Saturday, January 22, 2005

THE PRESIDENT'S INAUGURAL ADDRESS had quite a lot of religious language in it, as is pointed out by Deborah Caldwell in her Beliefnet article "Decoding Bush's God-Talk" (via Helenann Hartley and Michael Pahl). I think a few of her annotations deserve annotations of their own. Her comments are in square brackets, referring to the bold-font selections in the speech.
America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. From the day of our founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this Earth has rights, and dignity and matchless value because they bear the image of the maker of heaven and Earth. [Elegant phrasing that resonates with Christians, Jews and Muslims.]

It's much more specific than that. This is a clear allusion to Genesis 1:26-27, which says that God made humanity in his own image.
You have seen that life is fragile, and evil is real, [This is a nod to evangelicals and conservative Catholics, have been united with the president in their disdain for moral relativism.] and courage triumphs.

I think that belief in the reality of evil has a wider constituency than that.
Our nation relies on men and women who look after a neighbor [Vague reference to Jesus, who says in Matthew 22:39, "Love your neighbor as yourself."] and surround the lost with love.

This formulation of the golden rule, which indeed is also in the New Testament, actually originates in Leviticus 19:18. But I suspect a more immediate source for the President's comment is the parable of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37. The last phrase in the sentence may also echo the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15:3-7.
May God bless you, and may he watch over [Somewhat unexpected wording, again harkening to the "awesome God" of Calvin who is attentive to the world] the United States of America.

I don't see why this is "somewhat unexpected." It sounds like an echo of the benediction in Numbers 6:22-26 ("The Lord bless you and keep you...), important in both Judaism and Christianity (and, incidentally, the earliest-attested biblical passage).

Also, there's one possible religious allusion that Caldwell missed. It was caught by Lynn Sweet in an article on the speech in the Chicago Sun-Times:
Advancing self-government "is the urgent requirement of our nation's security, and the calling of our time," said Bush, laying out a yardstick for which his tenure can be measured, not in four years, but over time.

"The great objective of ending tyranny is the concentrated work of generations," he said. "The difficulty of the task is no excuse for avoiding it."

In a speech laden with religious inferences, this line about not avoiding the work ahead seems an echo of an inspirational admonition from a Jewish text, the Pirkei Avot. Said an ancient rabbi, "It is not incumbent on you to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it."
Roger Moorey
Expert on the history and industries of Mesopotamia from the fourth millennium BC down to more recent biblical times

ROGER MOOREY was deeply respected throughout the global network of archaeologists working in the Near and Middle East. He was Assistant Keeper of Antiquities at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford for 19 years, and he wrote extensively on the excavated materials of Iran and Iraq, the Levant, Egypt and Turkey � from the fourth to the first millennia BC.


He also worked with Kathleen Kenyon on the Jerusalem excavation in the 1960s.
SOME INITIAL REACTIONS to the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit in Mobile, Alabama (Mobile Register):
First visitors are awed by Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit
Friday, January 21, 2005
Staff Reporter

Quietly, almost reverently, the first visitors to the new Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit filed into the Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center on Thursday, making their way to softly illuminated display cases where 2000-year-old goatskin parchments held ancient Hebrew and Aramaic texts.

The short opening day was designated for "walk-ins" who could buy same-day tickets at the counter and local clergy. The mood was a mix of intellectual curiosity and religious awe.

Lots of people of different religious backgrounds are then quoted. Here's my favorite:
On the second floor of the exhibit, Kevin Hurt, the Exploreum's theater manager was giving computer-generated virtual tours of the ancient temple in Jerusalem. Just outside the the ater was a little girl, Carly Cefalu, a 2-year-old with a red ribbon in her sandy hair, who skipped about asking, "Where's Jesus?"

Carly had come to the Exploreum with her parents, David Cefalu and Sheryl Cefalu, as they had been driving from Pensacola to New Orleans and decided to detour into downtown Mobile.

"We told her Jesus is the word," said David Cefalu, "and they found the word in the caves."

Friday, January 21, 2005

FORGERY INDICTMENT UPDATE: Ed Cook has been translating and commenting on key excerpts from the Hebrew text here and here.
THE PROMISED ONLINE SEPTUAGINT is now available at Looks good.
Oriental Institute to feature ancient, global society in new exhibition: Empires in the Fertile Crescent
By William Harms
News Office (University of Chicago Chronicle)

Visitors will get a rare look at one of the most important geographic regions in the ancient Near East beginning Saturday, Jan. 29, with the opening of �Empires in the Fertile Crescent: Ancient Assyria, Anatolia and Israel,� the newest galleries at the University�s Oriental Institute Museum.

The galleries showcase artifacts that illustrate the power of these ancient civilizations, including sculptural representations of tributes demanded by kings of ancient Assyria, and some sources of continual fascination, such as a fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls�one of the few examples in the United States.

The galleries also contain artifacts connected with the beginning of two important eras, the Bronze Age and the later Iron Age, as well as artifacts from Megiddo, a site that is figuratively connected with the end of all eras�the site referred to in the Bible as Armageddon.

THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBIT in Mobile Alabama (The Dead Sea Scrolls: An Exhibit of Biblical Proportions) opened yesterday. They are expecting 160,000 visitors before it closes on 24 April. I hope they get them.

UPDATE: The exhibit also includes a guided interactive tour of a visual simulation of ancient Jerusalem:
SGI Helps Science Center Simulate Ancient Jerusalem (HPC wire)

The largest touring exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls and related artifacts ever seen in the United States arrives today at the Gulf Coast Exploreum science center in Mobile, Ala. Part of the Exploreum's Gala Opening tonight is the unveiling of the Exploreum's brand new Virtual Journeys Immersive Theater, powered by a visualization system from Silicon Graphics.

Virtual Journeys will allow visitors at this and future exhibits to experience and interact with scientific discoveries using the same SGI technology that leading researchers around the world depend on for groundbreaking innovations in all areas of science. To further enhance the public's experience of the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, the Virtual Journeys Immersive Theater features a guided interactive tour of the reconstructed Herodian Temple Mount in Jerusalem as it existed 2000 years ago. Starting tomorrow, January 21, the general public can visit the 50-seat theater, which will hold four screenings an hour and will highlight the archeology, history and religious significance of the temple.

Using the SGI Reality Center facility, an Exploreum facilitator will encourage questions and interaction from the audience. The facilitator acts as tour guide and, with just a click of the mouse in the Reality Center facility, can take the audience, based on their areas of interest, just about anywhere they may want to go within the Temple Mount real-time visual simulation model. The data set even includes differing opinions on the archaeological finds, which can be pointed out both visually and verbally during the presentation.


Thursday, January 20, 2005

CELEBRITY BIBLE STUDY WATCH: First Nicole Kidman. And now Pamela Anderson informs us that she's reading both a book on the Sermon on the Mount and The One Year Bible. This from Biblioblog blogger Zeth, who claims he was Googling "Sermon on the Mount" when he found it. You believe that?

UPDATE (21 January): Zeth's evaluation of my attempt at humor: "... at least he tried."

Well, that's more credit than my sense of humor often gets and probably as much as it deserves.

But seriously, I'm kind of surprised by the rest of his reply. Is being a sex symbol in our society really comparable to being a cheating tax collector in a desperately poor, ancient society? And I think one widespread criticism of some types of American religiosity - their making sex such an important factor in their religion - is entirely fair. Yet Zeth writes:
If these people [Ms. Kidman and Ms. Anderson] can read the bible and interpret it in such away that justifies their activities or at least does not ask questions about them, then either the biblical text does not have any power itself, or serious questions need to be asked about the interpretations offered by American culture.


So Pamela Anderson is rightly or wrongly an international symbol of America. The fact now that she is now a bible reading symbol, even someone who may read biblical studies books, while to put it bluntly, making money from a modern form of prostitution.

Well, okay, but this seems to be doing just what both that SBL resolution and its election opponents were doing: assuming there is a "biblical" stance on political and cultural issues; assuming that the Bible has a unified message about "values"; and finding the writer's own values in the Bible, even for issues the actual texts show little interest in. One can play dueling verses here, as with anything else. Using the word "prostitution" above seems to me to be harsh and to be moving the definitional goalposts (and trivializing the plight of many actual prostitutes who are without alternatives), but for the sake of argument, note that Rahab the prostitute is a heroine in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. The Bible recognizes and praises what it regards as her achievement, while never once making an issue of her profession. Her choosing the right side in the story seems to be what counts. And Jesus had only kind words for prostitutes who took an interest in his message.

Zeth, I really appreciate your blog, and I'm sorry my little joke seems to have offended you. But give Nicole and Pammy a break. Their studies will do them no harm and may do them some good. Who are we to judge?

UPDATE (23 January): More here.
Chief rabbis prohibit Jews from entering Temple Mount

Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger, as well as 21 other leading rabbis, have issued a religious ruling forbidding Jews from entering the Temple Mount compound, Western Wall rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch said Tuesday.

MORE ON THE FORGERY SCANDAL: The Guardian has an interesting article today (via Paul James Cowie on the ANE list).
Faking it

The discovery that ancient artefacts sacred to Jewish history are forgeries has sent shockwaves through the museum world. But was the gang behind the scam only interested in cash, or did they have other motives? Rachel Shabi investigates

Thursday January 20, 2005
The Guardian

It all started with the pomegranate. On Christmas Eve, the Israel museum in West Jerusalem made an announcement about a tiny ivory pomegranate that had been on display at the museum since 1988, believed to have come from the First Temple of Israel. The pomegranate, the museum sheepishly revealed, was actually a fake. It was still a very old and beautiful carving, but the inscription denoting its First Temple origins had been forged.

Five days later, the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) declared that it had uncovered a sophisticated forgery ring, based in Israel, which had produced a stash of fake Bible-era artefacts. In addition to the pomegranate, it revealed that two other objects, both similarly revered, had also been rumbled as bogus. One was a limestone ossuary box said to have held the bones of James, the brother of Jesus, and supposedly the oldest physical link to the New Testament. The other was a stone tablet, from the ninth century BC, inscribed in ancient Hebrew with instructions by King Joash for maintaining Solomon's Temple.

This opening is misleading. It makes it sound as though there was some entirely new revelation in late December that the James ossuary and Joash inscription were forged. In fact, both have been considered forgeries as far back as 2003. There had even been speculation that the ivory pomegranate was fake since at least March of 2004.

This sentence, which comes a bit later, has problems too:
So what tipped off the investigators? "We got some information in September 2002 about a stone with an inscription about the third temple of Joash in Jerusalem," says Amir Ganor, head of investigations at the IAA.

This has to be a misquote. What temple of Joash? What third temple? Herod's temple is sometimes considered a third temple, and the inscription was supposed to have been in the time of Joash, but in Solomon's temple. This is just sloppy.

Despite this not very promising beginning, the end of the article has some interesting thoughts about how the academic world may have brought the scandal on itself.
What this episode shows is the extent to which the antiquities community has laid itself open to abuse. According to Israel Finkelstein, archaeology professor at Tel Aviv university, most biblical land has been officially and rigorously excavated and produced few relics. "Do you want me to believe that robbers are then going with a flashlight at night and managing to find 50 inscriptions? Of course I don't believe it."

That is an extremely good point. This is similar to Schiffman's point that the more exciting the artifact, the more likely it is to be forged.

Still, the sale of marketplace antiquities is booming. Aren Maeir, archaeology professor at Bar Ilan university in Ramat Gan, describes it as "an astounding market, particularly among private collectors with millions of dollars at their disposal". Objects can sell for $1m apiece, and academics say that top forgers hunt academic journals for the objects that would be considered significant if unearthed, and then sneak fake finds into the market - giving the antiquity community exactly what it wants. "There is an eagerness all over the world, in museums, to display antiquities of great value," says Finkelstein, "and there is no question that some of them were not careful enough in their [evaluation] methods. It was some sort of naivety, something about wanting to believe."

The discovery of a Temple-era pomegranate, in particular, was always going to provoke excitement. The pomegranate is a deeply resonant fruit in Judaism that, according to the Bible, was used as a decorative motif in Solomon's temple. There is a Rabbinic reference to its seeds, which in legend always number 613 - one for each of the commandments of the Bible. One Israel museum press officer explains the effect of seeing such relics: "It is very exciting, very emotional, very Jewish feelings," she says. "Any time you see something like this, it feels very special because you can see your roots."

It underlines the intense political significance that antiquities, particularly Biblical-era artefacts, attain in Israel, where discoveries of ancient sites or relics can be claimed by particular groups as proof of their historic claim to a particular piece of land. Early Zionism was enthusiastic in promoting Bible-era relics - they cemented the Jewish connection to the land, and were seen to give credence to the new state of Israel: ancient facts on the ground, if you like. It is telling, suggests Dr Shimon Gibson, archaeology professor at the Albright Institute, Jerusalem, that the Joash stone emerged at around the same time - early 2003 - that Palestinian leaders were becoming more vociferous over the "alleged" Jewish connection to the Temple Mount. The stone's inscription describes repair works to the Jewish temple at Jerusalem. "Those who forged, if that is what they did, would be trying to identify key spots of interest to Israel at that moment," he says. "One of those is, of course, the Temple Mount, because in any deal made with the Palestinians, the status of Jerusalem and who controls the holy places is one of the key things that will be on the table."

Yes, this was a remarkably well-timed coincidence. As was the appearance of the James ossuary just when James had been getting a lot of attention, as Mark Goodacre pointed out recently.
Some have argued that the only way to stop antiquity fraud is to properly ban the sale of objects with unknown provenance. Others, such as Snyder, counter that this would serve only to bury precious artefacts in the hands of private collectors, not evaluated by experts and not appreciated by the public.

That's a good point too. Even if scholars take the high road and refuse to sully themselves by studying unprovenanced artifacts, the lucrative market of antiquities collectors won't be affected. The only solution I've seen which addresses the central problems head-on is that of Joe Zias: flood the market with prime-quality, undetectable fakes so that both scholars and collectors lose the incentive to deal in unprovenanced artifacts.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

I find the comments about the resolution (many of which I agree with) opposing �Fundamentalist� practices while using them to be troubling. I do not style myself as a �Fundamentalist,� and in fact, don�t even know what that represents in 2005 to anyone except a catch-all term for views of the Bible that are opposed by others. I would, however, be interested in knowing what practice is in view here and why it is viewed as the primary property of �Fundamentalists,� whoever they are. Lots and lots of scholars, clergy and others use the Bible to prove their point of view. It�s unclear to me why that is particularly �Fundamentalist.�

I think I said "fundamentalist" because I read the SBL resolution to have in mind people who treat the Bible as a unity with an unambiguous central message about "values" which embodies uniquely Divine and nonnegotiable authority. I suppose one could debate whether "fundamentalist" is an adequate shorthand term for that demographic. It seems more to apply to Protestant fundamentalists and evangelicals than, say, Catholic or Jewish fundamentalists. For the last two, the Bible is less centrally urgent and going back to the "fundamentals" of the faith does not involve a principle of sola scriptura.

But if you don't think the term fundamentalist is accurate or useful, you may be right. In that case, please edit my original statement by deleting "fundamentalist" wherever it appears and replacing it, if necessary, with "opponent," adjusting the grammar as needed (e.g., "the fundamentalist view" -> "the view of the opponents," etc.). I don't need to define the opponents of the (still anonymous) authors of the resolution more specifically than they do. I am perfectly happy with that formulation and would have written it that way if I'd thought of it. But granting that change, I think my points remain.
DASTARDLY FELINE FORGERY! Ancient Egyptians Sold Fake Cats.
ED COOK has obtained a copy of the forgery indictment (the original Hebrew) and is posting information from it. He hopes to have the whole text posted on his website before long.

UPDATE: It's now available in a PDF-format link at the same posting. Also, a commenter to the post says that an English translation will be put on the IAA website soon.
A SECOND-TEMPLE-ERA WINERY AND VILLAGE have been uncovered in a salvage excavation in Israel. Excerpt from the Ha'aretz article:
Five wine presses surrounded the farmhouse, built in the third century BCE, on land between what today is Moshav Gan Sorek and the Tel Aviv-Ashdod highway.


The winery's customers also included residents of the closest settlements. One of these settlements was a large village barely half a kilometer north of the farmhouse, and was completely unknown until the salvage excavations conducted by Uzi Ed, Angelina Dagot and Kareem Sa'id of the Israel Antiquities Authority in the latter months of 2004.

The village covers more than 15 dunams (3.75 acres) and the dig uncovered what looks like its southern residential neighborhood and its industrial zone. Among the buildings and facilities found by the archaeologists were a kiln for firing pottery and a reservoir pit that apparently was part of an agricultural compound that did not survive, designed to collect the sediment waste from liquid that gathered in it - either water or grape juice. East of the village are 11 round pits believed to have been used for dumping garbage, as they contained mainly cinders and animal bones.
I CONGRATULATED HELENANN HARTLEY privately on passing her D.Phil. viva as soon as I got her e-mail yesterday. But I want to do so again publicly, now that she has mentioned it on her blog. Well done, Helenann! Another St. Andrews alum makes good.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

OXYRHYNCHUS-PAPYRI-SALE UPDATE: In June of 2003, I noted the sale of 29 Oxyrhynchus papyri by Colgate Rochester Divinity School (Crozer Theological Seminary) to persons unknown. It later developed that Macquarie University in Australia bought three of them. Now a fourth, a fragment of the Gospel of John, has resurfaced on display at the Ink and Blood exhibit about to open in Knoxville, Tennessee. The following post has just gone up on the Textual Criticism list:
Forwarded from M. Robinson:

As I recall, there was some concern last Spring regarding the U. of Pennsylvania's sale of p39 to an unknown party, which had people wondering whether this fragment would ever be viewable again, etc.

In case no one has found the answer, it appears here:

Gospel of John Fragment - The Gospel of John fragment (8:14-22) from the 3rd Century is an Oxyrinchus [Sic - JRD] Papyrus known as the P39 in scholarly circles. It is one of the earliest witnesses in existence to any portion of The New Testament.

The owner corporation (who will let you look at the fragment among its traveling exhibits for US$15) is:

Ink & Blood
111 West College Street
Murfreesboro, TN 37130


There are good online images at:

keyword=swasey title=john
(safe the images!)

Best wishes
Wieland [Willker, listowner]

As above, it was the Crozer Theological Seminary that sold the papyri, not the University of Pennsylvania. The Ink and Blood exhibit appears to be a breakaway from the From Dead Sea Scrolls to the Bible in America exhibition (which is still on tour), created after a falling out among the organizers.

THE SITE OF BABYLON is to remain closed until damage to it has been assessed:
Babylon to remain closed until damage known
Mon Jan 17, 2005 06:35 PM GMT

By Waleed Ibrahim

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Babylon -- home to one of the seven wonders of the world -- will remain closed until experts determine how much damage foreign forces had done to the site, Iraq's culture minister says.

A British Museum report published at the weekend said U.S. and Polish troops had damaged the ancient city, fabled home of the Hanging Gardens, by setting up a military base among the ruins in April 2003 after the invasion of Iraq.

"We want to know the full facts about Babylon's condition," Culture Minister Mofeed al-Jazaeri told a news conference on Monday.

"Babylon will stay closed until an international team is formed to determine the damage, document it and recommend what should be done to restore the city."

And the Poles have responded further to the charges:
Earlier on Monday, Polish Defence Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski said that contrary to the British Museum report, the presence of foreign troops in Babylon had saved it.

"If it wasn't for the Americans, Babylon would have been looted like all other museums in Iraq ... and we would now be buying back Babylon artefacts on bazaars and markets," he said.

Szmajdzinski told public radio Jedynka local authorities and archaeologists were consulted over all decisions affecting ancient sites at the base.

"Surely mistakes were made at the beginning, but nobody knows what Babylon was like before the Americans took over. Since arriving, we have carried out full documentation of the site," he said.

The Polish Culture Ministry will soon issue a 500-page report on Babylon, he added.

I have not yet been able to find a U.S. response beyond what I cited in the update to yesterday's post.
ARAMAIC WATCH: Here's another sign that Aramaic too has become a cultural icon after Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. From a review in the Seattle Times of what seems to be an aptly titled novel:
"How I Became Stupid"

In this pithy, subversive debut, French novelist Martin Page taps into a feeling that afflicts many of us but that few act on � that life might be easier if we weren't so painfully aware of the world's woes or the pitifulness of our lives.

That's what young Aramaic scholar Antoine believes, and he's determined to do something about it. "Intelligence," he's convinced, "makes you unhappy, lonely and poor." It also, he finds, paralyzes you by always letting you see both sides of an issue.

After earnest attempts at alcoholism and suicide (he only gets as far as attending a pro-suicide support group), Antoine turns to his family doctor � and asks for a lobotomy.

What he gets instead is a prescription to Happyzac.


The Aramaists I've know have generally been better adjusted than that.

Monday, January 17, 2005

THE GREEK TEXT OF THE SEPTUAGINT is coming soon over at Zhubert's Blog. More details here.
A MACINTOSH BIBLIOBLOG: My prayers are answered! Welcome, Joe.

(Via Hypotyposeis.)
"IS BIBLICAL HEBREW A LANGUAGE?" Maybe not. What's the word for spoon? In a first installment, Seth Sanders reflects.
BABYLON DAMAGED BY MILITARY CAMP: If this story is accurate, it's appalling.
U.S.-led forces damaged ancient Babylon
Sat Jan 15, 2005 01:44 PM GMT

By Kate Holton

LONDON (Reuters) - U.S.-led forces, using Iraq's ancient city of Babylon as a military base, have caused "substantial damage" to one of the world's most renowned archaeological treasures, a British Museum report says.

The report said U.S. and Polish military vehicles had crushed 2,600-year-old pavements in the city, a cradle of civilisation and home to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Archaeological fragments were used to fill sand bags, it added.


However, the Polish military is denying that they damaged the site:
Polish military deny damaging Babylon
Sun Jan 16, 2005 12:53 PM GMT

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland's Defence Ministry has denied charges that Polish troops in Iraq had damaged the site of ancient Babylon, one of the world's most famous archaeological treasures, while using it as a military base.

"Neither Polish troops, nor any other troops under Polish command, ever carried out any projects violating historical monuments or causing their devastation," Defence Ministry spokesman Colonel Piotr Pertek said on Sunday.

"Our soldiers never engaged in any efforts to strengthen the security of Camp Babylon without consulting Iraq's monument preservation authorities."

So far, I can't find any response from the U.S. military. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Here's a brief response, quoted in the L.A. Times (requires free registration) via Archaeological News:
Lt. Col. Steven Boylan, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said all engineering works were discussed with the head of the Babylon museum. "An archeologist examined every construction initiative for its impact on historical ruins," he said.

I think this needs to be addressed rather more thoroughly. Do they acknowledge that the damage happened? If so, how did it come about?
THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBITION in Mobile Alabama is covered again in this A.P. article. It also mentions an associated lecture series.
Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit brings Bible history to Bible Belt


Associated Press

MOBILE, Ala. - An exhibition of the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls opening Thursday in Mobile will include lectures from some of the world's leading religious scholars, bringing Bible history to the Bible Belt.


[Exploreum spokeswoman Shannon] Lipscomb said at least 1,000 tickets have been sold for the lecture series, which has been relocated to nearby Christ Episcopal Church because only 177 seats were available in the Exploreum's theater. Advance sales for the exhibit had reached 38,000 a week before it opened.

Hebrew University professor Emmanuel Tov, editor-in-chief of the Dead Sea Scroll Publication Project, leads off the lecture series on Feb. 15.

Others in the lecture series are: Notre Dame University's James VanderKam and Eugene Ulrich; Claremont School of Theology's James Sanders, the first scholar to unroll and study the Psalms scroll in the 1960s; Duke University's Eric Meyers; Bruce Zuckerman of the University of Southern California; New York University's Lawrence Schiffman; New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary's Steve Ortiz, director of the Center for Archeological Research; Trinity Western University's Peter Flint of Canada; and Millsaps College's James E. Bowley.


Sunday, January 16, 2005

PAUL NIKKEL over at Deinde is blogging the British Association of Near Eastern Archaeology conference just held in Oxford. I like the dangerous liasons with hypothetical Sanballats.
SOME INTERESTING NEWS about Nicole Kidman:

Actress NICOLE KIDMAN is currently studying the Old Testament in secret at California's Pepperdine University, so she can keep a teenage promise to her parents.


"At the moment I'm studying the Old Testament through a professor who teaches at Pepperdine University.

"Through that I'm able to study Israel, Palestine and the Middle East and the politics of it. I do it to relax on weekends and one night a week."

Some Old Testament professors have all the luck.
MORE ON THE "JERUSALEM SYNDROME" FILM to be shown in Dundee, Scotland, from the Scotsman.
MORE FROM BART EHRMAN on the Da Vinci Code: He's written a book refuting it, which we're told took all of two weeks to write. This Herald Sun/A.P. article also gives a clearer account of what he says about the Dead Sea Scrolls, phrased more accurately and doubtlessly closer to what he actually said.
Also not true, Ehrman says. In fact, the Dead Sea Scrolls, ancient writings discovered in caves near Jerusalem in 1947, were authored by a group of single, celibate Jewish men called The Essenes.

"The idea that a Jewish man couldn't be single is ludicrous," Ehrman said. "There were, in fact, single men in the ancient time and they had world views much like Jesus."

Further, a character in "The Da Vinci Code" refers to the Dead Sea Scrolls as one of Christianity's earliest writings. That claim, too, was a head-scratcher for Ehrman, pointing out once again the ancient scrolls were written by Jews.

"There's nothing Christian about the Dead Sea Scrolls," he said.
THE SCHOTTENSTEIN ARTSCROLL TRANSLATION OF THE TALMUD is nearly complete, with the 73rd and final volume coming out next month. This article discusses it at length. Here's an evaluation of a Talmud scholar:
Rabbi Judith Hauptman, a professor of Talmud at the Conservative movement's Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, called the Artscroll translation "a marvelous teaching tool" that allows her students to come to class better prepared.

Still, Hauptman said, when she has a question about a particular talmudic word's meaning, she does not go to the Schottenstein translation for an explanation.

"It is an ideological translation," Hauptman said. "They have a certain point of view � that the Talmud is the greatest book of the Jewish people and the Talmud is always right � and they translate accordingly, which can sometimes be frustrating."

As I've said before, I am not a Talmudist. Any other specialists in the Talmud want to comment on it?
MORE ON THE SBL RESOLUTION: Maxine Grossman has taken up my challenge and has drafted another resolution with the same aims as the first. She writes:
During the United States election of 2004, an equation was made between specific political arguments and the concept of "moral values" or "biblical values." This claim confuses politics with theology and fundamentally misunderstands both the history of the Bible and its place in contemporary faith communities.

As an organization of professional Bible scholars we share the consensus that biblical texts are diverse in their origins and their theologies, and that they are always understood through the filter of present-day concerns and interpretations.

Interpretations of the Bible can vary widely, but all such interpretations are selective. A "literal" approach, itself a thoroughly modern response to critical Bible scholarship, has no greater claim to theological legitimacy than any other approach, and it is, if anything, less reflective of the history of biblical interpretation since its origins.

A serious and sincere interpreter of the Bible can find support in its texts for almost any political view on issues including abortion, gay marriage, and stem cell research. To say otherwise, or to equate one's own political agenda with "biblical morality" to the exception of all others', is both a bad reading of the Bible and a marker of bad faith.

We call upon those who would base their political arguments on exclusive scriptural claims to recognize the hubris of such practices and the damage that they do to civil discourse on issues of concern to all of us.


For the record, y'all, I want to say that I voted in favor of the SBL's statement, and I will do so again if that is the one they approve. I may not agree with all of its content, but I think the issues are too important to ignore. Why should other people's politics be a measure of my morality?

I like this a lot better than the first one. I may have more comments on it as they come to me. As for the last paragraph of her message, I think the last sentence cuts both ways, which is why I voted against the statement. What I really like about Max's statement is that it addresses the "biblical values" question from the viewpoint of a biblical scholar without advocating a specific political position. I consider that public service (i.e., contributing our expertise to the public debate) without it being political activism (which I use to mean advocating a particular political line). I still think the latter should be an individual matter. But thanks to Dr. Grossman for contributing to the debate and for helping me clarify my own thinking on it.