries, its letters have covered the pages of goatskin manuscripts, illuminated Bibles and the chronicles of ancient kings.

Now one of the world's oldest living alphabets could be about to make its debut on a mobile phone, if a group of Ethiopian academics gets its way.

Professors and research students here in the Ethiopian capital have just released a piece of groundbreaking research that they hope will open the door to SMS messaging in Ethiopic characters.

Controversial archeological excavation site vandalized
By Jackie Khoury and David Ratner, Haaretz Correspondents and Haaretz Service

An archeological excavation site on the Acre-Safed road was vandalized by unknown assailants on the night between Thursday and Friday.
The director of the excavation site, Yotam Tefer, said the vandals destroyed archeological findings and damaged digging equipment and bulldozers.

The excavations were initiated six months ago in order to salvage an ancient Roman cemetery unearthed in Acre's city center during works on a new two level underpass on the Acre-Safed road.

The diggings raised the fury of orthodox Jews who claimed that the cemetery contained Jewish graves, despite archeologists' contrary findings, and should thus remain untouched.


(Heads-up, Jim West.)
THERE IS A CONFERENCE ON JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM in Grand Rapids on Wednesday. Arthur Green and Bernard McGinn are the speakers.

Friday, November 05, 2004

SHEIKH ZAYED BIN SULTAN AL-NAHYAN, President of the United Arab Emirates, died this week at the age of 86. He has been mentioned before on this blog in connection with his founding of the Zayed Centre for Coordination and Follow-Up, which he later shut down because of its promoting of anti-Semitism, and for his unsuccessful attempt to fund a chair of Islamic studies at Harvard University. Here is an obituary in the Telegraph. But to me the most interesting recent comments on him come from an article published on 19 October, shortly before his death, "Mayo builds on $25 million gift from sheikh" (Minneapolis Star Tribune), about his financial aid to the Mayo Clinic:
Controversial center

Sheikh Zayed also has contributed money to other institutions, sometimes generating controversy.

In 1999, the sheikh helped fund the Zayed Centre for Coordination and Follow-up, a think tank in Abu Dhabi that soon drew criticism from around the world for anti-Semitic language on its Web site and speakers who promoted anti-Jewish and anti-American views.

The following year, the sheikh gave $2.5 million to Harvard Divinity School to create a professorship in Islamic studies in his name -- a gift that triggered further criticism from a Divinity School student and others. Harvard put the professorship on hold, and the sheikh later withdrew the gift with Harvard's blessing.

Amid all the controversy, however, Sheikh Zayed's government shut down the think tank, saying in August 2003 that it "starkly contradicted the principles of interfaith tolerance." The center's Web site also was closed.

That action by Sheikh Zayed earned him praise from one of the center's early critics: the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Los Angeles-based Jewish human rights organization dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust and promoting religious tolerance.

"Give the guy credit for what he did," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, "and the implications of what he did are not small. ... He is the only Arab head of state who has explicitly dealt with and condemned this sort of anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism."

True enough, and worth saying. But the point would have more force if the U.A.E. government hadn't tried in September to deny that the Zayed Centre was ever involved in anti-Semitic activity.

It's interesting to note that not one of the more than 600 online articles covering the Sheikh's death mentions the Zayed Centre.

(All this bears on ancient Judaism inasmuch as the Zayed Centre promoted the views of Jewish-Temple deniers.)
AS YASSER ARAFAT LIES IN A COMA, seemingly close to death and perhaps already on life support, the Palestinian leadership is so far declining to make funeral arrangments. This AP article summarizes the state of play regarding where he might be buried and how the Temple Mount fits into the picture.
Arafat Could Be Buried in Gaza or Ramallah


Associated Press Writer

November 5, 2004, 2:45 AM EST

JERUSALEM -- Though Yasser Arafat lies gravely ill in a Paris hospital, Palestinians have refused to begin planning for his funeral or coordinate with Israel on the movement of attending foreign dignitaries, officials say.

Arafat's burial place also is uncertain, after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ruled out Jerusalem. Arafat had expressed a wish to be buried there at a hotly disputed holy site in the Old City.

Muslims call the hilltop Haram as-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, Islam's third-holiest shrine, where the Al Aqsa Mosque compound is built over the ruins of the biblical Jewish temples.

Jews call the site the Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site. Disputes over control and sovereignty there have scuttled several rounds of peace talks.

Arafat could be buried in the Gaza Strip, where his family has a plot. An alternative would be the West Bank city of Ramallah, where Arafat made his headquarters and which became his prison after Israel besieged his compound more than two years ago.

Palestinians refuse to discuss arrangements as long as Arafat is alive.

PROFESSOR HUGH WILLIAMSON recently gave a lecture at Johns Hopkins University:
Oxford prof. examines Bible
By Rebekah Lin
November 05, 2004

The Near Eastern Studies Department's 18th annual Iwry Lecture hosted Oxford professor and Biblical history expert Hugh Williamson on Monday, who spoke on the development of the Hebrew Bible.


The article, which is in the Johns Hopkins News-Letter, summarizes the lecture and is an interesting read. Excerpt:
According to Williamson, an emic study of history takes its meaning from the participant's point of view, and seeks meaning from what is being studied. An etic approach takes its meaning from the causes of an observer, and seeks causes and explanations for what happened.

Williamson expressed fear that if emic and etic approaches are not both recognized and understood, they would become "two sides of that coin in danger of being undervalued."

Currently, studies of Judaism from the time are considered to be too emic, since the Bible is the only source. However, "now the pendulum is swinging too far in the other direction."
Excavations reinforce Golb�s contention of where Dead Sea scrolls originated
(University of Chicago Chronicle)
By William Harms
News Office

Discoveries in Israel now reinforce the view of Norman Golb that the Dead Sea Scrolls were not written exclusively or even largely by the Essene sect of antiquity, famous for its abstemious celibacy. Golb, the Ludwig Rosenberger Professor of Jewish History and Civilization in Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations and the College, contends that the scrolls were the product of many hands and represent a broad range of perspectives rather than just the thinking of a tight-knit religious group.


Read it all. I think Golb's theory that the Scrolls are not a sectarian ("Essene") collection and that they come from literary archives in Jerusalem is wrong, but I also think he's been asking the right questions and raising some important and useful points. For more on his ideas see The Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Hebrew MSS Project web page at the University of Chicago.

Thursday, November 04, 2004


The School of Divinity
University of St Andrews, Scotland

The School of Divinity at the University of St Andrews intends to offer up to two doctoral scholarships in New Testament / Christian origins. Outstanding students with stimulating thesis proposals are encouraged to apply.

The scholarships are offered in memory of Matthew Black and Ernest Best, who are cherished for their longstanding service to the University of St Andrews.
Each scholarship will provide full funding for tuition for the duration of the three-year doctoral program. The Matthew Black scholarship will provide an additional �2000 per annum to cover further expenses.

The School of Divinity at the University of St Andrews is a thriving theological community, with over 80 students working at masters and doctoral levels in the fields of biblical studies, systematic theology, ethics and practical theology, theology and the arts, and Jewish studies. Residential doctoral students are provided with their own research desks in a fully furnished postgraduate building (the Roundel). The library offers substantial holdings in NT and Christian origins, and further resources are made readily available to students. Research seminars are offered in four fields of study.

The successful Scholarship applicants will work under the supervision of one of following scholars who make up the NT / Christian origins team at St Andrews:

Professor Richard Bauckham, with interests in NT Christology, Gospel of John, early Jewish context of the NT, Gospel origins / audience, and NT theology.

Professor Philip Esler, with interests in social-scientific approaches to the NT, Paul, early Christian identity, the Bible and art, and NT theology.

Professor Ron Piper, with interests in the Gospels, Q, the historical Jesus, wisdom traditions in the NT, and social-scientific approaches to the New Testament.

Dr Bruce Longenecker, with interests in Paul, ancient rhetoric and the NT, social concern in early Christianity, the imperial order and the NT, and Luke-Acts.

Dr Jim Davila, with interests in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Jewish context of Christian origins, and Christian transmission of Jewish literature.

Applications for the Black-Best Scholarships must be received by 4 January 2005, and the scholarships are expected to commence as of September 2005. Applications for entry to the New Testament PhD programme that are received from within the European Community will automatically be considered for the Black-Best scholarships. Applications for entry to the New Testament PhD programme that are received from outside of the European Community will not be considered for the Black-Best scholarships unless they are accompanied by an application for Overseas Research Students (ORS) funding. For application forms and information regarding ORS funding forms, please contact Margot Clement at For further details about the School, see the website at:

Please pass this announcement on to anyone you know who might be interested.
THERE'S A PAGE DEVOTED TO THE JAMES OSSUARY AND THE JOASH INSCRIPTION at the Biblical Archaeology Society website, as noted by Mark Goodacre. This Update � Finds or Fakes? page has lots of papers, editorials, notes, etc. from BAR and elsewhere.

I'm pretty sure that the Joash inscription is a fake, for reasons I've already given, and I have yet to be convinced that the full inscription of the James ossuary is genuine. Granted, I haven't invested a lot of time in either, since neither has been relevant to my research over the last couple of years. As I think I've said before, anyone who wants to defend the authenticity of either needs to do it in the realm of the peer-review journals and the professional monographs. If defenses appear in specialist journals or monographs, I would be grateful if readers would draw my attention to them. Meanwhile, I'm inclined to ignore the issue � unless, of course, a whim to do otherwise seizes me.
Man Survives Jump Into Lion's Den
46-Year-Old Reportedly Trying To Convert Lions To Christianity

A man was attacked and injured after jumping into a lion's den at the Taipei Zoo and trying to convert the lions to Christianity.

The 46-year-old man leaped into the den of African lions and shouted "Jesus will save you," according to the report. He also said, "Come bite me" before one of the male lions attacked and bit the man.


Another one for the You Couldn't Make This Up File.
STOLEN ARTIFACTS SEIZED IN ISRAEL: It's hard to tell exactly what the loot consisted of, but evidently antiquities were included.
Police seize Ben-Gurion letters, other stolen artifacts
By Jonathan Lis, Haaretz Correspondent

Police on Tuesday confiscated dozens of historical documents and artifacts that had apparently been stolen, including correspondence by Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, and its first president, Chaim Weizmann.


Among the artifacts found were ancient coins, Torah scrolls and menorahs.


Wednesday, November 03, 2004

THE BIBLE AND INTERPRETATION WEBSITE is once again on hiatus, this time until January. I hope very much that they do come back.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Indiana couple sues local artifacts dealer

EVANSVILLE, IND. - Two Evansville residents are suing Akron antiquities dealer Bruce Ferrini because they say he's taken three of their valuable artifacts and has neither returned them nor given them the proceeds from their sale.


Ferrini, who is the only private holder of pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls, ran into trouble in Akron this spring over a fight with business partners over the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit he brought to town.

This, you may recall, was the From the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Bible in America exhibition, which is increasingly becoming an embarrassment.

Monday, November 01, 2004

THE MYSTERY OF THE HORNY CUCKOLDS: This week in the Forward, a reader asks Philologos if Yiddish has a word for "cuckold." The only one Philologos can come up with is the Hebrew phrase ba'al-qarnaim, which in Hebrew means something like an "owner of two horns."
Ba'al-karnayim first occurs in medieval Hebrew � specifically, in the Mah.barot Emanuel, a large and sometimes bawdy work of poetry and rhymed prose by the late 13th-and-early-14th-century Italian Jewish writer Emmanuel of Rome. (References to cuckolded husbands as having or growing horns occur in Hebrew sources even earlier, one of them being a letter written in the 12th century by Maimonides.) Emmanuel was translating the Italian cornuto, "horned," which means cuckold in Italian and has close equivalents in other European languages ...

The first statement is not strictly correct: the phrase ba'al-qarnaim first appears in the Hebrew Bible in an apocalyptic prophecy in Daniel 8. In v. 20 the phrase is applied to a ram which represents the Medo-Persian empire (cf. v. 3), which is to be destroyed by the "he-goat from the west," which represents Alexander the Great. In the Qur'an (Surah 18:84-99) the Arabic phrase dhul-qarnayn seems to come from the Danielic passage, albeit with a little confusion, since it is taken by commentators to refer to Alexander the Great.

What does this have to do with cuckolding? Beats me. The meaning "cuckold" appears in Hebrew as well according to Alcalay's dictionary, but Jastrow lists the phrase only with the meaning a possessor of power, so perhaps the cuckolding sense is medieval or later rather than rabbinic. Philologos adds the following:
Just why horns have been connected so widely with cuckolds is an interesting question. The explanation would seem to lie in the association of horns with male sexuality, no doubt because they accompany sexual maturity in many ruminants, which use their horns and antlers as dueling weapons during the rutting season. (This is why, too, in parts of Asia, the ground horns of various animals mixed into food or drink are considered a powerful aphrodisiac.) Perhaps cuckolds have symbolic horns because they are "horny" � i.e., itching with sexual energy that has no outlet, since as their wives are off consorting with other males; perhaps their horns are not their own but symbolically those of the rivals who have bested them, so that "to give someone horns" originally meant to take away someone's wife in sexual combat.

All that being reasonably plausible, maybe speakers of Hebrew drew on this archetypal image and applied it to the biblical phrase ba'al-qarnaim simply because it was ready to hand and because in the Bible the bearer comes to no good (the horns are smashed by the he-goat from the west). Language does some funny things and that's just a guess at what might have happened. Anyone have any better ideas?

Sunday, October 31, 2004

�One Night With The King� chronicles the life of the young Jewish girl, Hadassah, played by Hollywood newcomer, Tiffany Dupont. Dupont portrays the rags-to-riches heroine who goes on to become the Biblical Esther, the Queen of Persia (400�322 B.C.), who saves the Jewish nation from annihilation at the hands of its arch enemy Haman (played by James Callis; �Helen of Troy,� 2003) while winning the heart of the fiercely handsome King Xerxes, played by Luke Goss, 36 (�Blade II,� 2002; �ZigZag,� 1999).

��One Night With The King� is a multi-million dollar epic teeming with romance and imagery and complete with suspense, political war conspiracies, and religious intrigue,� says the publicist, Susan Zahn of WDC Media. �Having motion picture legends Peter O�Toole (the Prophet Samuel) and Omar Sharif (Prince Memucan) starring on the same bill only adds to the film�s overall mystique,� says Zahn.
Museum features legendary Queen of Sheba

Disputed existence adds element of allure

By Ben Fox

Associated Press


�It�s a classic case where everyone has heard of the Queen of Sheba, ... but they know very little more than that,� said St John Simpson, a British museum expert who is the curator of the exhibit at the Bowers Museum.

Sheba�s visit to Solomon appears first in the Book of Kings and merits a handful of other references in the Bible, as well as appearances in Islamic and Jewish texts.

Many archaeologists have felt she was likely mythical, because there is no hard evidence of her existence. But Nicholas Clapp, a consultant to the Bowers exhibit who believes there was a Sheba, says the southern Arabian peninsula is rich in artifacts that might one day prove the case.

The most encouraging sign so far, Clapp said, is that carbon dating of artifacts has shown evidence of an advanced society in the region even before 950 B.C. � the time of Sheba.

�The more archaeology we find, it certainly doesn�t contradict anything in the Bible,� he said. �A lot of times archaeology will just totally take apart an ancient story. It�s quite the contrary with the Queen of Sheba.�

Clapp, author of a book about the search for evidence of Sheba, theorizes that she could have served as a regent if a king died and his son was too young to assume the throne. That would explain a woman ruling a male-dominated society. Whatever the case, she left an impression.


Well maybe. So far there doesn't seem to be any positive archaeological evidence for her.

(Heads up, Jim West.)