Saturday, January 01, 2005

"UNIQUE ELITIST BIBLE INTERPRETATION." Those are the Google search terms that led a Belgian reader to PaleoJudaica about ten minutes ago. Caught, red-handed!
ROBERT DEUTSCH AND THE FORGERY SCANDAL: Chuck Jones posts the following on the ANE List:
The recent indictments for forgery make this statement on ANE on
January 21 2003 by Robert Deutsch all the more interesting:

in particular the statement on the potential political motivations for forgery.

Have there been other published statements (aside from short
quotations in the news media) from any of those indicted expressing
opinions on the artifacts in question?

(Chuck also gives a plug for my blog and those of Ed Cook and Seth Sanders. Thanks, and welcome to readers brought here by his post.)

Can anyone tell me if the bullae from the Moussaieff collection are among the suspected forgeries? The A.P's list of products of the forgery ring (which, incidentally, includes the ivory pomegranate) refers to "Numerous wax seals, said to belong to biblical figures. Some selling for $90,000." Now there aren't any wax seals from biblical period Israel, so I assume this is confused and they mean to say either stone seals or clay seal impressions; if the latter, then bullae. At least some of the ostraca in the Moussaieff collection have been argued to be forgeries, and Christopher Rollston has raised the possibility that some of the bullae are forged too. Perhaps someone who has seen the 27-page indictment can tell me whether bullae are mentioned. (Incidentally, is the indictment available anywhere online?)

If the bullae are included, it's worth mentioning that I heard Robert Deutsch speak on them at the International SBL meeting in Cambridge in July, 2003. Shortly after the conference I posted a couple of comments on his presentation. In the first I wrote:
All the papers were interesting but I'll just note Robert Deutsch's, since I have his handout in front of me. He spoke on royal bullae (clay seal impressions). I won't repeat specifics, but I'm sure he won't mind if I say that he displayed and commented on numerous bullae that included names of kings and names of royal officials of various types, and that this material gives us lots of new details about the Judean royal court in the monarchical period.

I don't think I have the handout anymore, unfortunately.

In the second I wrote:
I recall that Robert Deutsch took us in detail through his authentication procedure for the bullae he was discussing, so the people working with this material are not unaware of the problem.

All the more interesting in retrospect. What context we put this into depends, naturally, on what the trial brings out in due course.

UPDATE: Ed Cook: "They belong in a museum!" Amen.

UPDATE (2 January): More here.
JEWISH-TEMPLE DENIAL WATCH: Ed Cook points to an interpolation in an A.P. article on the forgeries, found in the Latest News column (no permalinks) of Middle East News and World Report. Actually, there are two interpolations:
It is always believed by the Palestinians that Israel's and the Jewish claim to Palestinians and Muslim sites are forged and has no merit. This indictment confirms this widely held fact.


Another Jewish forgery to be discovered and declared is the Jewish right wing extremist's claim that their Temple that was destroyed by the Romans more than four thousand years ago was located where the present Muslim Holy Site of Haram Al Shariff, Al Aqsa Mosque stands.

The writer manages to combine the usual lie about Jewish history with an egregious blunder on the date of the Romans. Again, 2005 is starting to look like 2004 pretty quickly.
STEPHEN C. CARLSON has a 2004 Retrospective for his blog Hypotyposeis.
THIS GUARDIAN ARTICLE from a couple of days ago has some details about the forgery investigation which I don't remember seeing elsewhere:
Forgers 'tried to rewrite biblical history'

Conal Urquhart in Jerusalem
Friday December 31, 2004
The Guardian


Doubts about the artefacts emerged after Israeli police began to hear rumours of an Egyptian craftsman living in Israel who would boast of his part in the forgeries while drinking in Tel Aviv. Detectives launched an investigation two years ago which rapidly became a global exercise.

The indictment lists 124 witnesses, including antiquities collectors, archaeologists, officials from Sotheby's auction house and representatives of the British Museum and the Brooklyn Museum.


The article also says that "Shuka Dorfman, head of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said the forgery ring had been operating for more than 20 years," but doesn't say how much more.
FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF MISLEADING SUMMARIES, the Faith News column in the Times devotes the following paragraph to the news of the stone jar fragments excavated in what may be ancient Cana (my emphasis):
ARCHAEOLOGISTS in Israel have found pieces of large stone jars which they say Jesus may have used to turn water into wine at the wedding in Cana. They made the discovery during a salvage dig in present-day Cana, between Nazareth and Capernaum. But New Testament scholars said that it would be difficult to authenticate the jars because experts disagreed on the location of biblical Cana.

Now I don't know if the writer, Luke Coppen, is really ignorant enough to think that the archaeologists are claiming that these are the very stone jars Jesus used in the story in John 2. I suppose it's possible that he's just perpetuating the misunderstanding of the earlier A.P. article (see second link above). Still, I'd like to think that he means to say the jars are of the same type as the ones Jesus is reported to have used and he just can't write a clear sentence. Either way, I'm not impressed with the journalism.

So 2005 is already shaping up to look much like 2004.
HAPPY NEW YEAR! The first paleojudaic item I've found this year is this A.P. review of Alan Segal's blockbuster tome on afterlife beliefs:
Jewish scholar reviews concepts of the afterlife
Book examines monotheistic faiths' views.

By Richard N. Ostling
Associated Press
January 1, 2005

Western religions that believe in a single 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 review of 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.

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 Christian beliefs. But before the Jews, resurrection was being taught by Zoroastrians in pre-Islamic Persia (Iran), the forebears of India's present-day Parsees.


The piece also contrasts Segal's views about resurrection in the New Testament with those of N. T. Wright.

Friday, December 31, 2004

ED COOK recounts the story of the appearance and eventual purchase of the ivory pomegranate. The question Stephen Carlson asks in the comment also occurred to me.

Here's another. In my exchange with Lawrence Mykytiuk over unprovenanced bullae (inscribed clay seals) I asked when the "monster forgery machine" started operation. At the time available information pointed to the 1980s, but if Lemaire saw the inscribed ivory pomegranate in an antiquities shop in 1979, it appears that sophisticated forgers were active as far back as the 1970s. If we follow Larry Schiffman's dictum "The most exciting things are the things most likely to be forged," what other important inscriptions need to be looked at again? Should the Avigad bullae be reauthenticated? Mykytiuk wrote to me in August:
Since then, it has become difficult indeed to find any experienced, senior epigrapher who seriously doubts the authenticity of the first-known bulla of Berekyahu. How many can you name? What reasons do they give?

None. But the same could have been said until very recently about the ivory pomegranate, and that Baruch bulla certainly counts as one of the "most exciting things." Clearly we can no longer rely upon authentications from the 1980s and 1990s. As I've said before, I don't keep up much with Northwest Semitic epigraphy any more, so I'm asking those who do. Which are the exciting inscriptions we need to look at again? How do we go about reautheticating them? What new questions need to be asked about lapidary inscriptions, bullae, papyri, etc.?

If you want realtime expert commentary on the forgery scandal as it unfolds, keep an eye on Ralph the Sacred River and Serving the Word.
SETH SANDERS comments on the forgery scandal and promises to tell us in the next installment "why this may not really be the problem at all." I'm not entirely sure what "this" is (the forgery scandal itself?), but his next post should be interesting.
THE APOCRYPHAL GOSPELS are the subject of this popular article from Cox News Service. It summarizes some of the more outrageous episodes in them.
ALEXANDER THE GREAT KNEW HEBREW? And Babylonian? Today's New York Times has an article on Alexander ("The World of Alexander Was Rich and Beautiful Even Before the Movies") by Wendy Moonan, which is based on an interview with Professor Dimitrios Pandermalis. In it she says in passing (my emphasis),
Alexander grew up in the Macedonian court, which once welcomed Euripides the playwright and Pindar the poet. There he met visitors from all over the known world: Persia, Egypt, Crete, Sicily and the Dardanelles. Philip II hired Aristotle to tutor Alexander at age 14 in Greek, Hebrew, Babylonian and Latin, rhetoric and justice. From him Alexander probably acquired his lifelong love of learning and openness to foreign cultures.

Surely this is a misunderstanding. Aristotle was a good Greek who would have disdained the idea of learning a foreign language. Although it wouldn't surprise me if Alexander later picked up enough Aramaic to get along (it was the diplomatic language of the Persian empire), and it's conceivable that he even learned a little Babylonian (i.e., Akkadian) along the way, I don't know of any positive evidence that he knew either. And I think it's vanishingly unlikely that he knew Hebrew. Any classicists want to comment?

UPDATE: David Meadows agrees and notes that the reference to Latin is equally improbable. But I'm not sure that Professor Pandermalis should be blamed; he's not being quoted here and the problems may be due to the reporter attempting to fill in background.

I suppose it's useful to close the year with a reminder that in 2004 the mainstream media remained without a clue about ancient history.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

TEMPLE MOUNT WATCH: This Ha'aretz article ("Doomsday scenarios") gives an overview of the security nightmare that is the Temple Mount. Hard to excerpt, but here's a bit:
On the face of it, the Shin Bet and the police should now be experiencing a sense of deja vu. Once again Jewish fundamentalists are talking about an attack on the Temple Mount in messianic terms, as a means to achieve a political goal. In the 1980s, the idea was to prevent the withdrawal from Sinai; today they want to scuttle the disengagement plan. But the Jewish Division (an operational unit in the branch to foil terrorism and prevent Jewish and foreign subversion) can only envy Hazak and his colleagues, and not only because they succeeded in foiling two attempts to attack the Temple Mount (the second was almost negligible, by a group of newly religious and eccentric criminals from Jerusalem's "Lifta Gang"). Today, the Shin Bet has to cope with the zealots of the third millennium - the "hilltop youth" in the West Bank.

"There is a fundamental difference in the worldview of the hallucinatories among the hilltop youth who want to destroy the mosques, and the members of the Jewish underground back then," the senior defense official explains. "The members of the underground considered themselves part of the state and thought they would help the state with their acts. The hilltop youth are from a different world - bolder, more determined, and do not view themselves as being part of the state. On the contrary, they are divorced from Israeli society."

Read it all.
Museums Advised to Check Bible-Era Relics

Associated Press Writer

Experts advised world museums to re-examine their Bible-era relics after Israel indicted four collectors and dealers on charges of forging items thought to be some of the most important artifacts discovered in recent decades.


Ed Cook puts it well:
The implications of these indictments, especially if followed by convictions, are enormous. It is not an overstatement to say that biblical archaeology may require a generation of disciplined, rigorous re-examination of all unprovenanced epigraphic material in order to be regarded again as a scientific discipline.

Read his whole post.

UPDATE: Here's a list of the artifacts claimed to be forgeries. So far.
MEMORABLE PALEOJUDAICA POSTS: This time of year many bloggers like to post retrospective comments on the past year. As before, I'm inclined to wait for these until PaleoJudaica's anniversary in March. But in order not to be a complete New Year's Scrooge, I've set up a new link on the links page to the right: Memorable PaleoJudaica Posts. Under it I've collected what I think are the best and most interesting posts since the blog started. It happens to have come out to seven for 2003 and seven for 2004, although I didn't plan it that way. Have a look, and if you think I've missed anything really notable, please drop me a note and remind me of it so I can consider it.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

RESISTANCE IS FUTILE: Seth Sanders has been assimilated to the Blogosphere. His new blog is Serving the Word: "The Hebrew Bible and related matters ancient and modern, through the lenses of philology, anthropological linguistics and political theology." (Via Ralph.)

You will be assimilated.
LENINGRAD CODEX ONLINE: Reader Ted Blakley e-mails:
You mentioned in a recent blog that you were going to be updating your links pages. You may already be familiar with this site but I just became aware of it today through an email sent to B-Hebrew by Christopher V. Kimball. If you aren't familiar with it, it's the electronic version of the Lenigrad Codex in Unicode/XML format. It is searchable and the thing that I really liked about it was how customizable it is. You can view the text with or without vowel points, with or without accents. You can choose verse mode or chapter mode, change the size of the fonts, etc. (And if you are using Mozilla Firefox it displays the Hebrew with fewer problems than other browsers).

I'll add this to the links page along with some other things sometime in the next few days. By the way, thanks to Ed Cook's helpful suitable-for-an-idiot advice, I seem to have gotten the Unicode Hebrew and Greek fonts working on my home system.
THE ASIAN TSUNAMI DISASTER has left me without anything useful to say, apart from - for what it's worth - "I'm sorry." Ed Cook and Mark Goodacre have information on contributing to the disaster relief. As for theological reflections, I can't do better than Roger Kamenetz.

UPDATE: The above was not in response to anyone else's comments. To reiterate what I've already said in the About page, I blog on what I please, when I please, for my own reasons, entirely at my whim and according to my own standards. Anyone who has a problem with that is welcome to go and read another blog.
ARAMAIC WATCH: Some good news from Iraq regarding Aramaic and Hebrew studies, relayed by an Assyrian-American (Chicago Tribune via AINA):
Allow me one small example of why nearly two-thirds of Iraqis have consistently told the pollsters that they expect life will be improving in their country. When I studied at the University of Baghdad [in the early 1980s], Hussein had banned the study of the Assyrian native language, Aramaic/Syriac. This is the language that Jesus spoke. Many Americans heard it for the first time in Mel Gibson's film, "The Passion of the Christ." Assyrians around the world were thrilled to hear their language used to tell this redemptive story. And now, there is a resurrection of sorts for our language in Iraq with a new department of Syriac language at the University of Baghdad. And alongside it is a new Hebrew department, the other ancient and revered language banned by Hussein.
ODED GOLAN and three others have been indicted on forgery charges in Israel:
4 indicted on charges of antiquities fraud
12/29/2004, 10:01 a.m. CT
The Associated Press

JERUSALEM (AP) � Israeli authorities indicted four antique dealers and collectors Wednesday on charges of running a sophisticated forgery ring that created a trove of fake biblical artifacts, including some hailed as among the most important archaeological objects ever uncovered in the region.

The forged treasures include an ivory pomegranate touted by scholars as the only relic from Solomon's Temple, an ossuary that reputedly held the bones of James, Jesus' brother, and a stone tablet with inscriptions on how to maintain the Jewish Temple, officials said.

"During the last 20 years, many archaeological items were sold, or an attempt was made to sell them, in Israel and in the world, that were not actually antiques," the indictment said. "These items, many of them of great scientific, religious, sentimental, political and economic value, were created specifically with intent to defraud."

The 27-page indictment charges Israeli collector Oded Golan, along with Robert Deutsch, Shlomo Cohen and Faiz al-Amaleh, on 18 counts including forgery, receiving fraudulent goods and damaging antiquities. Deutsch is an inscriptions expert who teaches at Haifa University.


Now, with any luck, we will get to the bottom of this unpleasant business.
2004 IS THE 800TH ANNIVERSARY of the death of Maimonides (as noted here and here). In commemoration, the Jewish National and University Library has published digitized copies of some Maimonides manuscripts and early editions.
Writings of Maimonides
Manuscripts and Early Printed Editions

The site requires the use of a special viewer, which must be downloaded.

(Noted by Benjamin Richler on the H-Judaic List.)

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

My thanks to Rua da Judiaria for naming my blog on his "Magen David'Ouro Os Melhores Blogs de 2004." I appreciate the boost - now, can you tell me what this means in Portuguese?

PaleoJudaica was named in the same Rua da Judiaria post (noted here). I've linked to a Google translation, but meanwhile a few days ago Claude Detienne e-mailed the following translation:
Golden Star of David
The best 2004 blogs

I had promised to myself not to make any assessment of the year in the Judiaria, especially because here we are already in the year 5765 which began on the last 15th of September, but, after a bit of thinking... I thought it was worth to make known the blogs I consider the best of 2004, a distinction guided by the most absolute subjectivity. It is worth what it is worth: the guarantee of my continuous daily visits.

Thanks Claude. Also, regarding the Google translation, Carla Sulzbach e-mailed "It is reassuring to see that Google knows to leave Magen David in Portuguese intact." Then she points to this Google translation of a German site which transmogrifies "magen David" repeatedly into "stomach David."
MORE ON M. R. JAMES from Ed Cook over at Ralph.
ISLAM, HISTORY, AND MYTHOLOGY: Al Jazeerah recently published a long and very interesting article by Zeeshan Hasan on the history of the theology of the afterlife in the Bible and early Christianity, with special reference to its implications for the Qu'ran and Islam. I was busy when it came out and by the time I could come back to it I couldn't find it any more. But it's been reprinted by MuslimWakeUp!:
Myth Over History: Jesus and the Development of Afterlife Beliefs in the Abrahamic Traditions

The piece discusses the history of belief in the afterlife from the earliest texts in the Hebrew Bible, through the New Testament, and into the first few centuries of Christianity. The approach is historical critical and, although it sometimes oversimplifies problems (for example, by leaving the Enoch literature out of the discussion of the origins of apocalyptic thought), it's a good-faith effort to portray the situation accurately. The payoff is especially interesting. The author argues that the Qur'an made creative use of mythological themes from the earlier religions and therefore not every statement in it need be taken as literally historical:
The above discussion has important consequences for Muslim views of both culture and orthodoxy. Islam holds the Qur'an to be divine revelation; so we cannot accept the assertions of Western scholars that the Qur'anic positions on Jesus and the identity of all previous revelations are due to ignorance of history on Muhammad's part. In fact, we can find alternative explanations.

As we have seen, the Qur'anic picture of Jesus does not correspond to the historical reconstruction of Jesus as apocalyptic preacher, as the Qur'an retains traditional elements of the story such as the virgin birth and Jesus as logos/'Word' which are later Christian theological developments.

However, here we need to ask the question of why the Qur'an talks about Jesus at all. In fact, the reason the Qur'an talks about Jesus is to link Muhammad's message with the religion and culture of Christianity, which was already known and respected in Arabia. In establishing this link, the Jesus of the historians is irrelevant; what is necessary is the Jesus of Christian mythology. It is through mythology and not history that religion and culture is expressed.

It is the narrow-mindedness of our modern perspective which leads us to expect history, precisely because we have forgotten how to respect cultures and their mythologies. Fundamentalists typically deride culture for its implicit inclusion of many different traditions and consequent �impurity� in Islamic terms; but the Qur'an itself is showing its respect for earlier Christian culture and mythology by largely accepting it and rejecting only one of its many claims�the divinity of Jesus.

The historical lack of belief in afterlife on the part of previous prophets is likewise a problem of our current mindset. The unfortunate fact is that we are conditioned to think of religion in terms of orthodoxy, and thus we perceive a problem whenever we cannot find that orthodoxy. But the fact that the Qur'an asserts the identity of the messages of all prophets means that the Qur'an is not interested in asserting any kind of historical orthodoxy. Rather, the Qur'an is interested in asserting a continuity of the Judeo-Christian-Muslim traditions regardless of the lack of historical orthodoxy on afterlife. As in the case of the Qur'anic story of Jesus, the Qur'anic stories of the Jewish prophets serve to illustrate this continuity of tradition and mythology.

So the Qur'an does not share our current fascination with either orthodoxy or history, and focuses on inclusiveness and the mythological connections between cultures. This has important consequences for the open-mindedness of Muslim societies.

Recently in Bangladesh, Ahmadi Muslims have been attacked as non-believers due to their supposed belief in the prophethood of their spiritual leader, Mirza Ghulam Ahmed of Qadian. And yet, even if this charge were true, would it be nearly the deviation from orthodoxy as Abraham's apparent lack of belief in an afterlife? Likewise, in Bangladesh there are radical fundamentalist groups who are so opposed to non-Islamic manifestations of local Bengali culture that they are willing to plant bombs at traditional Bengali New Year celebrations and Sufi shrines. And yet, the intrusions of local culture that they so violently oppose are little different from the intrusion of Christian mythology (as represented by the virgin birth) which the Qur'an easily accepts.

This sort of grappling with historical issues is very important for the Islam of the twenty-first century, and I commend Zeeshan Hasan for tackling them. This is a good step forward, and I hope this piece will be widely circulated in Arabic and English in the Muslim world. More please.

Monday, December 27, 2004

HUNTING FAKES: The current issue of Archaeology Magazine looks at the problem of forgeries in museum collections:
Conversations: Hunting Fakes

A Smithsonian sleuth says counterfeits lurk in museum collections the world over.

Jane Walsh, an anthropologist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, is best known for her work with museum collections and for exposing several crystal skulls, once thought to be Precolumbian, as nineteenth-century German fakes. She is now working with several museums to create a database that can be used to identify bogus Precolumbian jade, crystal, and other stone artifacts. She talked to ARCHAEOLOGY about why you shouldn't always trust what you see at museums.


The recent announcement by the Israel Museum concerning the inscribed ivory pomegranate tends to support her viewpoint.

UPDATE (30 December): Yep.
YOU PROBABLY HAVE HEARD that former Panther Reggie White has died unexpectedly. I don't follow sports news myself and only vaguely recalled his name. But here's a detail that caught my eye:
In recent years, friends say, White intensely studied ancient Hebrew to learn more about the original language that was translated into the Old Testament of the Bible. His studies connected him with the Jewish community.
THE REMAINS of a fourth-century B.C.E. village have been found near Tel Aviv:
Archeologists find ancient village near Tel-Aviv

Archeologists have discovered a village near the Mediterranean coast dating from the 4th century B.C., the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Sunday - a rare find.


Sunday, December 26, 2004

THE FACE OF JESUS as a twelve-year-old boy has been reconstructed by Italian Police, using computer-generated aging (and, evidently, de-aging) software on the Shroud of Turin image. James Charlesworth is not impressed, and not just because the Shroud's image hasn't been authenticated (probably because it isn't authentic). He has a good point, if perhaps overstated - let's leave the Nazis out of it. The limpid eyes are a Jesus stereotype and the blond highlights in the hair just don't work.

(Via Archaeologica News.)
IN CASE YOU SPENT 2004 ON ANOTHER PLANET, Bishop Tom Wright has an announcement: The Da Vinci Code is 'lousy history.'
DR. JOSEPH CATHEY, who reviews books on the Hebrew Bible etc. frequently for the Review of Biblical Literature, has been assimilated to the Blogosphere. His new blog is called Dr Cathey's Blog.
SOME ZOROASTRIANS are interviewed in the San Francisco Chronicle about Matthew's magi:
Matthew' s account of the magi does not actually say there were three wise men, nor does it describe them as kings.

They are not even mentioned in the other gospel stories.

Nevertheless, three gift-giving Zoroastrians pop up every year around this time -- even though Christmas is not one of their holidays.

And that's just fine with Silloo Tarapore, a Zoroastrian Sunday school teacher who lives in Lafayette.

"We're OK with it,'' said Tarapore, who was busy this week preparing for the upcoming 13th annual North American Zoroastrian Congress.

"Zoroastrians are so used to being a minuscule cultural minority that things like that don't bother us at all.''

An interesting popular article about the magi and about modern Zoroastrianism.
TWO NEW TRANSLATIONS OF THE GILGAMESH EPIC are reviewed in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.