Monday, February 07, 2005

THE BIBLIOBLOG BLOG seems to have vanished. You okay Zeth?
THE FROM THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS TO THE BIBLE IN AMERICA EXHIBIT, currently showing at High Point in North Carolina, has a sleazy connection that has been mentioned here before, but this article by by Barbara Thiede ("For shame! Slick marketers find gold mine in selling God") in the Charlotte Observer (free registration required) is a good opportunity to highlight it. The meat of the story is this:
A group of private dealers in rare Bibles has opened an exhibit in High Point. The exhibit includes antique biblical texts, sections from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls. A mock biblical market featuring books, videos and jewelry for sale sits alongside.

What's wrong with a private exhibition of ancient manuscripts and early printed Bibles? Is there anything inappropriate about making good money from entry fees to see such an exhibit? Is it immoral to profit from the sale of related items in the accompanying gift shop?

The problem is simple: The promoters are selling God.

One of the participants, the Arizona rare-book business of Craig Lampe and John Jeffcoat called, has lent various artifacts to the show. Go to their Web site, and you can find out what sort of items they market.

One is a 400-year-old Torah.

Its marketers are selling it bit by bit. They cut it into panels, exactly according to their customers' specifications, like cloth in a fabric store.

The Torah, the Web site explains, was damaged in a fire. But you can buy a surviving column. You can buy two.

Sure enough, this is the page at the website.
Ancient Hebrew Torah Scroll Panels:
From the World�s Oldest Scriptorium

A panel of leather from an incomplete ancient Hebrew Torah Scroll of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament). These hand-written, one-of-a-kind pieces are approximately 300 to 400 years old. They were produced in the world�s oldest continually operating scriptorium, a 2,400-year old scriptorium in South Yemen, about 1,000 miles south of Israel. These are pieces of the same type of �Bible� that Jesus read, and quite possibly from the same scriptorium! They are available as approximately 22 inch tall segments of any length you desire from 9 inches to 9 feet or more! Each comes with a beautiful Certificate of Authenticity.

In a word, for $100 you can have a column sliced out of a damaged three- or four-hundred-year-old Torah scroll and turned over to you to hang on your wall. While you're at it, it seems you can buy individual leaves removed from the first printing of the King James Bible or from "the earliest available printing" of the Tyndale Bible.

In some past entries I have tried to cut antiquities dealers some slack, although I have to say my attitude has been hardening in light of the ongoing forgery scandal in Israel. I'm still open to discussion about whether it is acceptable, say, to sell potsherds that otherwise would be discarded or buried in museum basements. But this is another matter. I'll leave aside the question of whether the exhibition promoters should be selling God. My concern is that they are mutilating precious, historic manuscripts and scattering them to the wind for the sake of a few bucks. It certainly seems beyond the pale to me, and I hope that if you or someone you know are considering spending your money on this exhibit, you will keep this in mind.
GLASS'S AHKEHATON is showing at the Boston Conservatory:
Original staging, fine performance enliven Glass's tale of Egypt

By Richard Dyer, Globe Staff | February 7, 2005

The new director of opera at the Boston Conservatory is baritone Sanford Sylvan, who is leading the school, and its operatic training, in a new direction. Last weekend he made his debut as a stage director with Philip Glass's "Akhnaten." The conservatory had the cast for it, and as a performer who premiered works by Glass and John Adams, Sylvan feels that it's important for young singers to get an early start on learning how to deal with the special theatrical, musical, and vocal demands of this new kind of music-theater.

"Akhnaten," now 21 years old, is the third work in Glass's trilogy of "portrait" operas. Akhnaten was the most fascinating of Egyptian pharaohs, the man who introduced monotheism to Egypt. Glass presents his story in a series of isolated but defining moments (the funeral of his father, his own coronation, etc.). The texts are ancient and sung in the original languages (Egyptian, Akkadian, biblical Hebrew), while a Scribe delivers spoken translations in the language of the audience to bridge the scenes.


Sunday, February 06, 2005

Held in Israel every four years, the Maccabiah Games is named for Jewish warrior Judah Maccabe [sic] who fought against the ancient Greeks. The first Maccabiah Games were held in 1932 with approximately 390 athletes from 14 countries participating in the competition. At the 1935 games, a German delegation of 134 Jews flouted Nazi Germany's order not to attend the games and the delegation refused to fly the German flag during the opening ceremonies. In 1950, 800 athletes representing 19 countries attended the first games to be held after the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel.

The 17th Maccabiah Games take place in Israel this July.
THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS EXHIBIT IN MOBILE is covered yet again, this time in an article in the Times Picayune (New Orleans): "Dead Sea Scrolls come to Mobile museum". It's a good piece; well researched and with some interesting reflections for a popular audience on the importance of the Scrolls for our understanding of the development of the biblical canon and the biblical text. Excerpt:
Although the Exploreum's marketers have accurately pitched the exhibit to their Bible Belt audience as "The oldest surviving texts of the Bible," the scrolls actually reflect the Bible's complicated, organic development, [James] Bowley [of Millsaps College] said. It is a story far removed from the image of a collection of books that appeared long ago and never varied from their original forms.

Indeed, the Hebrew Bible -- the Christian Old Testament -- did not exist when the scrolls were produced. Not until about the second century would a consensus emerge on which books would be discarded and which should be included in an authoritative collection of this sacred literature, Bowley said.

One scroll, the Book of Jubilees, seems to have been terribly important to the Essenes, he said. By contrast, there's only a tiny scrap of the Book of Chronicles, reflecting their own theological emphasis. Yet today Jubilees is out of the Bible and Chronicles is in.

"Different Jewish communities had different collections of scrolls," he said. "The Essenes would have had many that other communities would have, plus some others."

Biblical evolution

Moreover, the scrolls deeply underscore a point scholars had already known: There was no standard version of biblical texts in play. Instead, individual biblical compositions and other Jewish writings developed through time and went through various stages and editions before arriving at the form we have today, Bowley said.

"People writing different versions of Jeremiah are Jews of the same period, with the same concept of God. While the versions might have some differences in terms of order or arrangement, does that change our basic concept of God? No. It doesn't change the theology."

UPDATE: And here's a nice backgrounder about the genesis of the exhibition in the Gulf Coast Exploreum, also in the Times Picayune. When their state funding was cut,
Marketing Director Eleanor Kulin had a thought. "I sat at my computer one day, and I literally Googled 'Dead Sea Scrolls.' "

She got a hit, in more ways than one.

What Kulin found was that the famous scrolls were in the United States and had just closed at the Public Museum of Grand Rapids, Mich., where administrators had been floored by the success of the exhibition.

Officials at the Exploreum talked it over, then resolved to make a serious run at grabbing the scrolls for Mobile.

It seemed like a natural. Even then, Kulin said, she could see the headlines that now grace the advertising aimed at Alabama's heavily evangelical populace: "Featuring the oldest surviving texts of the Bible."

Saturday, February 05, 2005

ARAMAIC WATCH: In "Losing Jesus' Language" Christianity Today interviews cultural historian and native Assyrian Dr. Eden Naby about the Assyrian community and its language. Excerpt on Aramaic:
The Passion of the Christ was in Aramaic. Could Assyrians watch without the subtitles?

Many people could understand much of it. If I didn't want to see the subtitles and just listen, I had to close my eyes, which I didn't want to do. I understood about 50 percent, and I'm not as well acquainted with our written language as some.

I could follow about that much of the Aramaic too.
Is there a larger interest in Aramaic because of the movie, and has it affected your community?

I'd like to say that Mel Gibson had an effect on the community, but I don't think it's Mel Gibson at all. In terms of the visibility of Aramaic, it certainly created a lot of visibility outside of our community.

We simply do not have facilities to propagate our written language. We had greater literacy in our community in 1920 than we do today. The reason is that before 1920 the West had an enormous interest in our language. There is a story about the 50th celebration of the American presence in northwest Iran, which was in 1884. They had invited some Persian dignitaries and a missionary was sitting next to one of the Persian officials. The official noticed a lot of women sitting together with books in their hands, and the official turned the missionary and said, "what are those women doing with those books. Women in your community can read?" and they asked for all the women who could read to stand up. 600 women stood.

I don't think we have 600 women in Iran today who could read our language. We have a population of 15,000. There has been no opportunity for our people to study our language.

So there are Assyrians in Iran too. They haven't gotten nearly the media attention of the ones from Iraq.

(Heads-up, reader Carl Mosser.)
FORGERY SCANDAL IMPLICATIONS: The Winston-Salem Journal has a thoughtful piece on some of the political implications of the forged Bible-related inscriptions.
Archaeological fakes hurt Jewish claims to Holy Land

By Michele Chabin


Indictments in a sophisticated antiquities forgery ring have cast a pall over the entire field of biblical archaeology and could provide new arguments for those seeking to delegitimize Jewish claims to the Holy Land.

That's because religious leaders and even governments use the presence or absence of archaeological discoveries to bolster their claims to truth and territory, or to refute someone else's.


Read it all. I have noted elsewhere how the Jewish-temple deniers are playing the story for their own purposes. The financial damage the forgers have caused pales in comparison to the damage they have done to the serious archaeology and history of the biblical period.

UPDATE: Sorry, it's an A.P. article that appears in a number of places.

Friday, February 04, 2005

THE PETRA: LOST CITY IN STONE EXHIBIT is coming to Calvin College in April. And there will be a public lecture on Petra by Neal Bierling at Calvin next week: "Petra: A Rose Red City Half as Old as Time".
IU reinstates overseas study archeology program in Israel

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University has reinstated a summer overseas study program in Israel that was suspended three years ago after the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning for that country.

The three-week program involves participation in an archeological dig at Tel Beth Shemesh, an ancient city from biblical times. It will take place in June if enough students sign up for it, according to Kathleen Sideli, associate dean of international programs and director of overseas study.

IU suspended its overseas study programs in Israel in 2002 in keeping with a policy that requires the university to withdraw from programs in countries under State Department travel warnings.


Thursday, February 03, 2005

Bene Israel descended from shipwrecked Jews (Canadian Jewish News)


Samson Joseph Isaac Talkar, a member of Mumbai�s venerable Bene Israel community, was talking about the long history of his people in India. �We have been here for 2,000 years,� said Talkar, a formal and earnest man of 68 who was an assistant police commissioner in Mumbai, India�s biggest city, before his retirement in 1995. Talkar, a policeman for 38 years who specialized in homicide, added, �We observed our religion and we did not forget our Shabbat and our Shema. In the course of time, we forgot some of our prayers, but not the essentials of the Judaic faith.�

Like all Bene Israel, the predominant sub-group of Indian Jewry today, Talkar is familiar with the broad outlines of his people�s historical narrative. His forefathers, Jews from ancient Palestine, migrated to India before the destruction of the Second Temple, and have been here ever since. �We�re the descendants of seven families,� explained Joshua Aaron Shapurkar, a 30something tourist guide who shows foreigners the sharply contrasting sights of his pulsating metropolis.

The story that Talkar and Shapurkar tell, though shrouded in legend, is identical. Around the second century BCE, a vessel from the Land of Israel was shipwrecked off India�s tropical Konkan coast. The survivors, seven men and seven women, swam safely to shore, settled in the village of Navgaon and began working in agriculture, mainly as oil pressers. �We mingled with the locals,� said Talkar, whose physical features and speech rhythms are exactly the same as dusky-complexioned Hindus. �There was a change in our colour.�


I don't know what, if any, historical evidence there is for the legend of the shipwreck 2000 years ago, but this group clearly had a Jewish consciousness going back a very long time. Interesting story.
LOCUSTS OR CAROB PODS - which did John the Baptist eat? Philologos has a discussion in the Forward. I have no idea what the philological evidence is. Would anyone who has some expertise on the John the Baptist's diet like to comment?

UPDATE: Two responses. Peter Head e-mails:
J. Kelhoffer, "Locusts and Wild Honey (Mark 1:6c and Matt 3:4c): The Status Quaestionis concerning the Diet of John the Baptist," Currents in Biblical Research (formerly Currents in Research: Biblical Studies) 2/1 (2003): 104-127.

Also has a book in production:

The Diet of John the Baptist: "Locusts and Wild Honey" in Synoptic and Patristic Interpretation. Forthcoming in Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament [first series]; T�bingen: Mohr Siebeck, early 2005.

Stephen Goranson e-mails:
In the latest issue of Dead Sea Discoveries 11 (2004) 293-314 James A. Kelhoffer argues that John the Baptist ate locusts (the insects) and that such was not a rare practice. Kelhoffer has a whole book on the subject of John the Baptist's diet forthcoming. For a description, see (scroll to "Recent Publications"):

UPDATE: Joe Cathey e-mails:
While in East Africa � specifically Tanzania and Kenya � we ate locusts. The bugs can either be eaten raw {e.g. uncooked} or cooked over a piece of tin rather quickly. Mainly long enough to kill them and to keep them from squirming. They aren�t all that bad and actually have very little taste.

Maybe he should have tried the stir-fry recipe.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

THE NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF THE SEPTUAGINT (NETS) has been adding more books to its page of provisional English translations. There are now translations of 23 books of the Bible (12 of them the minor prophets) downloadable in PDF format. One more volume, Psalms, has already been published. Another extremely useful web resource.

Via ricoblog.
THE SCHOTTENSTEIN ARTSCROLL TALMUD is the subject of an article in the Jerusalem Post. Excerpt:
"It is one of the greatest Jewish literary accomplishments in the past 100 years, opening up the sea of the Talmud to everyone," said Rabbi Stuart Grant, principal of Judaic studies at the North Shore Hebrew Academy High School on New York's Long Island. "The notes on the bottom open up a whole world of medieval and relatively contemporary commentaries, which are not necessarily found immediately on the page."

Still, Grant said, students at his yeshiva use the Artscroll as a reference in Talmud study, not as a primary text.

"It shouldn't become a crutch and thus an impediment to being able to make one's own learning of the material in its original," he said.

A translation of the Yerushalmi (Palestinian Talmud) is also in the works.
ROCHELLE ALTMAN has posted a point-by-point response to Peter Daniels's review of her book on the ANE list.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Margins of writing, origins of cultures:
Unofficial writing in the ancient Near East and beyond

Oriental Institute Conference, February 25-26, 2005
1155 East 58th Street, Chicago, IL

Organizer: Seth L. Sanders

This is a conference on the politics of writing in the ancient Near East: what happens when people write their own languages, in environments dominated by imperial standard languages like Egyptian, Babylonian or Aramaic? This conference will be the first of its type, bringing together linguists, anthropologists, and scholars of the ancient Near East to discuss new directions for research. Among the senior scholars participating will be Harvard's Peter Machinist (Hebrew Bible), Chicago's Michael Silverstein (Linguistic Anthropology), Michigan's Piotr Michalowski (Assyriology), and Theo van den Hout, executive editor of the Chicago Hittite Dictionary. Younger scholars include William Schniedewind, (UCLA) whose recent How the Bible Became a Book is arguably the first study of the Bible to see the question of writing as decisive for both literature and history, and John Kelly (Chicago), author of the forthcoming Technography, a study in the anthropology of knowledge focusing on the grammarians of ancient India and the engineering of Sanskrit.

The papers look fascinating. The web page has detailed information, including notes on the conference format, context, and objectives; paper abstracts; and brief presenter bios. This paper is of particular interest for ancient Judaism:
William Schniedewind, UCLA
"Aramaic, the Death of (Written) Hebrew, and Jewish Nationalism in the Persian Period"
By 581 BCE (the Babylonian exile), the linguistic landscape in Palestine had changed dramatically and the written Hebrew language was almost lost in the mist of the displacement of the Jewish people. There was no social infrastructure for scribal training in Hebrew during the Persian period; instead, Jewishscribes were trained in Aramaic, which was the language of the Achaemenid empire. The paleo-Hebrew script ceased to be used, and Aramaic script replaced Hebrew script even in the copying and writing of Hebrew manuscripts. While Aramaic undergoes transformations typical of a living language and script, the Hebrew script is essentially frozen and revived as part of nationalistic movements in the Persian and Hellenistic period. Vernacular Hebrew continued to be used throughout this period and would have been critical for the revival of Hebrew later in Hellenistic period.

Michael Silverstein, University of Chicago, Respondant
THE COUNT IS A BIT OFF, due to the weekend glitch, but I'll ignore that and just say welcome to PaleoJudaica's nominal 100,000th visitor, who arrived from the University of Maryland at 09:34:24 PM GMT. Chances are you know who you are. Feel free to drop me a note so I'll know too.

UPDATE (2 February): the visitor was Maxine Grossman (IP address confirmed), who writes:
Unless someone else has claimed the honor, it looks like I'm your 100,000th visitor. I checked in yesterday afternoon to look for updates on Qumranica and/or the SBL resolution.

Congratulations on the remarkable success of this blog! It's consistently informative and always a fun read. Keep up the good work.

SBL RESOLUTION SURVEY UPDATE: I've been extremely busy lately, so I've only now gotten around to checking for the final results of the survey, which closed on 25 January. The survey site just says the following:
This survey is currently closed.

Please contact the author of this survey for further assistance.

Can anyone tell me if the results are posted somewhere? I can't find them on the SBL website, but I don't have time to search it thoroughly. I think it's odd that the survey site itself doesn't give the final results.

In any case, now that the survey is closed, I'll mention something that Wieland Willker told me shortly after it opened. There was a serious security hole on the site. You could vote multiple times as long as you deleted the cookie between votes. (I e-mailed Matthew Collins about this as soon as I found out, but I never received a reply.) For obvious reasons, I didn't want to say anything about this while the survey was still active, but it should be noted now. This, along with other security problems already noted, shows that the results cannot be trusted and should not be used to determine any action by the SBL. And, of course, I have already argued at length that the whole idea, at least as formulated and implemented in this case, was inappropriate for the SBL.
PROFESSOR DANIEL HARLOW will be lecturing on the Dead Sea Scrolls at Central Michigan University:
MEDIA CONTACT: Cynthia Drake, (989) 774-7333
PROGRAM CONTACT: Gregory Spinner, (989) 774-1445

Daniel Harlow, an expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls, will give a presentation at 8 p.m. Feb. 15 in Central Michigan University�s Park Library Auditorium.

Harlow, an associate professor of religion at Calvin College, will discuss �Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls: What the Qumran Texts Tell Us About Early Christianity.�