Saturday, August 27, 2005

MOUNTAINS GET YOU HIGH: Does anoxia explain the high-altitude revelations received by Moses, Jesus and his disciples, and Muhammad? Authors Shahar Arzy, Moshe Idel (the prominent Kabbalah scholar), and Olaf Blanke raise the possibility in an article in Ha'aretz entitled "Magical mystery tours." Excerpt:
The common elements in all three "mountain" divine revelations and the appearance of the same elements in the experiences of climbers suggest that a prolonged stay on a mountain can affect various brain functions in a manner that allows them to have such experiences. One possible explanation is that the feeling of a presence, autoscopy, hearing a presence and emotional manifestations follow deficits in body-processing. The fact that we have a body and that we sense that we are living within a body is not a trivial fact. Our brain processes multisensorial inputs that the body senses, and locates our "self" accordingly. An important role is played by a special brain region, the temporoparietal junction, which integrates the data from the various regions concerned with self-processing. This data include basic perceptions: We situate ourselves in accordance with what we see, hear and feel, but there are also more complex processes at work. We permanently mentally represent ourselves, our movements, our surroundings and what is happening there. A prolonged stay at high altitudes and the shortage of oxygen can impair multisensory integration in the temporoparietal junction.

When we externally stimulate this region of the brain with an electrode or measure a spontaneous (epileptic) activity there, similar sensations of another's presence, autoscopy, hovering and fear have been experienced. In addition, a prolonged stay at high altitudes, especially while in solitude, causes a loss of neural inhibitions: Just as this organ consists of complex systems that stimulate certain processes, it also has others of similar importance that inhibit or prevent certain processes from occurring, to help us create a good picture of the reality we are experiencing, instead of an exaggerated or "disturbed" one.
THE INK AND BLOOD EXHIBITION has done okay in Lexington, but it hasn't been a blockbuster like the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition in Mobile.
'Ink & Blood' is mild success for city


By Frank E. Lockwood


A heavily advertised exhibit on the Bible hasn't drawn crowds of biblical proportions to downtown Lexington, but it's selling more tickets than local art and basketball museums.

Promoters say more than 1,000 visitors a day have been filing through the exhibit in its final week -- paying up to $16 a person to see a rare collection of sacred writings on paper, parchment and papyrus.

Organizers say they can't accurately estimate how many people have attended. But selling tickets for "Ink & Blood: Dead Sea Scrolls to the English Bible" was "a little bit more of a challenge than we originally thought," said chief operating officer Craig Salazar.


Of course, among other problems, the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Ink and Blood exhibition look like burnt cornflakes.
HERE'S ONE ASSYRIAN CHRISTIAN who is adamantly opposed to the Iraqi draft-constitution. He is especially concerned with women's rights and the rights of minorities. This WorldNetDaily piece is reprinted by AINA. Excerpt:
Iraq's forgotten minorities including the Assyrians from the ancient Assyrian Empire ("The men of Nineveh" referred to by Jesus Christ himself in the Bible and the one remaining people groups on Earth who can watch "The Passion" by Mel Gibson without subtitles since their native tongue is ancient Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke.)

Other non-Muslim and non-Arab Iraqi minorities include Mandeans and Yezidis, plus there are the often-forgotten minority Muslim groups such as the Turkoman and Shabak who are oppressed by Barzani Kurds. Although hardly mentioned in the major media, these ancient people have been fleeing Iraq in unprecedented numbers under persecution by Islamic militants and severe discrimination by the Kurdish Muslims, among whom many of these minorities live in northern Iraq.

And this New York Newsday article has more on Islamist persecution of Iraqi minorities and women, with a focus on Basra. Excerpt:
Not just the Christians, but many of the city's minorities - from obscure sects like the ancient Sabeans to the Sunni Muslims who used to run Iraq and still predominate in the rest of the Arab world - live in fear of the hard-line Shia religious parties and their militias that now rule Iraq's second-largest city.

Freedom has been curtailed for women, too. Several decades ago, almost no woman in Basra covered her head. Now, they all do, under fear of harassment or worse. Women working for foreign companies or governments, and those considered to have loose morals, have been marked for death by the militants - two Iraqi sisters who worked in the laundry at the American compound in Basra were assassinated last year.

For more on the Sabaean Mandaeans, go here.
THE LOST ARK -- Now you can buy the t-shirt.
A TRAVELOGUE ON JORDAN in the Washington Times opens with the supposed site of the baptisim of Jesus:
Jordan's biblical sites

By John McCaslin
August 27, 2005

PETRA, Jordan -- Enthusiasm flows from Rustom Mkhjian like the stream of holy water his team of archaeologists christened John the Baptist Spring. What's enlightening about this discovery, hailed as one of the most significant archaeological and religious finds of modern time, is that I am standing in the kingdom of Jordan -- in the long-lost settlement of Bethany Beyond the Jordan where John the Baptist converted untold numbers while preparing for the coming and eventual baptism of Jesus Christ.
"Some people still think Jordan is a small town in Montana," Akel Biltaji, an adviser to King Abdullah II, tells me, "but we share with others the Holy Land."
Giving his trowel a rest, Mr. Mkhjian, a supervisor of archaeological works for the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, leads me into the shade of John's recently resurrected grotto on the banks of Jordan River.
He sifts through considerable biblical text and archaeological discourse before pointing to a specific patch of sandy ground at the base of some newly excavated steps.
"There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind, based on religious records and all the supporting evidence we've uncovered here, that this is the very spot -- right here at the bottom of the steps -- where Jesus was baptized," he says.
That would make this particular excavation -- one of more than a dozen within the grotto that reveal arches and walls, marble and mosaic floors -- the ruins of Bethabara, a church built about 500 years after Jesus' death to commemorate His exact baptismal place.


The archaeological evidence for identifying the first-century strata of the site so precisely is not discussed. I hope it amounts to more than the testimony of church-builders five hundred years later. It's not clear to me whether it is this site or yet another candidate for the place of Jesus' baptism.

Other ancient sites in Jordan are also discussed, including, of course, Petra.

Friday, August 26, 2005

THRILLERS INVOLVING ANCIENT BOOKS AND ARTIFACTS is the subject of an interesting post over at Hagahot. I've read and enjoyed Foucault's Pendulum and The Rule of Four. I also like H. P. Lovecraft and his wonderful, arcane, and usually evil ancient books such as the Necronomicon. Many years ago I got bogged down in the middle of The Name of the Rose and have never gotten around to finishing it. So far none of the other recent books in this genre (and our local Ottakars has a special shelf devoted to them) have seemed worth the time.

Attempts at this sort of thing in film are often especially dire. That said, Manuscript Boy mentions a Johnny Depp movie that I haven't seen which he seems to think was okay. And some movies in this genre are so much fun that I can't help forgiving -- or at least trying not to think about -- their pathetic attempts to deal with history. I'm thinking, for example, of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and The Mummy.

I got to thinking about the subject this morning, when I noticed a review of a new movie called The Cave, whose title reminded me of The Cave of Treasures.
"The Cave" (PG-13) A team of scientists, who look more like panelists at a underwear-model convention, explore a cave that is purported to hold ancient secrets but actually holds a hottie-eating creature. These spelunkheads stick around long enough to be picked off, one by one. It's not original, but it delivers a few jolty thrills and a couple of laughs and wraps things up before it starts to get too dumb. îî1/2

But aside from the cave with ancient secrets, the two don't seem to have much in common.

By the way, sort of on the same note, I'm continuing to compile a list of lost Old Testament pseudepigrapha and I've found a number of others since my lost books post. When I get a chance I'll post the additions to the list here.

As you may have guessed, it's a slow news day.
A NEW BOOK by Steven McKenzie is excerpted on the Bible and Interpretation website:
Jonah and Genre

Readers who have misconstrued the genre of Jonah as history have therefore approached it with an erroneous set of expectations and have often tried to force it to fit their expectations. When it is discovered that the book does not fit those expectations, the tendency is often to blame the book, declaring it "untrue" and implying that it is somehow of less significance because it does not describe historical events.

From How to Read the Bible (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Permission Granted from Oxford University Press

By Steven McKenzie,
Professor, Rhodes College
August 2005

Thursday, August 25, 2005

IRAQ'S DRAFT CONSTITUTION comes in for some heavy criticism from Iraqi secularists, according to "Iraq secularists denounce "Islamist" constitution" (Reuters). Some of the criticisms, such as those regarding the centrality of Islamic law, seem to me to be well founded. But I'm less happy with this one:
The only minorities ensured specific rights are Kurds, who have a federal region in the north, and speakers of Syriac, who it says are free to educate their children in the language.

That isn't exactly what it says:
"This constitution guarantees the Islamic identity of the majority of the Iraqi people, as well as complete religious rights for all individuals to freedom of beliefs and religious practice."

"Iraq is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country and it is part of the Islamic world, and the Arab people in it are part of the Arab nation."

"The Arabic language and Kurdish language are the two official languages of Iraq, and the right of Iraqis to educate their children in mother tongues such as Turkmen and Syriac in government teaching establishments ... or any other language in private institutions is guaranteed."

The right of religious freedom is guaranteed for all minorities. Also, there is a right to state education in "mother tongue" languages, of which Turkmen and Syriac are given as examples. It is not a comprehensive list.

As I said, this sounds pretty good on paper. But much depends on the fairness of its implementation.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

JUST GOT OFF THE PHONE with Bnai Brith International in Washington D.C., with whom I did a radio interview about the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project. They plan to broadcast it on Sunday. It will be available online and I'll post the URL when I get it.
THE SARDIS SYNAGOGUE is also featured in an article in the current issue of the American Journal of Archaeology:
The Date of the Sardis Synagogue in Light of the Numismatic Evidence

Jodi Magness

In the 1960s excavations at the site of Sardis in Lydia brought to light the remains of a large and richly decorated synagogue building. The synagogue was installed in a pre-existing Roman bath and gymnasium complex along one of Sardis’s main thoroughfares. Based largely on the coins discovered beneath the mosaic floors, the excavators have dated the synagogue’s construction to the mid- to late-fourth century C.E. In this paper I reexamine the numismatic evidence and conclude that the synagogue was constructed about two centuries later. Dating the synagogue to the mid-sixth century places the building and the Jewish community it served in a different historical setting.

UPDATE: Also, if you're interested in legendary temple treasures, you might want to have a look at "The Greek Temple as Museum: The Case of the Legendary Treasure of Athena from Lindos," by Josephine Shaya, also in the current issue of the American Journal of Archaeology.
THE CASUALTIES OF WAR: The Truth About the Iraq Museum," is a long article by Matthew Bogdanos which gives the definitive account of what happened to the Iraq Museum during the liberation of Baghdad in April of 2003. It's published in the current issue of the American Journal of Archaeology and can be downloaded as a PDF file. Here is the abstract:
The Casualties of War: The Truth about the Iraq Museum

Matthew Bogdanos

As Baghdad was falling to coalition forces in April 2003, the international media reported that the Iraq Museum had been ransacked and more than 170,000 of the finest antiquities from the very cradle of civilization had been stolen while U.S. forces stood idle. The list of missing objects read like a “who’s who” of Near Eastern archaeology, and the world reacted with shock and outrage. In response, the United States dispatched to the museum a highly specialized multiagency task force that had been conducting counterterrorism operations in southern Iraq at the time of the looting. Their mission was to determine what had happened at the museum and to recover whatever antiquities they could. Among several startling discoveries were that the museum compound had been turned into a military fighting position and that the initial reports that over 170,000 priceless antiquities had been stolen were wrong. Although final inventories will take years to complete, the best current estimate is that approximately 14,000–15,000 pieces were initially stolen. The investigation determined that there had been not one but three thefts at the museum by three distinct groups: professionals who stole several dozen of the most prized treasures, random looters who stole more than 3,000 excavation-site pieces, and insiders who stole almost 11,000 cylinder seals and pieces of jewelry. The investigation also determined that the international black market in Iraqi antiquities continues to flourish. Working closely with Iraqis and using a complex methodology that includes community outreach, international cooperation, raids, seizures, and amnesty, the task force and others around the world have recovered more than 5,000 of the missing antiquities. This is a comprehensive report of those thefts and recoveries, as well as an attempt to correct some of the inaccuracies and misunderstandings that have been commonly reported in the media.
THE IRAQI DRAFT CONSTITUTION is excerpted in detail by Reuters. With reference to the issue of Aramaic-speaking Christians, note the following:
"This constitution guarantees the Islamic identity of the majority of the Iraqi people, as well as complete religious rights for all individuals to freedom of beliefs and religious practice."

"Iraq is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country and it is part of the Islamic world, and the Arab people in it are part of the Arab nation."

"The Arabic language and Kurdish language are the two official languages of Iraq, and the right of Iraqis to educate their children in mother tongues such as Turkmen and Syriac in government teaching establishments ... or any other language in private institutions is guaranteed."

My emphasis. This sounds reasonably hopeful to me. It will be interesting to hear what AINA has to say about it.
THE VOLCANO AT VESUVIUS ERUPTED nineteen hundred and twenty-six years ago today. Since the hope of recovering more of the Herculaneum library has come up now and again this year, it seems worthwhile to touch on the story.

The only firsthand account of the eruption comes from two letters from Pliny the Younger to his friend the historian Cornelius Tacitus. The letters were written in the early second century CE and were intended as source material for Tacitus' Histories. Unfortunately, the relevant section of that work is no longer extant and is one of those lost books we should very much like to see.

In the first letter (6.16) Pliny reports that as a young man he and his mother were staying at nearby Misenum with his uncle, the renowned statesman and naturalist Pliny the Elder. The mother first noticed the mushroom cloud from the eruption. The Elder Pliny was preparing his ship to go make scientific observations of the phenomenon, when a distress message arrived from a friend close to the eruption and he realized that a disaster was in the making. Shifting purpose rapidly, he mustered a convoy of naval ships and led them straight into the maelstrom on a rescue mission, dictating notes as he went. They made it as far as a friend's villa at Stabiae, four miles south of Pompeii, but the wind that had sped them in was too strong to sail against, so they were trapped. Beset by falling ash and stones and in danger of asphyxiation from the poison fumes, they waited the eruption out for two days. Pliny himself went back down to the shore to monitor sailing conditions and was killed by the suffocating gases before the evacuation could begin, perhaps caught by the attenuated edge of the pyroclastic surge that incinerated the residents of Pompeii.

In the second letter (6.20) Pliny the Younger reports that he and his mother stayed overnight at Misenum until persistent earthquakes made the buildings unsafe. They waited outside for the uncle, then reluctantly decided to join the evacuation, by this time shrouded in thick darkness even though it was daytime. Outside the town they waited, shaking off heaps of ash so as not to allow themselves to be buried. Eventually the dark clouds cleared and they were able to make their way back to Misenum to wait for news of the Elder Pliny. The letter ends at this point.

This spring when my son was having a unit on ancient Rome in his Primary Four class, we got out the Penguin translation of Pliny's letters and read these two. It wasn't exactly Star Wars III, but it is a story about real people behaving heroically in a major disaster, and he thought it was pretty cool.

The cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were buried by volcanic ash, a process that preserved them remarkably well. They give us much of our knowledge about daily life in the ancient Roman world. An important library was carbonized at Herculaneum, but much material from it has been recovered and there is the hope of finding more.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

TECHNORATI PROBLEMS: Is it just me, or has Technorati become virtually useless in the last few weeks? I used to check it almost daily to keep track of blog links to PaleoJudaica, but it's gotten more and more unreliable and in recent days I have just been getting
Sorry, we couldn't complete your search because we're experiencing a high volume of requests right now. Please try again in a minute or add this search to your watchlist to track conversation.

every time I try to use it. Has this been happening to you too?

Perhaps it has become a victim of its own success and can no longer even begin to keep up with inquiries. A pity.

UPDATE (24 August): David Meadows e-mails to point out that word search terms still seem to work, but URLs do not. Thus if you just search for "paleojudaica" you do get all recent posts that mention this word, but not every post that has linked to the PaleoJudaica blog.
COPTIC AND ISLAMIC MANUSCRIPTS have reportedly been recovered by the Egyptian authorities before they could be taken out of the country in a British man's luggage:
Egypt detains Briton over manuscripts

8/22/2005, 4:37 p.m. CT
The Associated Press

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) — Airport authorities detained a British man for questioning Monday after they allegedly found valuable Islamic and Coptic manuscripts in his luggage, officials said.


Adil Abdel Rahman, the airport's antiquities inspector, said Ross was allegedly carrying dozens of manuscripts, including old books on religion, medicine and astrology. He allegedly also had handwritten Coptic Bibles in his luggage.

ARAMIAC-SPEAKING IRAQIS continue to lobby the Iraqi government for recognition in the new constitution.
As a result we are requesting the incorporation of the following into the permanent Iraqi Constitution:

1. Designate our united name and national identity in the Constitution as (Chaldean Assyrian Syriac).
2. Recognize our people as the indigenous people of Iraq, and Syriac as the language and culture of the country and preserve it according to international standards on indigenous peoples.
3. Guarantee that our political, cultural, and administrative rights as noted in the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) be established in the Nineveh Plain and in the areas in which we constitute a majority within whatever form of federalism is agreed upon.
4. Guarantee that we are represented according to our percentage in the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government.
5. Grant citizenship to any our people who have emigrated including their children and grandchildren and return citizenship to any Iraqis whose citizenship has been revoked since the establishment of Iraq most specifically including the victims of the 1933 massacre.
6. Return lands and villages that were expropriated or forcibly taken because of various circumstances in Iraq to their rightful owners.
7. Guarantee secularism and justice, equality, and civil rights for all.

I hope the authorities are listening.

Monday, August 22, 2005

I FINISHED THE RULE OF FOUR last week and thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn't notice any obvious historical errors, but most of the history is outside my areas of expertise. It's a well-paced thriller and coming-of-age story with interesting characters, and the central role of the Hypneratomachia Polyphili is a lot of fun. It was indeed timely, as I'd guessed. The code system seemed a bit contrived, but perhaps they really did have such things in the Renaissance. And I do doubt that a university senior, even from Princeton, could really decode all that abstruse Renaissance Latin and translate it in the time frame allowed.

I'll avoid spoilers, but I'll note, for what it's worth, that the key to the whole puzzle involves the item that most frequently brings readers to PaleoJudaica via the search engines. And the solution of the puzzle is so marvelous that it's heartbreaking it isn't real.

If you enjoy reading PaleoJudaica, chances are you will like The Rule of Four. I recommend it to you.
A SEPTUAGINT INSTITUTE is soon to open at Trinity Western University in Vancouver. TWU is already well known for its Dead Sea Scrolls Institute, and their Professor Peter Flint was recently honored with a major chair and research grant.
New Hub for Septuagint Studies in North America

Newswise — The Septuagint, the earliest Greek translation of the Old Testament and the Bible of the early Christian church, was one of the key religious texts in the third century B.C.—and it’s soon to have a high profile in western Canada. On September 17, Vancouver’s Trinity Western University launches the Septuagint Institute, a hub for Septuagint research, translation, and publication projects.


Congratulations to TWU on yet another major contribution to the field.

(Via Archaeologica News.)
THE BLACKSMITH SYRIACOLOGIST. Hebraist too. An interesting story about an amateur philologist in the nineteenth century.
Worcester once home to ‘The Learned Blacksmith’

Albert B. Southwick (Wooster Telegram and Gazzette)

For the past 180 years or so, the American Antiquarian Society has been host to thousands of scholars, researchers, historians, genealogists and linguists. George Bancroft, Henry David Thoreau, Carl Sandburg, David McCullough and countless others have mined its vast resources of manuscripts and printed matter. But few were more remarkable than Elihu Burritt (1810-1879), a blacksmith.

Mr. Burritt was born in New Britain, Conn, one of 10 children. He was or-phaned before he reached his teens. His formal education was limited to three months in a school run by his brother. But it left him with a voracious thirst for knowledge that never waned. When, in his 20s, he heard of the AAS and its remarkable library, he walked to Worcester, got a job at William Wheeler’s blacksmith shop on Union Street, and spent all his free waking hours at the AAS, then located on Summer Street, poring over its volumes of foreign languages. An entry in his journal reads as follows:

“Six lines of Hebrew today, thirty pages of French, ten pages of Cuvier’s ‘History of the Earth,’ eight lines Syriac, ten lines Danish, ten of Bohemian, nine of Polish, 15 names of the stars, and ten hours forging.” He later wrote that the AAS had “such a collection of ancient, modern and Oriental languages that I never before conceived to be collected in one place.”


Mr. Burritt spent his last few years in his native city, New Britain. In 1874 he wrote a friend as follows: “I feel I am played out as a lecturer ... I am deeply into my philological work. I have finished the Sanscrit, Hindustan, and Persian series, and am about half through with the Turkish ... Then I intend to take up the Semitic family, or Arabic, Hebrew, Syriac and Ethiopic ... Thus you see I am beginning a work which should occupy a long life ... ”

He died five years later, presumably still studying foreign languages, as he had in Worcester 50 years earlier.

I wish we could sign him up for the More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

CROSS BONES, a new novel by forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs, features a fictionalized Oded Golan, an ancient skeleton from Masada, and what (in the story) may be the tomb of Jesus. Hard to tell from the descriptions I've seen whether it's any good.