Saturday, May 14, 2005

A GOOD CONSPIRACY? Regular readers will recall the bemusement of bibliobloggers about the overhyped articles in the Independent about the imaging of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri and the alternate reading of Revelation's number of the beast. There is now a new Independent article on the Herculaneum papyri and Rogue Classicist David Meadows deduces a conspiracy among papyrologists to get the public behind the idea of renewed excavation in Heculaneum.
So what appears to be happening is that we've got some lover of Classics using the media to create some hype about the Villa of the Papyri! This is great because when this call to excavate first came out, it was met with a resounding round of indifference. It was brought up again in March, and again seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Now, because of that 'number of the beast' thing, there's been great attention drawn to the technology available to read this stuff and this Independent piece is clearly designed to get folks 'licking their lips in anticipation' of what might be found there. Consider how many mummies are now being CT scanned since they gave Tut the treatment (every week in Explorator there's one). Bravo! Well done! Let's see where it goes from here ....

If so, I'm not sure the conspiracy has been all that successful, since the article is quite ambivalent about the idea of further excavations any time soon. Personally, I hope that the money can be found for both conservation and excavation. Both are extremely important.

Incidentally, my usual quibble: The Independent article says of the Villa of the Papyri:
Thanks to the fluke of its preservation within the inferno of the eruption, this is by far the oldest extant library in the world.

This is not true at all. Sumerian libraries have been recovered which were older at the time of the eruption of Vesuvius than the Herculaneum library is today.

Anyhow, I hope the plot of these mild-mannered papyrologist masterminds succeeds in increasing public interesting in ancient Heculaneum and its library.
THE INK AND BLOOD EXHIBITION is going to Lexington, Kentucky, in June.

Friday, May 13, 2005

THE BOOK has been sent to the publisher. It went off this afternoon by airmail to Leiden (Brill) in its final, edited, proofread, approved, to-be-published form. In the past Brill has provided a very good turnaround time at this stage -- one of a number of reasons why I keep publishing with them. So, with luck, you may be able to find it in print at the SBL meetings in Philadelphia in November. The title is now The Provenance of the Pseudepigrapha: Jewish, Christian, or Other? and it will be in the Journal for the Study of Judaism Supplement Series.

The Next Book is an English translation of the Hekhalot Literature. Much of the work is already done, but it needs a lot of going over, pulling together, writing up, introduction writing, etc. I have several articles to finish in the coming months, so it will be a while before I get to work seriously again on any book writing.
I GUESS THIS IS NOW PUBLIC KNOWLEDGE: My colleague Philip Esler, Professor of Biblical Criticism, will become the new chief executive for the Arts and Humanities Research Council (the former AHRB, which funded my research leave in 2003-04) in September. Mark Goodacre has the relevant links. Congratulations Philip!

While I'm at it, congratulations also to Mark on welcoming his two-millionth visitor to his New Testament Gateway website.
AUT ISRAEL-BOYCOTT UPDATE: The American Association of University Professors (the equivalent of the AUT in the USA) has condemned the AUT boycott.
These resolutions have been met with strong condemnation and calls for repeal within the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The American Association of University Professors joins in condemning these resolutions and in calling for their repeal. Since its founding in 1915, the AAUP has been committed to preserving and advancing the free exchange of ideas among academics irrespective of governmental policies and however unpalatable those policies may be viewed. We reject proposals that curtail the freedom of teachers and researchers to engage in work with academic colleagues, and we reaffirm the paramount importance of the freest possible international movement of scholars and ideas. The AAUP urges the AUT to support the right of all in the academic community to communicate freely with other academics on matters of professional interest.

Good for them.

(Via the Elfin Ethicist and Engage.)
ALLEGRO RELOADED: From the Bible and Interpretation website:

John Allegro observed the way the Jesus story echoed events and ideas in Gnostic literature, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Old Testament, and he identified the doctrine of divine light as the unifying theme. This is expressed in myth and imagery and is a key to understanding a range of mythologies - including Christianity.

By Judith Anne Brown
May 2005

I haven't read Allegro's books, so I won't say too much here, although I will say a few things. If this essay is a fair summary of his theories, I am not persuaded. Judith Anne Brown is Allegro's daughter, which I really think ought to have been mentioned with her essay.

First, regarding the Teacher of Righteousness: he is mentioned in the Damascus Document and some of the Pesharim, nowhere else. Some speculate that he may have written some or all of the Hodayot, but this is speculation. One cannot assume that the Hodayot reflect his teachings. Likewise, the Community Rule never mentions the Teacher of Righteousness. On what grounds, then, is it quoted as part of his message?

Second, much is made of the light-darkness dualism in Qumran sectarianism, the New Testament, and Christian Gnosticism. If this is an attempt to argue for a genetic link between Qumran sectarianism and Christian Gnosticism (and I don't see how else to read it) I'm skeptical. Light=good, dark=bad is a fundamental human archetype based on our sensory apparatus. When it's light we can see and it's safer. When it's dark, we can't, and the monsters come out. The Qumran sectarian light-darkness predestination, in which people are born with their destined proportion of light/darkness which determines their eternal fate, is quite difference from the Gnostic aspiration to fan the soul's spark of light to redeem it from the dark material realm and restore it to the Pleroma of light. The New Testament light-darkness imagery is just that, imagery, and does not reflect a coherent doctrine.

I think it is very unlikely that there is direct influence from the Qumran sectarians on either the New Testament or Gnostic Christianity. They are all drawing on apocalyptic Jewish themes and they all make use to some degree of the light-darkness archetype, but the parallels don't go very far. First-century Christianity extracted the messiah/eschatological divine mediator theme from Judaism and makes it central in a way that it wasn't for the Qumran sectarians. The Gnostics developed this redeemer idea out of first-century Christianity and introduce a lot of Platonic myth into the system.

Third, regarding the proposed influence of the story of the Teacher of Righteousness on the story of Jesus, I'm skeptical again. The reference seems to be to CD B xx 14-15 (not ii 14), which is a typically vague eschatological prophecy and which mentions a "unique teacher" (or perhaps, with a plausible emendation, "the teacher of the Yahad") but not the Teacher of Righteousness specifically. The Qumran manuscripts of the Damascus Document were all written before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., so this passage could not refer to this event, and we certainly have no evidence that the early Christians knew it or knew anything about the Teacher of Righteousness. Where are the specific references to hanging or trees with reference to the Teacher of Righteousness? I can't find any. Some years ago in my Divine Mediator Figures course we looked at parallels between Jesus and the Teacher of Righteousness as mediator figures. You can find some notes here and here (scroll down). There are some mildly interesting phenomenological parallels, but it would be hard to make a case for any influence.

Perhaps the arguments are stronger in Brown's new book on her father, but I'm not optimistic. A book on Allegro as an important figure in the history of Qumran scholarship is welcome and should be very interesting, and it seems reasonable for his daughter to write it. But his theories did not convince his contemporaries and now, many years later when we know so much more about the Qumran library, I doubt very much that any attempt to bring them back into the mainstream of Qumran scholarship will have much success.
ARAMAIC WATCH (cross reference with "journalistic objectivity watch"): The A.P. article "Gov't Seeking to Preserve Dying Languages" report that
WASHINGTON (AP) - Thousands of languages are threatened with extinction, and the U.S. government is trying to help save some of them, from the one used by Cherokee Indians to a language spoken by a small group of people in Tibet but never written down.

The project awards $4.4 million to 26 institutions and 13 individual scholars to investigate the status of more than 70 languages among the 6,000 to 7,000 in the world.

This is a good thing, of course. And, as pointed out by reader Ian M. Slater, Aramaic is one of the threatened languages:
For more than a decade, the endowment has helped pay for the writing of a dictionary of ancient Aramaic. Many Christians believe that Jesus spoke that language, which is related to Hebrew. Modern versions of the language are spoken in a few Middle East villages and used in the services of some Christian denominations.

I assume that this dictionary is the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon project, although I can't find anything on their website to confirm it. (Perhaps Ed Cook can tell me if I'm right.) But the second sentence, which I have put in bold font, requires a comment. This is an example of a journalist showing his critical caution and objectivity: he takes a thunderously obvious fact that no one disputes and presents it as though it might be a dubious religious belief: many Christians believe that Jesus spoke Aramaic. (Cf. Jews believe that a Jewish temple once stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.) Meanwhile, journalists present things that really are religious beliefs as objective scholarship: "Many biblical scholars believe that the Jezreel Valley will be the site of the penultimate battle between the forces of God and Satan, with the final conflict and return of the Messiah taking place in Jerusalem." I have nothing against religious beliefs or scholarship, but let't try not to confuse them.


UPDATE (19 May): Several days ago Ed Cook e-mailed the following:
Yes, the NEH has supported the CAL project (along with other donors). (BTW, I haven't had any official connection with CAL for several years, so my knowledge of the recent details is sketchy.) But it sounds like CAL is what the article is talking about.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

A DIGITAL PHILO? Bring it on!
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK -- IN IRELAND. Here's an interesting archaeology-related story:
Ireland Divided Over Hill of Tara Plan

Wednesday May 11, 2005 8:01 PM


Associated Press Writer

HILL OF TARA, Ireland (AP) - This grassy, windswept hill outside Dublin was long the spiritual and political center of Ireland, an earthen fort where Celtic chieftains jockeyed for power and legend says St. Patrick confronted paganism.

Today, the Hill of Tara is at the center of another showdown - over whether Ireland, a rapidly expanding country where construction often uncovers the past, can reconcile its rich heritage with the demands of modern life.

Capping two years of arguments, the government on Wednesday authorized archaeologists to begin excavating 38 sites along the proposed route of a new highway past the hill. Environment Minister Dick Roche and some state archaeologists say the road project will uncover historical material that otherwise would remain buried.

But an alliance of environmentalists, archaeologists and other academics warn that the road will scar Ireland's most significant landscape.

What does this have to do with the Lost Ark? Read on:
Infamously, a crowd of British zealots tore up the site in 1901-02 in a vain quest for the Ark of the Covenant, causing untold damage that is hidden today by the grass.

More on those British Zealots in this International Herald Tribune piece ("Will Ireland slice up its most mythical site?"), which also has lots of information on the current controversy:
Emigrants from Ireland, like the O'Hara family in "Gone With the Wind," could conjure up the old country by naming their estate after its most sacred place. Indeed, so sacred became its reputation at the end of the 19th century, and so much mystery surrounded what was buried beneath, that a sect called the British Israelites began to dig there in search for the Ark of the Covenant. They were greeted with indignation by Irish nationalists like Yeats, who believed that the Hill of Tara, where the remains of 30 or so prehistoric monuments are somewhat visible to this day, must have its mystery unraveled by the slow and painstaking work of archaeologists.

Quite right.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

IS THE SECRET GOSPEL OF MARK A FORGERY? Stephen Carlson thinks so and argues this in a forthcoming SBL paper and book. More here.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Jim West's Biblical Theology blog.
THE QUMRANICA BLOG has reached its conclusion and is now on indefinite hiatus. I have just put up the final posts (here and here). In the first you can read a student song about me.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

MTV AND THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST: has the best popular article I've seen so far on the variant reading 616 for Revelation's number of the beast in an Oxyrhynchus manuscript ("666 Not So Evil? '616' Revelation Might Bedevil Metalheads"). Teri vanHorn reports correctly that (1) the reading is not new (2) the variants are based on gematria of slightly different spellings of "Nero" (actually "Nero Caesar") in Hebrew letters; and (3) the variant 616 isn't necessarily the original reading. And she gets the title "Revelation" right too. There's also a fun fact I didn't know: the word for the fear of 666 is "hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia." And, not surprisingly, there's also a lot of information on the use of 666 in popular culture, especially heavy-metal music.

Monday, May 09, 2005

MIT TIME TRAVELER CONVENTION UPDATE: This has been posted on the convention's website:
Update:The convention was a success! Unfortunately, we had no confirmed time travelers visit us.
We did, however, have a great series of lectures, awesome bands, and even a DeLorean. We regret having had to turn away visitors, but there were capacity restrictions governing Morss Hall.

Check this space for photos, commentary, and more.

Well, this result could mean any number of things.

1. Time travel really is impossible.

2. Time travel is possible but no time machines have been invented yet and when they are, they won't be able to travel further into the past than when they were built.

3. Time travel is possible, but the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics is correct, and time travelers who went to the convention started new branches of the multiverse. It happens that our branch descends from the original universe, so we don't get any time travelers this time.

4. Time travel is possible, even easy, and there's only one universe. According to "Niven's Law," the only stable configuration in such a universe is a history in which time travel is never invented. So time travelers keep changing things at will until by chance they do something that prevents time travel from being invented every time it might have been. The practical result from our viewpoint would be that every time a researcher was on the verge of building a time machine, that researcher would slip on a banana peel and suffer a fatal injury, or a mega-asteroid would destroy all life on that planet, or the like. Professor Mallett, be careful!

5. The convention's organizers are fibbing. Time travelers actually came in droves and threw a big party with the attendees in a gigantic, lavishly furnished ballroom hidden in a spatio-temporal vacuole and discreetly connected to the convention site through a broom closet or bathroom stall. After all, what would be the point of stirring up the indigenous primitives and maybe causing riots and such that could disturb future timelines or spoil the party? Better just to keep things quiet. The attendees, of course, duplicated themselves for the duration and stayed in Morss Hall so as to give the appearance that the convention was going on without any time travelers. (Why do you think that no television cameras were allowed? Buwahahahahahahaha!)

6. Someone in the future is going to throw a better party for time travelers.

UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers! If you'd like to know more about this blog, you might be interested in reading this brief article I published recently on blogging on ancient history (and how the media screws up that topic too).

UPDATE: Here is a link to an audiotape of The Moment. Here are some photos of the convention. Here is a report of a time traveler who was turned away. And Rick Lippincott proposes a seventh reason. But if people in the future can manage the time travel part, I doubt that aiming for the right part of space would be a big challenge for them.

UPDATE: My eight-year-old son proposes another reason (#8?): a working time machine won't be built until so far in the future that, despite our best efforts, this time traveler convention has been completely forgotten.

Also reader Michael C. Grant e-mails:
Let's expand on your reason #5.

Perhaps it is possible for a stable single-universe to exist even if time travel has indeed been invented. Let's say that someone in, say, the year 2150 achieves the first successful time travel device. This person would immediately be met by visitors from the future who have developed a full understanding of the dangers of time travel to the space-time fabric, and how to avoid them. Together they would take steps to insure that no fatal damage to the space-time fabric ever occurs, by building safeguards into the new invention as well as imposing a system of rules for using it.

So for example, perhaps time travellers would never endeavor to reveal their identities as members of the future in eras where time travel itself had not yet been stabilized. Thus they would travel back to, say, prehistoric days to watch dinosaurs, but they wouldn't appear on Ben Franklin's doorstep---or to a time-travel convention in 2005.

Actually that's an interesting expansion on both reasons #4 and #5.

And thanks also to many other bloggers for their links to this post.

UPDATE: Another reason! This one from reader Ben Skott:
You're missing a reason. Maybe our era has a reputation of being particularly boring and materialistic, or violent, or any number of distastful things, so no time travellers ever bother coming.

Wouldn't surprise me.

UPDATE (10 May): Reports on the convention in Wired News and the Harvard Crimson.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

AUT ISRAEL-BOYCOTT UPDATE: Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has a "Credo" column in yesterday's Times of London: "Why academic freedom is a religious matter". I want to excerpt the whole thing (so do read it all), but I'll limit myself to this small section:
The late Sir Stuart Hampshire used to say that justice means hearing all sides of a conflict. In that sense the university was a place of justice. It wasn�t always so. Until the 1820s neither Jews nor Catholics could get degrees. Academic life was bound by doctrinal orthodoxy. If you held the wrong opinions you were excluded.

There is nothing inevitable about intellectual openness. Historically it has been the exception, not the rule. Today in many parts of the world holding the wrong opinions can get you barred, imprisoned, tortured or killed. That is why academic freedom matters. It took a long time to achieve. It can be lost overnight.


Keep the pressure on.
Villanova professor to discuss archaeological work in Israel


Judith Hadley, a professor of biblical archaeology at Villanova University, will give a free public lecture about her recent excavations in Israel tomorrow in the Temple-Congregation Shomer Emunim in Sylvania.

Ms. Hadley says her work at the burial cave of Ketef Hinnom, which dates from the 8th to 6th century B.C., has yielded the earliest archaeological record of worship of the Jewish deity and use of the priestly benediction from the Scripture in Numbers 6:4-26. She will also discuss her work at Megiddo ...

If you're in Toledo, it sounds well worth hearing.