Saturday, March 05, 2005

THE MOVIE CONSTANTINE is getting mixed reviews, but a lot of people seem to like it. Here's a pretty positive take (3 stars out of 4) from the Boston Herald:

( R )

Damned good fun: Reeves scares up thrills in `Constantine'
Review by James Verniere
Friday, February 18, 2005

Move over, Hellboy.

In ``Constantine,'' Keanu Reeves, fresh from battling the evil machines of ``The Matrix,'' takes on demons from hell who have the power to enter our realm. It's a supernatural thriller for our terrorist-bedeviled times, if not a training film for the Department of Homeland Security.

Based on the Vertigo/DC Comics' ``Hellblazer'' series, the film, which is set in present-day Los Angeles, might be described as mysticism for headbangers. It's also a kind of B-movie follow-up to ``The Passion of the Christ'' insofar as some of it is in Latin, it's about redemption and is steeped in Roman Catholic beliefs, apocrypha, icons and rituals, beginning with that favorite Catholic horror movie staple, the exorcism.


It also has a female version of the angel Gabriel, played by Tilda Swinton.

It's interesting to note that there's even sympathetic interest in the movie in Baptist circles. Also, blogger Tim Bulkeley and his teenage son saw it and Tim thinks "it could provide the stimulus for lots of good theological discussion, and even an old-fashioned revivalist appeal to conversion." And there's already a spinoff video game.

Because of Rachel Weisz my professional interest in media and religion, I suppose I'll have to get around to seeing it.

UPDATE: Chuck Jones e-mails:
For another take on Constantine have a look at David Denby's review
in The New Yorker and in particular the final few sentences:

"..."Constantine" turns Catholic doctrine, ritual, and iconography
into schlock. God's warrior wins, but is that enough to justify the
tawdry, promiscuous borrowing? Will the trashy exploitation of
Catholicism in movies ever end? Imagine a Jewish version of the
spectacle-"Angel," starring Vin Diesel, in which God's messenger
stays Abraham's hand in mid-sacrifice and then earns His approval by
lowering himself into cursed pharaonic tombs with tied-together
prayer shawls. In a Hindu version-"Vishnu," with Nicolas Cage-Shiva
unleashes his snakes on the outskirts of Poughkeepsie and starts a
war between truck drivers and apple pickers. Somehow, I think these
projects might be shelved. Yet terrible movies like "The Exorcist"
and "The Passion of the Christ" and "Constantine" get made and become
enormously popular. I will leave the issue of blasphemy to experts.
But maybe some of the audience should wonder if they aren't
performing the Devil's work by sitting so quietly through movies that
turn wonders into garbage."

Friday, March 04, 2005

THE BIBLIOBLOG BLOG IS BACK! An improved model too.
PHILO OF ALEXANDRIA is cited by Arutz Sheva in a call for passive resistance to Sharon's disengagement plan. David Meadows has the story over at Rogue Classicism.
A MANIFESTO FOR DEALING WITH THE FORGERY CRISIS has been published on the Bible and Interpretation website by Christopher Rollston and Heather Dana Davis Parker.
Responses to the Epigraphic Forgery Crisis:
Casting Down the Gauntlet to the Field
and to Museums

During recent years, the public has often been inundated with sensational stories of �new epigraphic discoveries�: the �Ya�akov Ossuary� (�James Ossuary�), the �Jehoash Inscription,� �the Moussaieff Ostraca,� and the �Ivory Pomegranate� are some of the most notable. Dominant voices have touted such epigraphs as being of great significance �for the field� and �for the faith.� Voices of caution and moderation (that note the absence of an archaeological pedigree and the potential of forgery) have been quelled with substantial success.

There's lots of interesting stuff here. Two points are especially important: "For this reason, the default position with regard to non-provenanced epigraphs should now be methodological doubt, regardless of the 'sensationalism' surrounding the epigraph." Then, "Moreover, museums and collections should begin to be even more intentional about addressing the problem by exhibiting forgeries and including discussions of the problems associated with non-provenanced artifacts." The Israel Museum is currently doing this with the Ivory Pomegranate and it's a good policy in general. Both of these seem to me to be eminently sensible policies.

And don't miss the notes, which have lots of interesting tidbits. For example, Rollston has another piece on the forgery crisis coming out in the March issue of the SBL Forum - any time now, I assume.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

THE QUMRANICA BLOG has been updated with the abstract of the first seminar paper (on the Hodayot) and a summary of the seminar discussion. Now that we're in the seminar phase of the course there will be abstracts and seminar summaries (usually two of each) posted each week of class.
MORE ON THE HERPES AND CIRCUMCISION STORY in the Forward. It seems that the practice suspected of causing the infection still has its defenders.
Following Baby's Death, Orthodox Group Urges Followers to Drop Disputed Ritual
By Eric J. Greenberg
March 4, 2005

In response to the death of a New York baby boy from herpes, the top union of Modern Orthodox rabbis is urging Jews to abandon the ancient ritual practice of suctioning the blood by mouth directly from the baby's penis during circumcision.

The Rabbinical Council of America, representing more than 1,000 rabbis, issued a policy statement this week arguing that instead of direct oral suction the tradition known as metzitzah be-peh could be fulfilled with the use of a tube. The statement came following the death of a New York baby from herpes, which officials suspect might have been transmitted from the mouth of a Hasidic mohel during the circumcision process.


RCA's statement is expected to upset Hasidic sects and other ultra-Orthodox communities. Leaders of these Orthodox camps have been vigorously defending the practice of direct oral suction since it came under attack last month ...

Government or religious attempts to ban the direct oral practice were denounced in a pointed February 18 editorial, by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz, editor and publisher of Yated Neeman, an ultra-Orthodox newspaper.

Update on the Assyrian Voter Lockout Protest At the UN

(AINA) -- The Assyrians (also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs) on the East Coast of the United States gathered to protest the voter lockout of Assyrians in the Iraq elections. The demonstration was held at the United Nations on February 19.

Nearly 100 mostly young people chanted, sang and prayed in Syriac for two hours behind a police barricade. They carried large banner signs in Assyrian (neo-Aramaic), English and in Chinese, all of which addressed the problem of the six towns east of Mosul which did not receive ballots despite two days (Jan 30 and 31) of waiting to vote. These are the same towns in which the candidates on Assyrian list (204) had campaigned for three days, and hundreds of thousands of votes for ChaldoAssyrian representation would have been cast had the people not been prevented from voting. As it was, because the voting did not take place, only enough votes were counted to seat one independent ChaldoAssyrian representative. Four other ChaldoAssyrians came in under the auspices of the leading Kurdish list and one, from Baghdad, gained a seat under the Allawi list.


The sign behind the woman wearing glasses is in Syriac, but I can't see enough of it to read it.

I hope these people get the attention they deserve.
WILLIAM DEVER gave a lecture in New Orleans in February which challenged the minimalists.
Scholar: Archaeology rebuffs effort to erase biblical Israel (Baptist Press News)
Mar 2, 2005
By Michael McCormack

NEW ORLEANS (BP)--Revisionist scholars in Europe are ignoring a wealth of archaeological evidence in seeking to discount and, ultimately, erase belief in the biblical Israel, noted archaeologist William Dever said at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.


Though this postmodern movement seeks to sap the Bible of its historical significance and accuracy, Dever maintains that the archaeological evidence supports the biblical accounts of Israel and its kings. His presentation focused on structures he and other archaeologists have uncovered throughout the Holy Land that point to Solomon and the Solomonic Temple. He began with 1 Kings 9:15-16.


He includes lots of interesting details on the archaeology of Gezer, Hazor, and Megiddo. And it seems that Steven Ortiz, of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (and one of Dever's students) is hoping to reopen the Gezer excavation and to carbon date some material from it. The debate goes on ...

UPDATE: This piece is receiving lots of attention on the ANE list. (Start here.) Note in particular the comment of Niels Peter Lemche:
But think of a sentence in the summary of his New Orleans lecture like this: In fact, Dever said, they have recently argued that Hebrew is not a semitic language -- a garbled summary of an argument that biblical Hebrew may be a kind of artificial language, a kind of 'Mandarin' created for the purpose of writing biblical texts (like Qur'an Arabic is a bit different from other written Arabic, and even Homeric Greek different from other written Greek). However, the argument that it is not a semitic language and that the revisionists are claiming that is of course nonsense, and only show that Dever is a least not a properly educated biblical scholar, but exactly a biblical archaeologist. The sentence must be considered an obvious misprission.

My experience is that when the media portray a scholar as saying something strangely garbled, it's almost always the reporter who got it wrong, not the scholar. I would give Dever the benefit of the doubt here. Would he or someone who actually heard the lecture like to comment?

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: The "atomic paring-knife" laser. Cool.
'Atomic Paring Knife' Will Help Probe Ancient Civilizations

Newswise � Mississippi State researchers are acquiring a high-tech laser instrument described as an �atomic paring knife� that will be used, among other things, to probe the mysteries of ancient civilizations.

Hailed as the first such unit of its type in the Southeastern United States, the university�s Laser Ablation-Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometer will provide organizations across Mississippi�academic, non-profit and industrial�with unique capabilities for quantitative surface analysis and depth profiling.


�The new laser ablation (precise removal) system provides a rapid, non-destructive way of tracing pottery to its source,� Peacock, an environmental archaeologist, said.

Plodinec said the system uses a laser to gently scratch the sample surface, ejecting a small amount of material into plasma, where the atoms are separated by mass.

�The instrument provides a complete, rapid and accurate compositional analysis of almost any materials�stone, glass, ceramics, metals�with no sample preparation and minimal damage to the original sample,� said DIAL assistant research professor Adriana Giordana, who is coordinating the technological effort for the lab.


MSU will be using the instrument on local Native American artifacts, but the potential applications for other archaeological research are obvious.

(Via Archaeologica News.)

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Everyone's on the same page (Ha'aretz)
By Yair Sheleg
They study 2,711 `daily pages' for seven and a half years, and start over again from the beginning the very next day. Today's the end of the 11th Daf Yomi cycle

For 10 years now Rabbi Pinhas (Paul) Lederman has been participating in the daf hayomi ("daily page") lesson in Jerusalem - a lesson in which a page of the Babylonian Talmud is studied every day in sequence, one two-sided page a day, 2,711 pages altogether. The lesson lasts for about an hour in the late morning, with some 20 people taking part, all of them pensioners.


More than 1,000 groups around the globe similar to Lederman's will study the last page of the Talmud today, for the 11th time since this project was started in 1923. The number of pages in the Talmud means that each cycle takes about seven and a half years. Ceremonies will be held internationally to mark this event tonight and tomorrow, with three of the biggest locations being at the Yad Eliyahu sports arena in Tel Aviv, at Madison Square Garden in New York, and for the first time since the Holocaust, in the city of Lublin in Poland, the city where the daily page project began. ...

Congratulations to all those who are finishing the cycle today, and best wishes for the next seven and a half years of study.
David Aronson: A Retrospective in Boston (Artdaily)

March 1, 2005

BOSTON, MA.- David Aronson: A Retrospective will showcase the life's work of David Aronson, an artist and teacher who has remained an influential force in the development of the arts in Boston for over fifty years. A leader in the nationally recognized Boston Expressionist group of the 1940s-1950s, Aronson has spent a lifetime producing monumental narrative works and has won international acclaim for his visual interpretation of themes from the Hebrew Talmud and Cabala.

Often using the ancient encaustic technique of painting with molten wax, Aronson's luminous paintings explore subjects derived from Old Testament, New Testament, and mystical religious and humanist themes. He brings these figures to life, animating them with a combination of fervor and wit. In the 1960s, when he was already a mature artist in his late thirties, Aronson began sculpting figures in bronze. This exhibition features the artist's early encaustics, bronze sculptures, as well as pastels, oil pastels, and oil paintings on canvas.


Unfortunately, the article doesn't include any images of his work.

Monday, February 28, 2005

A NEW JUDAIC STUDIES INSTITUTE is being founded at the University of Michigan:
U. of Mich. receives $20 million for Judaic studies institute (Detroit Free Press)

February 23, 2005, 9:36 AM

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) -- The University of Michigan on Wednesday announced a $20 million gift to establish a Judaic studies institute.


The institute -- to be called the Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies -- will reside within Michigan's existing Frankel Center for Judaic Studies.

The new institute will bring 14 of the world's leading scholars from a variety of disciplines to Ann Arbor for an academic year to collaborate in advancing scholarly research on the history, culture, literature, and religion of the Jews from antiquity to the present.


This is welcome and exciting news.

(Via Paul Nikkel at Deinde.)

Sunday, February 27, 2005

NUMBER 11 OF HAVEL HAVELIM, "the weekly roundup of the best of the Jewish blogosphere," is now posted by Judith Weiss over at Kesher Talk. Havel Havelim is a Jewish "carnival of the vanities" (the Hebrew phrase means "vanity of vanities," from Qoheleth/Ecclesiastes 1:2). A post from PaleoJudaica is included this week.
CIA blind to its shortcomings before 9/11, former spy says
14 years an agent, she now offers an insider's view in book

Matthew B. Stannard, [San Francisco] Chronicle Staff Writer

Melissa Boyle Mahle's first brush with the clandestine world of espionage was Fr�d�rique, a mysterious Frenchwoman who unexpectedly joined Mahle as a volunteer at an Israeli archaeological site in 1985 -- and then vanished, with an Israeli security team hot on her trail.

Fr�d�rique, Mahle eventually learned, was actually Christine Cabon, a French secret agent hiding in Israel after infiltrating Greenpeace New Zealand, where she collected information other agents used to bomb the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior.

The encounter planted a seed in Mahle's psyche that eventually drew the UC Berkeley graduate into a career with the Central Intelligence Agency, specializing in the Middle East and counterterrorism. Fourteen years later, after witnessing the agency's response to Sept. 11 and leaving the agency on less than the best of terms, Mahle decided to put down her thoughts in writing.


I dug at the same site in 1985 and stayed in the room next door to the mysterious Fr�d�rique.

MORE: I've gotten out my 1985 diary and read the entries for the time I spent at Tel Dor that summer. It does mention the incident and adds that I never spoke to this woman, who was at the site for three weeks, and when I heard the Israeli Secret Service was looking for her it took me a while just to place who she was.

I probably met Melissa Boyle Mahle but I don't remember her. No Melissa is mentioned in my diary, and her picture doesn't look familiar. It was a big dig with lots of staff and volunteers and we probably just hung out with different people.

That event was not the only interesting political rumor at the site that year, but perhaps I shouldn't go into such things here. If you see me at a conference and want to buy me a beer, maybe I'll tell you more.
Six named winners of Dan David Prize

PARIS, France

Tel Aviv University archeologist Prof. Israel Finkelstein was among the winners of the Dan David Prize for having made "outstanding" impact on their respective fields, the organization announced Friday.

The awards, in the categories of "past, present, and future time dimensions," go to nominees whose achievements have outstanding scientific, technological, cultural or social impact on the world, the organization said in a statement.

Each prize is worth $1 million. Israel Finkelstein shared the "past" prize with a British archaeologist.


The work of Finkelstein, a leading scholar in the archeology of the Levant, has "revolutionized the interpretation of Israel's history in the Bronze and Iron Ages," the organizations said.

The three scientists who shared the $1m. prize in the "future" category were specialists in materials science, including Robert Langer, professor of chemical and biomedical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

THE JAMES OSSUARY is the subject of a recent article in the Washington Post. I noted this on the 21st, but have only had time this morning to read it carefully, after a reprint came up on Google and reminded me of it.
Find or Forgery, Burial Box Is Open to Debate

By Guy Gugliotta and Samuel Sockol
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, February 21, 2005; Page A13

The first group of experts heralded it as one of archaeology's greatest discoveries, a burial box inscribed with the earliest reference to Jesus ever found. But after a closer look, another group of specialists debunked the find as an elaborate hoax.

Now Israeli authorities have indicted the box's owner as a serial forger. But far from putting the case of the "James Ossuary" to rest, the indictment has further polarized opposing sides in an increasingly vitriolic dispute.

Magazine editor Hershel Shanks, the most outspoken advocate of the box's possible authenticity, last week published an article in his Biblical Archaeology Review detailing mistakes in what he called a "badly bungled" investigation by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The response was immediate. Antiquities Authority Deputy Director Uzi Dahari dismissed Shanks as "totally crazy" and his claims as "pathetic." Dahari denounced ossuary owner Oded Golan as a "scoundrel" and a career criminal who lives off the proceeds of doctored artifacts.


It goes on to rehearse the story, which by now is well known to PaleoJudaica readers. It sounds as though the latest comments of Hershel Shanks in the current Biblical Archaeology Review precipitated the piece. The article is mostly accurate as far as I can see. However, even if it were genuine, calling the ossuary "one of archaeology's greatest discoveries" seems to me a bit of a stretch. It would offer some confirmation that Jesus lived in the first century and had a brother named James (assuming the same Jesus and James are involved), but we do already know that. That would be exciting, but it wouldn't tell us anything new about biblical antiquity, let alone anything on the scale of, say, the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Ugaritic texts, each of which really is one of the greatests archaeological discoveries. I'm sure I've made this point before, but it bears repeating.

There's one other point to nitpick:
The District Court of Jerusalem indictment last December named Golan and four co-defendants in forgeries of items ranging from more than two dozen bullae -- clay relics used to seal documents from the time of King Solomon -- to the ossuary and the "Jehoash Inscription," an ancient tablet purported to be the 2,800-year-old instructions for maintaining the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.

No inscribed bullae from as early as the time of Solomon have ever been found, more's the pity.